Nintendo (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) recently unveiled Mario Maker, a level creator for the Wii U that allows gamers to easily create their own Super Mario Bros. levels. The stages, which can be seamlessly switched between classic 8-bit and New Super Mario Bros. U graphics, can then be shared with others.
Mario level creators aren't anything new -- there are plenty of free level editors online that allow gamers to take apart ROM files and make new Mario games. However, Mario Maker is more user friendly and makes level editing as simple as using MS Paint.
It's also a shining example of Nintendo doing what it does best -- pushing the right nostalgia buttons and making the old new again, just as it did with NES Remix.
Could Mario Maker be the perfect mobile app?
I think Mario Maker could actually be the perfect mobile app for Nintendo.
Nintendo has famously refused to make mobile games in the past, stating that this would result in short-term financial gains at the expense of diluting its core franchises. That hard-line policy resulted in a lot of complaints from investors after Nintendo reported its third consecutive year of operating losses in May.
On one hand, Nintendo's strategy makes sense. Keeping popular Nintendo characters like Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong on Nintendo hardware protects its core business. But on the other hand, I think it would be foolish for Nintendo to completely ignore clever apps that could actually boost sales of the Wii U and 3DS.
To understand why Mario Maker would be a great app for smartphones and tablets, consider these facts.
The original Super Mario Bros., released in 1985, is the second best-selling game in history, with sales of 40.2 million units worldwide. The average age of today's gamers is 31, meaning that even though they probably don't remember the initial release of Super Mario Bros., they likely have fond childhood memories of its 8-bit and 16-bit sequels -- Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World. Meanwhile, 79% of 25-34 year-olds in developed countries own smartphones, according to a 2013 study from Deloitte.
Therefore, if Nintendo released Mario Maker on iOS and Android devices, it would be a guaranteed hit. For technical ease and distinction from the Wii U version, Nintendo could simply release the 8-bit version of Mario Maker without the fancier New Super Mario Bros. U graphics for mobile devices.
This is how a mobile Mario Maker will make money for Nintendo
Instead of selling Mario Maker for $0.99, Nintendo should offer the 8-bit version as a free download. Once players get hooked on the level creator, Nintendo can easily monetize the game.
Since 8-bit graphics and audio files from Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 can be easily imported to the app, Nintendo can offered tiered pricing (similar to its microtransactions experiment with Rusty's Real Deal Baseball) to unlock level editors for those two games as well.
After that, all Nintendo would have to do is add an "Export to Wii U" option to the game. Suddenly the idea of playing a homemade Super Mario Bros. game on a slippery touchscreen becomes a lot less appealing than playing it with a Wii U GamePad. Nintendo could then tempt gamers further by demonstrating how much better their 8-bit creations would look with New Super Mario Bros. U graphics.
The Mario Maker app could not only generate revenue on its own, but could also serve as a brilliant promotional tool for the Wii U.
A Mario Maker app makes more sense than other ideas
Turning Mario Maker into a mobile app makes much more sense than frequently cited ideas like releasing classic games on mobile devices or adding more in-game microtransactions.
Directly releasing emulated versions of classic 8-bit and 16-bit games for mobile devices won't work, because they can be hard to control with touch-screen buttons. Increasing the number of microtransactions within 3DS and Wii U games could also be disastrous, turning once enjoyable games into Zynga-like experiences. Nintendo's own recent initiatives -- having Mario drive a Mercedes and "taxing" its YouTube fans through an affiliate program -- aren't exactly stable sources of growth either.
I don't think that Nintendo should shun mobile games completely. Offering creative level creators such as Mario Maker on mobile platforms could be a low-risk way to generate fresh revenue while simultaneously promoting its Wii U and 3DS consoles.