Nintendo Game Is Crossing to Phones -- WSJ

By Takashi Mochizuki Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (October 26, 2017).

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TOKYO -- Nintendo Co. will introduce a smartphone version of its "Animal Crossing" game, a move that could expand profit from its mobile business.

The free-to-play game, which will include an option to pay a small amount of money to speed up game play, will be available from late November, the Kyoto-based company said Wednesday. It is designed for Apple Inc.'s iPhones and smartphones running the Android operating system from Google parent Alphabet Inc.

First introduced in 2001 for the Nintendo 64 console, the "Animal Crossing" franchise has attracted a wide range of consumers, especially women and children who might otherwise not play games on dedicated hardware. Rather than shooting enemies or trying to get to the next level, players enjoy slow living in a virtual village through an avatar by catching bugs, growing flowers or getting mortgages from a raccoon.

Nintendo has released six titles from the franchise and sold more than 30 million copies as of March 31, 2017, the company said.

In the smartphone version of the game, called "Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp," players can build campgrounds.

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Since moving into smartphone games in 2016, Nintendo has released three apps: "Miitomo," "Super Mario Run," and "Fire Emblem Heroes." So far, they have made up a relatively small part of the company's business. In the fiscal year ended March 2017, Nintendo earned less than Yen20 billion ($176 million) from the smartphone games out of Yen489 billion in total revenue, Chief Executive Tatsumi Kimishima said at an analyst briefing in April.

Analysts said life-simulation games were well suited to smartphones and predicted "Animal Crossing" would boost Nintendo's mobile revenue.

"We expect the app would earn Yen18.8 billion by March next year and Yen48 billion between April 2018 and March 2019," said Macquarie Capital Securities analyst David Gibson.

Nintendo's share price was up 0.6% in afternoon trading Wednesday in Tokyo after of the announcement of the new game. DeNA Co., Nintendo's partner in the smartphone game business, was down more than 3% as investors locked in profits after the formal announcement of the app.

Fans have been waiting for the "Animal Crossing" since Nintendo first mentioned it in April 2016. People involved in the app development said they had to redo the game from scratch at least once during the development process to ensure quality.

They also had to prepare a full slate of limited-time events happening within the app to keep players coming back frequently -- a lesson they learned from "Fire Emblem Heroes," which lacked these events in the wake of its launch and lost some traffic as a result.

Ayumi Maehara, who sells gift catalogs in Tokyo, said "Animal Crossing" is the only game she has ever played -- and that was when she was a child. The 26-year-old, who prefers to see movies or listen to music in her leisure time, said she was interested in the "Animal Crossing" smartphone game.

"I begged my parents many times for a Nintendo GameCube console and an 'Animal Crossing' game for a Christmas present when I was 10 years old," she said. "That was all the game experience I have had. I love what I can do in the game, like collecting cute furniture."

People familiar with the Nintendo-DeNA mobile game pipeline have said the companies are also preparing apps using Nintendo role-playing game franchises, including a version of Nintendo's "The Legend of Zelda," for smartphones.

Write to Takashi Mochizuki at takashi.mochizuki@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 26, 2017 02:48 ET (06:48 GMT)