While the Wii U suffers from a shortage of new games, Nintendo may be wooing smartphone app developers to port their games over.
A report by Japan Times, citing unnamed company sources, says Nintendo has offered "professional-use conversion software" to smartphone game makers. Nintendo may be hoping to boost sales by offering a larger library of games, even if they're the same ones you'd find on a phone or tablet.
Lewis Ward, research manager for gaming at IDC, noted that Nintendo recently licensed the Unity game engine for the Wii U. Unity is a popular game development tool for iOS and Android. The Japan Times report could be referring to an effort to offer Wii U versions of existing Unity games, or some other means of converting mobile games to Nintendo's platform.
Ward sees the potential addition of smartphone games as a "me too" measure, allowing Nintendo to support games that become phenomenons on mobile devices. (Angry Birds and Temple Run come to mind.)
"I think that if Nintendo's platforms don't have some of the same smash hits, at least, as on smartphones and tablets, that's going to be seen as a weakness," Ward said. Nintendo can cover that base of smartphone games, he said, while still offering hit franchises such as Mario and Zelda exclusively on Nintendo hardware.
Porting is just a stopgap
While smartphone games won't be the answer to all of Nintendo's problems, the company did rake in $165 million in digital sales last quarter--a company record, and a bright spot on Nintendo's otherwise dismal earnings report.
"Part of that was driven by the 3DS, and part of that was driven by the Wii U, but basically I think Nintendo has gotten digital religion, as it were," Ward said.
Still, offering the option to port smartphone games over doesn't guarantee a thriving selection. Sony, for instance, has been trying to get smartphone developers to bring their games to the Playstation Vita, in an initiative called Playstation Mobile, but that effort has only yielded 46 games so far, most of which are fairly unremarkable.
Although Sony has a slightly different strategy than Nintendo--Playstation Mobile games also work on a handful of smartphones--neither the Vita nor the Wii U have huge customer bases. It's going to be hard for either company to get lots of iOS and Android developers on board.