With Miiverse Apps, Nintendo Will Finally Venture Onto Smartphones

Nintendo announced a slew of updates and new game titles for its Wii U console yesterday, with the bulk of the attention spent on the launch of “a virtual console.”

While being able to play classic games for a small fee will be a definite crowd-pleaser, an overlooked aspect of the announcements had to do with Nintendo’s plans for launching apps for smartphones.

Nintendo_supermariobros_iphoneThe creation of any software for non-Nintendo hardware is groundbreaking for the company, which has been dead set against sharing its well-loved brands with any other device manufacturer.

But yesterday, Nintendo said that the Wii U’s social network, called Miiverse, will be expanding to smartphones this spring. And while initially gamers will be able to connect to the network from a smartphone browser, in the future Nintendo plans to create dedicated Miiverse apps.

Currently, Miiverse appears on the Wii U’s start-up screen as a virtual hangout, where avatars walk around a virtual “plaza.” Game players will be able to post their thoughts in “speech bubbles” that appear over their heads with text or drawings — sort of like status updates on Twitter or Facebook.

Over the past two years, Nintendo has made it abundantly clear that it is not interested in developing games like Zelda or Super Mario Bros. for any other platform. While the company still is not saying that its policy has changed on that front, a good experience with the Miiverse could help change its mind.

In what could be another sign of changing philosophy, the company confirmed last week that it is planning to bring together its console and handheld gaming teams in recognition of the trend toward the popularity of gaming on portable devices. The two groups will work under one roof in a $340 million facility in Japan.

But otherwise, Nintendo has been very clear about its aversion to other platforms.

A year and a half ago, Nintendo’s shares jumped on word that Pokemon was coming to the iPhone. But as it turned out, Nintendo, as a minority owner, had no influence on the decision, and it shot down speculation about its strategy, saying it “hasn’t changed and won’t change.”

Most of the opposition in developing for other platforms has to do with the business model.

For instance, the company is comfortable developing its own tablet-shaped controller for the Wii U, and it has its own mobile devices, like the 3DS, but it draws the line at free-to-play games.

“I’m not interested in offering software for free of charge,” Nintendo’s Global President Satoru Iwata told AllThingsD in June. “That’s because I myself am one of the game developers, who in the future wants to make efforts so the value of the software will be appreciated by the consumers.”

Iwata said the revenue that Zynga — and platform-makers like Facebook and Apple — is generating would not change his mind.

“If we are going to destroy the value of the game software — once we have done so, it’s a difficult job to recover from that situation,” he argued.

Nintendo did not disclose pricing for the Miiverse app.

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