Mario’s future in mobile gaming in doubt, but should it be?

While the Nintendo Switch has had a fantastic run on the market over the last six years, selling over 122 million units and becoming the Japanese company’s third-best-selling console in its history, there’s simply no comparing the penetration of Switch purchases to the billions of smartphones owned worldwide. Mobile gaming remains the biggest market opportunity for publishers (a big reason for Xbox’s pursuit of Activision Blizzard), and yet Nintendo has only dabbled in mobile since the 2016 release of Super Mario Run, preferring to prioritize its own hardware.

Now even more doubt has been cast on the future of Mario games on mobile, as Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto recently explained to Variety that “Mobile apps will not be the primary path of future Mario games.” Of course, “primary” path doesn’t mean there’s no path, but it’s clear that Nintendo’s muddy experience in the mobile gaming industry thus far has put their existing strategy into question.

“First and foremost, Nintendo’s core strategy is a hardware and software integrated gaming experience,” Miyamoto added, but he also acknowledged, “Having Mario games as mobile apps expands the doorway for far more audience to experience the game, and also expands the Mario gaming experience, where you only need your thumb on one hand.”

There is a business case to support a retreat from mobile, or more specifically, a retreat from the company’s current approach to mobile. As Variety noted, while Super Mario Run grossed $60 million in its first year and 2019’s Mario Kart Tour generated $300 million, the success of Mario Kart 8 on Switch has seen the blockbuster garner well over $3 billion to date. On the other hand, mobile juggernauts like Pokémon GO, Clash of Clans, Honor of Kings, and more prove that the potential in the mobile space dwarfs that of console.

Miyamoto’s comments are curiously timed as well, since they are being digested in parallel with the record-breaking success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which quickly became the top-grossing film of 2023 at the box office and is helping to further broaden the Mario fanbase. Many young viewers of that movie have had their first gaming experience on mobile (or tablet) and they might not yet have a Switch console.

Continuing to engage with new Mario fans on mobile seems like a smart idea. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure® data, 81% of the general gaming population already plays on mobile, and that figure jumps up to 86% specifically among fans of the Mario franchise.