When I say my 4-year-old son is a Nintendo nut, I'm not joking. Sometimes he looks for his 3DS before he grabs his cereal bowl after he first wakes up. And when I get home from work and ask how his day was, he'll tell me what level he's on in "New Super Mario Bros." Did I mention he also has a Mario sweatshirt? Actually, I've noticed lots of kids really, really love Nintendo, from the handheld consoles up to the aging but still amusing Wii. Parents, too, me included.
But the writing is on the wall. Nintendo had to slash prices on the 3DS to prop up sales as more and more consumers turn to smartphones, tablets and the Web to get their gaming fix. And analysts are seriously questioning whether the upcoming Wii U will be enough to win back those who have moved on to the Kinect and mobile devices. Which is exactly why Google should swoop in and make Mario its own. Here are five reasons why Google should buy Nintendo right now.
1. Android surpasses iOS overnight in gaming.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has categorically denied that his company would make games for smartphones, saying that it "is absolutely not under consideration. If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo." It's time for the company to change its thinking. There won't be a Nintendo left in a few years if the company doesn't figure out a way to get on smartphones and tablets. The Sony Xperia Play proves that consumers don't want an awkward phone/console hybrid. They just want great games.
I guarantee you that a lot of people would buy Android phones or tablets instead of iOS devices merely based on the fact that Mario and Zelda were exclusive to the platform. And while Nintendo wouldn't be able to get away with the $40 it charges for 3DS titles, it would make up the revenue in pure volume. There are more than 300 million Android devices out there, and 850,000 are being activated each day. Plus, Google would give Nintendo its own section of the Google Play store, similar to the treatment Xbox Live games get on Windows Phones.
2. People would actually use Google+.
Google says it has more than 90 million Google+ users, but according to a recent report people are actually staying on MySpace longer each day than Google's fledgling social network. Some blame the somewhat complex layout, and others say it's just a case of too-many-services fatigue. But imagine if Google+ let you play Nintendo games online with your friends and if you got pinged with invites while conducting Google searches. It could be game over for the likes of Zynga, which has made a killing on Facebook. I could also see people using Nintendo characters as their avatars in Google Hangout video chats. (I would pick Bowser.)
3. Google TV gets a serious kick in the pants.
Yes, Sony would probably back out as a Google TV partner if it knew that Nintendo games might come pre-loaded on a Google TV or set-top box, but just imagine the payoff. I fully anticipate that Apple's first TV will incorporate iOS games in some way, so a deal with Nintendo would be a shrewd defensive maneuver. Nintendo could still keep the latest and greatest titles for its consoles while making only classics available for Google TV — at least at the beginning.
4. Nintendo makes the Google brand more friendly, approachable.
Google didn't change the name of the Android Market to Google Play on a whim. It's a strategic shift meant to signal that its store is supposed to be a place to get fun stuff, from movies and music to books and games. What better way to soften Google's robotic, algorithmic image than with characters like Donkey Kong, Luigi and Princess Peach? Plus, Nintendo is so popular with families that kids would ask for an Android phone to be their first smartphone, which would be a very powerful advantage against Apple.
5. Think of the next Virtual Boy!
I remember wondering after my first marathon session with Mario 64 back in the day how fun it would be to wall-jump in real life. (Yes, I'm a nerd.) Well, imagine if Google and Nintendo put their heads together for the upcoming Google glasses, which apparently will have a heads-up display built in. Nintendo could help erase the bad memories of its ill-fated wearable Virtual Boy system with an augmented reality experience that would have people across the country jumping on virtual Koopas.
Why Nintendo won't budge, but should
Nintendo probably won't heed my advice, and a lot of it has to do with the company's culture. "I think Nintendo wants to be independent and I think a lot of it is pride," said Michael Patcher, an analyst with Wedbush-Morgan. "They look down their noses at what companies like Google are doing on the game side. They don't consider those real games."
Tell that to the millions of people who are turning to their iPhones, iPads and Android devices to play both casual titles like "Draw Something" and immersive, console-quality fare like "Infinity Blade." Heck, even Dave & Busters has installed a big-screen version of the smartphone hit "Fruit Ninja." What does that tell you?
Nintendo believes that its franchises can be exploited only on dedicated Nintendo consoles, but it's exactly that line of thinking that has caused the company's stock to plummet more than 45 percent in the past year. "They're losing the casual gamer, Patcher warned. "They're always going to keep the Nintendo faithful. But their addressable market is going to be significantly smaller." That won't happen if Nintendo wises up and takes a call from Larry Page.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.