The end of Nintendo: Why the move to iPad spells doom

Last week's news that the Pokémon trading card game (TCG) is coming to iPad was both exhilarating and shocking for a number of reasons. After getting over my fanboy levels of excitement at the idea of playing Pokémon cards again (I logged days on the oft-forgotten Gameboy Color version), I had a sudden and fierce feeling of dread.

Could this release signal the end of Nintendo's place in the big three?

Classic Nintendo

Nintendo has always been a beacon of pure innovation. With classic franchises like Metroid, Legend of Zelda and Super Mario to modern titles such as Pikmin, Pokémon and Animal Crossing, Nintendo has stayed an island unto itself in the gaming landscape.

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With a huge back catalogue of popular franchises Nintendo's exclusivity (let's not talk about Mario is Missing! For PC) has been one of its major strengths as a business. With such a tight stranglehold on its properties, Nintendo has created an implicit truth in the gaming community: "If you want Mario you buy Nintendo." Arguably, this is the strategy that has made Nintendo such a gaming giant, despite the recent lack of interest in the Wii U.

The exclusivity and multitude of franchises have made Nintendo much less reliant on third-party adoption of their platforms, and as a result have been able to set major trends in the culture and business of gaming. As early as the SNES days, Nintendo popularised the J-RPG genre, the Wii started the motion-gaming boom, and the Wii U has shown that using a tablet as a controller results in some unique and interesting gaming experiences.

By allowing Pokemon TCG on the iPad, Nintendo has opened the flood gates for fans who are tired of being restricted to Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games.

Handheld monster

For over three decades Nintendo dominated the handheld market. The release of the Game & Watch series popularised handhelds in 1980, paving the way for the Gameboy in 1989. The Gameboy blew away its technically superior rivals through the quality of its games, lower price point and battery life.

Nintendo's domination of the handheld market continues to this day, with weekly 3DS sales far outweighing Sony's PSP. However handheld games consoles have had to face up to the fact that the portable games market only has one major player: the smartphone.

In Nintendo's home arena of Japan, smartphone gaming has exploded. This year smartphone gaming was valued at £3.2 billion and accounts for half of Japan's total gaming industry. Japan's obsession with mobile phones and gaming has combined, and not even home consoles can touch smartphone gaming.

By giving up Pokemon TCG to a mobile platform, Nintendo loses some of their exclusivity, power and control.

NintENDo?

When it comes down to it, Nintendo may have reached the conclusion that smartphone gaming is unlikely to go away. It won't be long before phones reach parity with handheld games consoles or the ability to stream games from you PC becomes a staple feature. Nintendo could simply be mitigating the risk by getting into the mobile industry.

However last year Satoru Iwata, president and CEO of Nintendo, in an interview with CVG said, "if I was not concerned about the long-term future of Nintendo at all, it might make sense for us to provide our important franchises for other platforms, and then we might be able to gain some short-term profit."

Read more: What must Nintendo do to survive?

It's hard to tell where this branch out to the mobile market fits in with Nintendo's overall strategy. Nintendo's business model, for both the previous generation and current one, has had commentators tearing apart Nintendo's exclusivity policy. Similarly Nintendo's continued success is largely due to its handheld market with its new Wii U console sales drastically underperforming. It's unclear how long handheld gaming has left before mobile takes over completely.