Can Super Mario figurines save Nintendo?

The struggling video game maker looks to capitalize on its beloved character lineup with interactive figures that connect to its consoles.

By MSN Money Partner May 9, 2014 1:28PM

The Wall St. Journal on MSN MoneySuper Mario © PRNewsFoto/Nintendo/APBy Mayumi Negishi, The Wall Street Journal

 

Nintendo (NTDOY) is taking a page out of Walt Disney's (DIS) playbook on making money from its beloved characters.


Nintendo will release interactive figurines of Mario and other characters that connect to its struggling Wii U console and allow players to import their characters and skills into games, a la "Disney Infinity" and Activision's (ATVI) "Skylander," its President Satoru Iwata told investors during a financial results briefing Thursday.


With an unsexy codename NFP (standing for "NFC Featured Platform" and "Nintendo Figurine Platform"), the figurines will work with a number of titles, although Iwata said titles and other key details won't be announced until the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles next month. Sales will start during the year-end holiday season, and Iwata said he plans to make the figurines compatible with the handheld Nintendo 3DS in the first half of 2015.


Which games will sync to the figurines will determine much of the initial success of the business, but the key lies with the 3DS and its 43 million users, since the Wii U's market remains limited.


"Nintendo needs to take risks and come up with new ways to use our character IP" other than in software, Iwata said. "This is the first step."

Slammed by recurring losses, the owner of the "Super Mario Bros." and "Pokemon" franchises has been struggling to find new revenue streams and capitalize on its rich lineup of popular characters. Nintendo sold only 2.7 million units of its Wii U in the 12 months ended in March, down 21 percent from a year ago and less than a third of its initial estimates.


Nintendo posted a an operating loss of Y46.4 billion – its third year in the red – even while rivals Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT) saw sales boom for their game consoles sporting eye-popping graphics and online gaming action. (Microsoft owns and publishes MSN Money.)


In response to pressure to put its games on smartphones to reach a growing audience, Iwata has said that such a move would doom Nintendo's creative impetus and gameplay quality, as well as risk its hardware business.


Iwata also told analysts that the company is studying new hardware and games for release in emerging markets.


"(Software) prices of $30 to $60 are too high," he said.  No release will come before March next year, he said.


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