'Mario' eludes smartphone ban

Bogus game apps new woe for Nintendo

Bloomberg

Nintendo Co. isn’t offering Super Mario games on smartphones. Other people are.

A game called “Super Mario” has been available to download on Baidu Inc.’s 91 Wireless online application store in China and was available on Samsung Electronics Co.’s online China app store by Wednesday. The title, listed as developed by Beijing Flyfish Technology Co., has multiple levels and shows the mustachioed plumber in a red hat and blue overalls jumping to capture mushrooms and coins.

Searches in app stores in China, Hong Kong and Japan showed games, a quiz and mobile wallpaper with characters made famous by the Kyoto-based company. A title listed Thursday on the Samsung online app store in Japan called “Super Mario Quiz” allowed users to take a multiple choice test to identify characters called Baby Donkey Kong and Corporal Paraplonk.

“Misappropriation of intellectual property is hard to prevent in China,” Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said by email. Nintendo “should be exploiting their IP on their own instead of letting others do so.”

Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa said the company hasn’t approved apps and that its legal team is investigating. It remains to be seen whether Nintendo will take legal action against specific companies because of copyright infringement.

Beijing Flyfish co-founder Zhu Jinbiao said in an interview in his Beijing office the title is free and his company makes money from ads in the game. The game is original enough that his company doesn’t need a license agreement or other permission from Nintendo, he said.

“There were already some similar kinds of PC-based games using flash technology,” Zhu said. “Our game is similar to those. Some parts are like the original. Some parts we’ve changed.”

On Friday, Nintendo shares rose 2.7 percent to close at ¥12,580 in Tokyo trading, narrowing this year’s decline to 10 percent.

Nintendo has refused to license its games for smartphones and tablets and the company is studying new ways to revive sales after its Wii U console flopped with consumers. President Satoru Iwata last month said the world’s largest maker of video game consoles will seek partners to expand licensing of its game characters and boost their use for nongame products.

Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman for Baidu, declined to comment on the games in 91 Wireless.

“The service of the application that was reported to have violated the intellectual right has been halted based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Samsung has informed the issue to the application seller,” Samsung said in a statement.

Beijing Flyfish was founded in September 2011 and develops games for Android and iOS, according to its website. One of the games it offers is “an Android version of the classic Super Mario that fully retains the original style.”

Nintendo shocked the market in January when it forecast a surprise annual loss, cut sales projections for hardware and games, and said it’s considering a new business model. The company completed a ¥114 billion share buyback Feb. 4 as members of the founding Yamauchi family sold some of their holdings.

Iwata, who is taking a 50 percent pay cut over the gloomy prospects, is under pressure to find a new hit product as casual players move to smartphones and tablet computers and hardcore gamers flock to faster consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

The casual gamers who made Nintendo the leader of a $93 billion industry have abandoned the Wii U for cheap downloads they can play on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or an Apple Inc. iPad. The Wii U also lost its appeal to many dedicated gamers, who prefer the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

Nintendo had sold 2.4 million Wii U units in the nine months through December, the company said. Sony said this month it had sold 5.3 million units of its PlayStation 4 since it went on sale Nov. 15.

  • Jacob Eveland

    People are really grasping at straws now.