Miitomo is a ghost town that proves Super Mario Run has to be Nintendo’s big mobile hit

The plumber needs to pull out all the stops

Despite only launching six months ago, Nintendo’s first ever mobile game is now a ghost town.

Miitomo is a lonely place – over the past four or five months I’ve often remembered the buzz I initially felt when making my first Miitomo character, and for a week or so after launch the Mexican wave of excitement continued throughout my office and friendship group. 

Then after a few weeks, we’d all given up; it had died. Everyone I spoke to had realised we’d been shouting answers to “What’s your favorite animal?” into a void.

Rather than a pure game experience, Miitomo acted a little like a social network, asking you questions the answers to which your avatar would then share with your friends. It was a big deal for Nintendo, as it was its first foray into the world of mobile apps and games.

Social gaming

Nintendo hasn’t revealed the exact playing figures for its first mobile game, but, diving back in after a few months absence, it wasn’t looking as though many were still playing.

All I was greeted with was glimpses of abandoned social media updates with no replies. Answers to questions like “What do you think about ninjas?” and “What fruit have you eaten most in your life?” have been left sitting there.

Each call had been answered, but all the way back in April 2016. It’s clear the social networking elements haven’t worked as Nintendo had wanted within Miitomo, as so few people are still playing the game.

Even a simple Twitter search only reveals people asking “What is Miitomo?” rather than screenshot-ing their new outfits and sharing them like most did on week one.

The functionality of the app hasn’t changed since August 8, with the last iOS and Android update. That was when a new game mode called Candy Drop was introduced to the platform.

Much like the original game mechanic, you’re just dropping an item to see where it falls – rather like those seaside gaming machines where you try to knock coins off a shelf by putting a coin into a slot at just the right time.

Throughout this time Miitomo has been updated with outfits and rewards within the game – I just got my hands on a pretty new top to look like a zombie, ready for Halloween – but Nintendo hasn’t seen fit to update it with more robust gameplay enhancements.

When it initially launched I expected Nintendo to be bringing extra game modes into Miitomo every few weeks to keep us interested.

Even some relatively simple additions could improve things. Using my Miitomo character in multiplayer games on my phone would be great. An endless runner where I can play as my shirtless, toast-pinned character would give me more reason to keep coming back, too.

But instead it’s still just this one, wildly unpredictable game which rewards you with clothing you can put on that no one will likely see.

To be fair, a small group are still playing Miitomo. The Twitter account MiitomoNow has over 7,000 followers, and regularly links up players to other active users.

If you want to find other active players it’s possible, but it’s not likely to be people you know in real life, and the answers you’ll be reading will be mostly useless to you.

That’s why Super Mario Run – the new upcoming runner title featuring everyone’s favorite gaming mascot – needs to work for Nintendo. 

Nintendo also has Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem mobile titles in the works, but neither has the mainstream brand recognition of Mario – your parents likely know who Mario is, but will look at you bewildered if you mention Tom Nook in passing.

Using Mario’s brand recognition, Nintendo will be able to penetrate the mobile market which, if you look at the reception to Miitomo, has so far eluded it.

Of course there’s big, big money in mobile gaming – so it's no surprise that Nintendo wants to be a part of it – but it will also allow Nintendo to bring its timeless and iconic characters to a new audience.

Putting Nintendo characters in mobile titles means a whole new generation of younger children are more likely to meet Donkey Kong, Samus and Toad – and maybe lure them to the upcoming Nintendo NX console too.

Many believe Pokemon Go has already made Nintendo a success on mobile, but Nintendo’s influence on the popular AR app was minimal. The company’s stock went up $17.6 billion, but then proceeded to lose $6.7 billion when investors realised Nintendo didn’t technically make Pokemon Go, but that it was developer Niantic’s work instead.

Super Mario Run is set to debut on iOS in December 2016, and on Android at some point in the future.

Miitomo, meanwhile, isn’t going to be revived without a major upgrade – which seems unlikely right now – meaning that Nintendo’s mobile gaming triumph responsibility falls squarely on the Italian plumber’s shoulders.