It seems factors like the smartphone gaming revolution, the rise of social games, and shrinking video game sales do have an impact on Nintendo’s business strategy after all. Various Japanese media, i.e. the country’s biggest business daily The Nikkei, are reporting today that Nintendo is planning to offer in-game virtual item sales for 3DS titles.
The background here is that Nintendo’s sales from its “digital” business (downloads of classic games, for example) currently account for under 5% of the total. This number is much higher for other “traditional” video game makers: Konami, for example, is now making more money with social games (which are very popular in Japan) than with packaged software.
According to the reports, Nintendo is planning to enable the micro transaction system on the 3DS as early as next month, via a firmware upgrade. Games supporting the system are then expected to be released in 2012: these titles will offer features (like additional stages, extra characters, etc.) that can only be unlocked if the buyer pays a certain fee to Nintendo.
My guess is that the new payment system will also make it possible for the company to offer subscription-based game play models, for example for RPGs, in the future. Nintendo repeatedly said it won’t offer smartphone games, a lot of which are monetized via virtual item sales.