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Business deals

Nintendo and Line team up for smartphone game

'Dr. Mario World' wins a chat app partner that boasts a strong Asian user base

Nintendo, which used to safeguard its console business by staying away from smartphones, has found another partner to help it tempt users of the ubiquitous handheld devices, chat app operator Line.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Nintendo and messaging app operator Line are teaming up to release a Dr. Mario smartphone game early this summer, a move that is expected to help the iconic Japanese game maker tap into Asia's increasingly well-off, smartphone-carrying middle classes.

"Dr. Mario World" will be released globally in approximately 60 countries, including Japan and the U.S. Nintendo made the announcement on Friday. The company, known for staying mum regarding its strategies, declined to comment on exactly where the game will be distributed, but Asian countries can expect to have access to the title.

Line has about 79 million users in Japan. It also has large user bases in Thailand and Taiwan, and has made some progress in Indonesia. Total monthly users in the four economies add up to more than 165 million.

A Line representative said that "going forward, we will consult with Nintendo about the regions the game will be released."

Hideki Yasuda, senior analyst at Ace Research Institute, said Nintendo likely seeks another benefit from the tie-up -- "to reach out to consumers who are not familiar with games."

Nintendo, founded in 1889, has assembled a gallery of well-liked characters such as Mario and Zelda. In recent years, its Nintendo Switch console has helped the company boost earnings.

Its money-spinning console business is one reason it shied away from smartphone games until three years ago. In this space, Nintendo has teamed up with other Japanese companies, such as DeNA and Cygames. The partnership with Line, Japan's dominant chat app, will be another step toward strengthening its smartphone offerings.

NHN Entertainment, a prominent South Korean video game developer that has a close relationship with Line, will also take part in developing and operating "Dr. Mario World," which will be released as iOS and Android apps. Although the app will be free to download, there will be in-game purchase options.

At an investors briefing on Friday, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said that "if there are any other good talks about developing a smartphone game in the future, we will actively use that partnership."

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