The biggest game company in the world is helping Nintendo break into the Chinese market, but it may be making a bold play for Nintendo’s beloved characters in exchange

Super Mario continues to be one of Nintendo's most popular, most well-known characters — even after decades in the spotlight.

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Super Mario continues to be one of Nintendo’s most popular, most well-known characters — even after decades in the spotlight.
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Nintendo

  • Nintendo, a 100-plus-year-old Japanese company, is making a major play for the massive Chinese gaming market.
  • The Japanese gaming giant is teaming up with Tencent, a Chinese conglomerate and the biggest game company in the world, to release the Nintendo Switch and some of its most popular games in China.
  • But Tencent’s ambitions are bigger than partnership: The Chinese conglomerate wants to make its own games with Nintendo’s wildly popular characters, and it wants to release those games in the United States and Europe.
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After decades of being locked out of China, Nintendo is finally breaking in – albeit through the Chinese conglomerate Tencent.

The two companies announced a collaboration back in April that finally enables a Nintendo game console, the Switch, to launch in China, the largest gaming market in the world. The deal also enables some of Nintendo’s biggest Switch games to launch in China.

But it sounds like Tencent’s ambitions with Nintendo don’t end with the China collaboration.

“What we want is to expand from China, and one target is console game players in the US and Europe,” an unidentified Tencent staffer told the Wall Street Journal in a piece published over the weekend. “We hope to create console games with Nintendo characters, and learn the essence of making console games from Nintendo engineers.”

That’s a pretty major goal, and an especially bold one given Nintendo’s history of being extremely protective of its characters and properties.

The company is famously careful about which companies it allows to make games with its properties, and has retained a reputation for quality control as a result.

Simply put: People trust Nintendo games to be high quality, and Nintendo has carefully maintained that standard by not allowing its properties to be licensed widely.

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“Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is the best-selling Nintendo Switch game, with nearly 20 million units sold.
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Nintendo

Though Tencent is the largest game company in the world, it became so large through acquisition rather than creation. Nintendo spent decades building up game franchises and characters from nothing, elevating a tiny Italian plumber from a few blocky pixels to a household name.

Tencent took decidedly different tactic: Investing in, and/or buying up, major game makers.

For instance, Tencent outright owns Riot Games – the Los Angeles-based studio responsible for two of the world’s biggest games: “League of Legends” and “Teamfight Tactics.”

Tencent also owns a substantial portion of Epic Games (specifically, a 40% stake) – the North Carolina-based company behind “Fortnite,” the Epic Games Store, and the software suite that powers a huge portion of gaming (Unreal Engine). It also owns the majority of Supercell (84%), the Finnish mobile gaming powerhouse behind “Clash of Clans,” “Clash Royale,” and “Brawl Stars.”

And that’s just for starters: Tencent also has minority stakes in “Call of Duty” publisher Activision and “Assassin’s Creed” publisher Ubisoft.

Tencent has a 40% stake in

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Tencent has a 40% stake in “Fortnite” studio Epic Games.
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Screenshot Twitter/@FortniteGame

In short: Tencent’s gaming portfolio is massive, but the company bought its way into gaming and has shown no signs that it’s building up game development capabilities.

Whether Nintendo would work with Tencent to “create console games with Nintendo characters,” or to teach the Chinese conglomerate “the essence of making console games” remains to be seen – Nintendo representatives didn’t immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

For now, the partnership is starting with the launch of the Nintendo Switch and “New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe” in China, which the two companies hope to launch in the next six months.