Would Disney Buy Nintendo?

May 07, 2015

Shortly after posting my thoughts on the announcement of Nintendo attractions in Universal Parks & Resorts, Ben Thompson reached out and asked a simple question:

I’ve posted a couple of pieces about the cross-over between Disney and Nintendo, most relevant to the possibility of a Disney acquisition of Nintendo on 11/21/14:

Star Wars is Disney.

Marvel is Disney.

It was as if I had never really given weight to the thought. Nintendo has always been so evident and ripe to fit along classic Disney franchises. But Marvel and Star Wars? Put in the context of Disney buying Nintendo and Nintendo just seems like a no brainer put up against the other two.

On the flip-side, the majority have been spelling doom for Nintendo for years. And Nintendo has been putting up one hell of a fight. Let’s see how these Super Smash Bros. numbers do.

(Turns out those Super Smash Bros. numbers have done pretty well. Nintendo’s fiscal year 2015 report states 6.75 million units for 3DS, 3.65 million units for Wii U.)

Thinking a bit more about butting up Nintendo’s cast of characters next to Disney’s, there is an odd dissonance that begins to materialize.


Nintendo’s IP (Mario & Co.) compete directly with Disney’s foundational IP (Mickey & Co.). They serve a like purpose for both brands, only Nintendo’s are largely mute and and lack archetypes. It’s difficult to identify with Mario, Link, and Samus and I think that would be a problem for Disney. That’s not to say Mickey, Minnie, and Donald are easy to identify with, but what has grown from their foundation are characters like Ariel, Elsa, and Aladdin. Likewise, Marvel and Star Wars characters such as Spiderman and Han Solo exude heavy archetypes that fans, child or adult, latch on to.

It may seem like nonsense in the context of playful, lighthearted entertainment, but archetypes are hooks. I’m a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, a team of four heavy archetypes. When playing as a child, I would pick which Turtle I wanted to be and act out their personality. Likewise, selecting a favorite Avenger (Captain America) adds a vast array of color to playtime or personal ethics. I’m not sure how kids go about acting out Mario vs. Luigi. (Other than a death-stare I suppose.)


Time and time again, Nintendo has shown that they can put up a fight. Most recently, with Wii U’s stagnant numbers, Nintendo tightened and polished mainstream hits like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. to help move the console back to relevancy.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata during the 2015 fiscal year financial results:

Specifically, I believe it was significant that “Mario Kart 8” and “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” were released in the same year and that we have been able to maintain users’ active use of these titles months after their respective releases.

Lately, Nintendo has also been oddly quick to diversify and even innovate, entering into a new product category with Amiibo (of which 10.5M have already shipped), speaking with TV & Film creative houses, and most recently partnering with Universal to enter into the theme park market.

All of this speaks to Nintendo’s steadfast attitude and the pride that builds after proving themselves to the nay-sayers. From weird controllers to the motion-control frenzy to off-screen play, they remain resolute in their foundation as innovators; trusting themselves when embarking on new endeavors. Given the choice of the guarantee of making a buck or flopping with a new creative product, I trust Nintendo to stand-by the flop until it makes a buck.

I believe Nintendo sees themselves as the Little Mac to Disney’s Mike Tyson; a worthy underdog in the entertainment ring.

Price, or return?

Back to Ben Thompson’s initial question. Ben made the comment of “too pricey.” Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm for $4B each. Nintendo is currently holds a market cap of $25.73B. Disney currently stands at a market cap of $185.96B. Note that I have very little knowledge of how the financial markets work or if the price to buy would be based off of market cap. That said, I don’t entirely believe Nintendo would be too pricey, rather a return on an investment of $25.73B would stand to be an extremely long-game.

In a world where Disney owned Nintendo, I highly doubt any Nintendo property or product would see a rise comparable to that of the $2B in market cap the second teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens generated for Disney. Nintendo’s current video game business would holdfast while their toy and other consumer products division would certainly expand. But, again, I don’t see a singular product, movie, or experience (let alone the speculation of success!) that would net as quick and massive a return as $2B. For Disney to see a valuable return on a Nintendo acquisition, I see Disney utilizing not only Nintendo IP but Nintendo’s game design infrastructure to boost the Disney Interactive brand, giving the weight and timelessness Nintendo franchises have to Disney games.

Lack of voice

Speaking of timelessness, I believe video games can be too timeless. In regard of Disney; their vault; and founding ideology of past, present, and future; time is key.

Great video games are seemingly endlessly re-playable for generations. Not to mention that the lack of captivating story elements in most Nintendo games means that they are typically always relevant because, well, they are not relevant at all. There is a tiny bit of nostalgia involved when playing a game you grew up with, but it’s not the sort of remembrance we give to artists of film and TV. It wasn’t until I saw Wreck-It Ralph that I my nostalgia meter peeked. I accredit this not to my remembers of the games, but the fact that Disney payed homage to my own private memories.

Likewise, video game production value has reached not what I would call a plateau, but a current landscape that spans generations. New 8/16-bit games are just as relevant as photo-realistic AAA titles. In the world of film, throwback production like The Artist, while great, can be considered novelty. That same sense of great timely novelty is what gives weight, connection, and excitement when seeing Han Solo on screen again. Possibilities are endless in video games that lack great voice talent. Because of this, I’m afraid that sense of great novelty and nostalgia would never happen on a mass scale for video games the way Disney would need it to.

Would Disney buy Nintendo? I say no. Disney doesn’t need Nintendo. Nintendo doesn’t need Disney.