Nintendo’s latest mobile game has some strategic flaws

Written by Fethullah Bilgec

According to the David Bolton, Nintendo’s latest mobile game has some strategic flaws.

The end of any year is a time for reflecting on what has happened and what the next 12 months will hold. In many ways, 2016 was an extraordinary year that ended with the majority of people wondering how 2017 will now play out.

2016 was also the year when Nintendo officially entered the mobile gaming arena.

To say that this was what gamers had been waiting for was an understatement. Nintendo is a legendary gaming company with a roster of titles that would look great on a smartphone. And these titles were already familiar to both hardcore and casual gamers.

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Successful mobile games can be a huge source of revenue for a developer or publishing company. A recent report from market research company SuperData Research said mobile games accounted for $41 billion out of the total $91 billion generated by all interactive entertainment categories in 2016, VentureBeat reported.

On the flip side, both app stores are filled with thousands of games that exist in mobile game purgatory. Apple even purged its App Store in October of a slew of games that hadn’t been touched by their developers in over a year.


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But Nintendo was never going to be just another mobile game developer. It is a gaming brand.

Nintendo has a history with hand-held devices that started with Game & Watch back in 1981 before releasing a series of Game Boys that eventually evolved into the Nintendo DS/3DS. In 2017, the company will release the Nintendo Switch—a home and portable console that (in theory) could erase any memories of its recent console shortcomings.

So mobile and Nintendo should be a perfect fit.

Nintendo’s first entry into mobile gaming —the social game “Miitomo”— was released in March and was awful. Yes, it was installed millions of times, earned decent revenue in the weeks after launch before being unceremoniously dumped by a gaming public that realized it was not a game.


The relative failure of Miitomo was then overshadowed by the release in July of what people thought was a Nintendo game—Pokemon Go. Which was great news until we (and Nintendo’s shareholders) found out that it wasn’t. Or, at least not fully.

Fast forward to September and Apple’s annual iPhone celebration in San Francisco. Moments after Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed that there were now 500,000 mobile games on the App Store, Nintendo’s rockstar game designer Shigeru Miyamoto walked on stage to announce that Super Mario Run would be available, “in time for the holidays.”

The fact that the mobile game would only be available on iOS devices to start was a minor annoyance. The bigger picture was that Nintendo seemed to be getting its mobile act together. If we had Super Mario Run, then surely Super Mario Drive (think Mario Kart) would not be far behind. Donkey Kong and even Zelda might be arrive soon.

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On December 15, Nintendo released Super Mario Run to a ravenous iPhone-owning public and waited for the gold coins to roll in. After just four days, the mobile game had amassed over 40 million installs, topped the App Store charts in 140 countries and generated around $20 million in revenue.

As an added bonus, Super Mario Run blitzed past the download record set by Pokemon Go earlier in the year. Which was a mean feat when you remember that the entire world seemed to be filled with people trying to catch Pokemon.

Mobile Games Are Defined By Revenue Streams

There was just one small problem … Nintendo decided to make the game “free-to-start.” Not free-to-play … free for three levels and then you have to fork out $9.99 to open up the rest of the game.

And Nintendo’s marketing of the game prior to launch seemed to conveniently overlook this tiny detail.

Nintendo’s attempt to introduce a new form of revenue stream have not gone down well with gamers. Tech Times reported that the game has an average 2.5 rating on the App Store, most of which relate to the $9.99 price tag.

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Free-to-play (“freemium”) models have been the backbone of mobile gaming for years … install the game, play it for a bit, make in-app purchases if you like the game, complete, move on to another game.

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What Nintendo has done is apply its console experience to a mobile game. Gamers will fork out up to $60 for a Triple-A title, but mobile games are a different kettle of fish. Free-to-start sounds great in theory, but it is coming up against an ingrained revenue model that is the reason why mobile games can be profitable.

Mobile gamers are used to the free-to-play model. End of story. That is why games like Clash Royale, Clash of Clans and Game of War are bringing in daily revenue of over $1 million per day, according to Think Gaming. Even Pokemon Go is still generating daily revenue of just under $300,000.

Free-To-Start Is A Gamble For Gamers

Even before it was released, Super Mario Run was never going to be Pokemon Go or even any of the more content-rich mobile games that rely on in-app purchases. And many people thought that was a good thing.

Pokemon Go was an augmented reality experience that caught the public imagination while generating headlines and revenue through in-app purchases. Super Mario Go would be a “classic” side-scrolling game that you could play with one hand. As an enthusiastic-but-useless gamer, simplicity is at the top of my list.

But do I want to pay nearly $10 for the chance to navigate Mario through an open world? Will I install the three available levels of Super Mario Run on my Android smartphone when it gets released at some point in 2017?

The answers, sadly, are no and probably. Until then, I will stick with my beloved Goat Simulator when I need my mobile gaming fix.

About the author


Fethullah Bilgec

Tech Reporter specialized on Mobile Technologies

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