‘Super Mario Run’ Release
Mobile gaming has become a constant part of life, where it wins is the ease of use and pick up and play element. You already own a smartphone, you have a twenty minute bus ride and mobile games appeal to those exact elements. In fact mobile game only franchises such as candy crush, game of war and clash of clans have generated the kind of income that most conventional video games franchises can only dream of in a relatively short space of time.
There is one thing we’ve been missing this whole time, the leviathan of portable gaming hidden under the surface: Nintendo. For decades now, Nintendo has dominated handheld gaming and been at the forefront of new and unusual console features, why are there no Nintendo mobile games? When you read that last sentence, you probably thought “of course there is… there’s… ermm… maybe there isn… Pokemon!” Well you’re half right, or to be exact, slightly less than a third right. Nintendo had a very small stake in Pokemon Go! and not much riding on it.
Why go mobile now?
Nintendo had been content to thrive off of the success of some flagship consoles, the Wii and the DS families to be exact. All families have their problems though, the Wii U has proved disappointing to most fans and DS/3DS sales are slowing. So now Nintendo have to look elsewhere and it’s time they stepped up to the mobile gaming plate. They’re coming out fighting with Super Mario Run.
Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the game as we know so far, it’s an auto-runner where you tap to jump your way through some recognizable early Mario levels. That’s nothing staggering is it? Auto-runners are an off the shelf choice, the side scrolling layout of early Mario levels is a familiar sight and this all sounds like they should have done it years ago or not bothered.
Where’s the Nintendo magic?
Where’s the thing they saw that no one else did? What’s the new technology or idea? Well it’s maybe not in the hardware, or the immediately obvious game, but it is there. Firstly, most of us now know the tricks the mobile games use to pry money out of us: pay to speed up imposed time delays or buy a bundle of X cash which you use to buy Y coins and unlock more goes etc. This so called “freemium gaming” is a now tried and tested method. Give the consumer a game for free but add so many layers and small incremental charges that they extract a small amount of cash through ‘micro-transactions’.
Nintendo have had the radical idea of charging for Super Mario Run. Believe it or not, we live in a world where charging for a video game you’ve spent millions to develop, is radical. Most of us would now instantly baulk at the idea of handing over £2.99 for a game that’s given us hours of joy. Instead, Nintendo are just charging you £7.99 to unlock the full game. It’s riskier and arguably likely to produce less long term income, but will generate more immediate profits to offset production cost.
The other smart move from Nintendo is the exact thing I criticised it for earlier, turning classic Mario in to an auto-runner. The idea being that you have total one handed play. This means you can play the game while absent mindedly doing something else and with that they perfectly understand the market. The repetitive frustration of an auto runner and ease of use guarantees extended replayability. Although it should be noted that the requirement to always be online will limit the places you can use it, particularly while commuting.
What’s in it for Nintendo?
If you’ve already bought the game though, what’s in it for Nintendo whether you keep playing it or not? Freemium mobile games make their money from you constantly coming back and seeing the ads that support the game or being frustrated in to paying to make the game easier. There’s something that Nintendo are putting on the line here though: their reputation and their legacy. Most mobile gaming producers don’t have any other products to sell aside from merchandise. If Nintendo produced a subpar game it would damage their entire range. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch on the horizon, they can’t afford any damage to reputation.
They haven’t used Mario just for nostalgia, as most commentators are saying, they’ve used him as their gold standard of reputation. They’ve fronted their most commercial and most trusted asset as their wager on mobile gaming. Whatever happens to Super Mario Run, the involvement of conventional video game companies, producing conventional titles for mobile devices, will probably change mobile gaming forever.