In this Highsnobiety op-ed, Mat Ombler dispels the criticism that Super Mario Run was a "failure" and argues that Nintendo's mobile strategy is proceeding exactly as planned.
On December 23, Nintendo announced that Super Mario Run, Mario’s mobile debut on the iOS store, has been downloaded over 50 million times. That’s an extra 10 million downloads from their announcement of 40 million downloads the week before, in which Nintendo also claimed that Super Mario Run was the fastest in App Store history to hit that milestone.
Despite the phenomenal download figures, there’s an air of negativity surrounding the game. At the time of writing, the game boasts a mediocre review score of 2.5 stars on the iOS store, and mainstream media coverage of the title has been less than favorable. And, while there is some rightful criticism due about the way Nintendo and Apple handled certain aspects of the game, as far as their core mobile strategy is concerned, Super Mario Run is dashing forward at a strong pace.
Some are already calling Mario Run a "failure." Doubts have been cast on Nintendo’s future in the mobile market after shares dramatically fell following the release of Super Mario Run (and let’s not forget that the company’s stock price also took a massive plunge after they announced their new console back in October). It would be wise, then, not to define success through the eyes of speculative investors in the stock market. Others continue to criticize Nintendo’s relevance in a modern-day gaming market, and speak of Nintendo’s move into the mobile market as a "last chance attempt" at capturing the hearts of those it lost long ago.
Unfortunately for Nintendo, people seem content to translate a couple of bad years – okay, abysmal years, as far as the Wii U is concerned – into a predicted doomsday for the company. Nintendo – the company who announced plans to collaborate with Universal parks and resorts to create an entire "Nintendo World" this year – could apparently crumble in a few weeks following the ill-reception of a mobile game. If you ask any Nintendo fan how often the company has been told to "do this or else face certain failure," the answer is often.
Nintendo’s mobile strategy involves introducing new audiences to their intellectual property such as Pokémon, Mario, Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing, as well as rekindling the enthusiasm of older players who may not have come into contact with a Nintendo product in quite some time.
“We also look forward to an exciting period ahead, with further growth in our mobile business, new products for our dedicated video game systems and continued progress in our efforts to increase the number of consumers experiencing our IP through games, licensing and expanded entertainment,” explained Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimashimi, as he announced mobile plans earlier this year in April.
It's hard to take seriously the claim that 50 million downloads is a "failure." Remember, that's 50 million people who now have access to a MyNintendo account and who will be receiving inbox alerts on newsworthy Nintendo information going forward.
Of course, while 50 million people have downloaded the game, that doesn’t mean 50 million people paid for the game. The initial download consists of three course demo, while unlocking the full game costs €9.99. Nintendo hasn’t recently revealed further information on profits, but Miyamoto has said it’s difficult to understand profits earned from the game and expects the conversion rate to grow slowly, especially as exposure to the game continues to expand with the inevitable android release.
The price tag, described as "hefty," is justifiable. It’s an extremely polished game and retains all the character a Mario platformer should have. Users are buying into a franchise that’s been built over many years and has a strong reputation for solid, well-made games. The price tag resulted in a lot of negative reviews, but was ultimately the right decision for Nintendo: a 5% conversion rate would still be an incredible profit given the cost of making a mobile game.
Free-to-play models are increasingly popular in the mobile market and, as a result, players expect free content and perhaps a micro-transaction now and again. However, if Nintendo lowered the price of the game or adopted a free-to-play model with micro transactions, it would risk undervaluing its IP.
Having said that, Nintendo and Apple could have avoided criticism about the game's price by making the costs of the game more understandable. Many players seem to have felt tricked by having a purchase imposed on them after a short run of levels, and that confusion could be avoided by changing the store menu's layout to include dual purchase buttons, with one offering a trial demo and the other the full purchase of €9.99.
Another downside for certain players is the requirement for a constant internet connection. Given that Nintendo has expressed a desire for its IP to be fully utilized wherever possible, the need for connectivity for something as simple as a "runner" mobile game makes little sense. In this regard, Nintendo is potentially limiting its audience, but the success of Pokémon Go proves that, for many, constant online connectivity isn’t a problem – at least, so long as Mum and Dad are footing the bill.
Despite all the minor concerns outlined above, the future looks bright for Nintendo. Mobile is a long-term strategy for the company, and it appears to have finally realized the importance of brand awareness. Nintendo appears confident that its Italian mascot will share the same commercial success as the animated heavyweights over at Disney.
Perhaps the only mistake Nintendo made with the mobile release of Super Mario Run on iOS was the failure to include a supporting Mario title on its handheld platforms. However, as the Nintendo Switch release date draws closer, we can surely expect the Android release of the game to cleverly coincide with a Mario title on the new console. Despite all the criticism surrounding Nintendo at present, there's every reason to be optimistic that the company knows exactly what it's doing.
Now check out how Nintendo's Zapper light gun actually works.