Gamers might not like to hear it, but the controversial pay-to-win business model of the mobile game business is ultimately what makes the platform so lucrative.
That Nintendo has either ignored or didn’t know about the golden rule of App Store pricing has proven to be a colossal error in judgement. Even I ignored it.
This golden rule is simple: your mobile game needs either an attractive — and low — base purchase price, or optional in-app (IAPs).
At $9.99US ($14.99 in Australia), Super Mario Run is expensive relative to the cost of other games available on the App Store. And with little to no free additional content, it’s a very tough purchase to make.
According to Statista, the average mobile game costs only $0.55US.
That low figure is due to the abundance of free-to-play titles that offer IAPs, ranging from aesthetic additions like skins and clothing, to in-game boosts that allow the player to progress and level up faster without having to actually play the game.
There are mobile games that are priced at the $10-or-more range, but these are the likes of GTA: San Andreas and Star Wars: Knight Of The Old Republic, titles offering literally hundreds of hours of gameplay and exploration.
Super Mario Run‘s actual popularity isn’t in doubt — people are seeing the character, recognising the face, and downloading it in droves — but simply not enough people are buying the game in its entirety.
When initial concerns regarding the game’s price surfaced, some (including this author) ridiculed the response: if anyone could buck the trend and over-charge for a mobile runner, it was Nintendo. At least that’s what we thought.
It wasn’t until I started hearing actual Nintendo fans — colleagues, friends, gamers — complaining about the price, not to mention its always-online requirement, that I started to question the game’s chart-topping sustainability.
As it turns out, not even Nintendo can beat the beast that is the App Store and its insurmountable pricing mechanisms.
While Super Mario Run is still the most downloaded game in some 68 countries — albeit down from around 140 upon release — it is no longer the highest revenue earner in any country it’s available in.
That is a staggering reflection of the state of Nintendo’s first foray onto mobile: that so many people are downloading its game to play it, but no one’s bothering to buy it for the full experience. Consider that no other aspect of the game is monetised, and it’s no surprise that Nintendo’s stock is in free fall.
It may not necessarily be a reflection of the game’s quality — it’s hard to fault the game’s functionality and gameplay — but the challenge was always in offering a preview that convinced players to fork out $10.
The reason so many mobile games are inexpensive or free is because few people actually use their smartphone or tablet as a dedicated gaming device.
App downloads and purchases are sporadic and random: while there is certainly a committed mobile gaming audience out there, the app environment is fiercely competitive, and games need to offer fast, fun and frantic experiences.
That’s what people want from a mobile game: something they don’t need to invest too much time into in order to be satisfied and entertained. People are willing to pay a few dollars for that fast, satisfying progression. The statistics show that.
The initial offering of Super Mario Run — the first three levels — might actually be enough to satisfy people downloading the game. Either that, or the game isn’t compelling enough to justify paying $10 for.
If it’s the former, it suggests Nintendo needs to rethink how it prices the game. If the latter — which I think is doubtful — then the question is whether Nintendo games can make the successful transition to mobile (they definitely can).
There’s little if any doubt that Nintendo needs to completely rethink how it approaches mobile pricing mechanisms. It’s not something I personally love and want to see — I paid the $14.99 AUD for Super Mario Run — but I understand and appreciate why and how the mobile platform differs from the more dedicated gaming platforms.
Sadly, it may involve Nintendo either halving the price all together, or, eep, going completely free and offering different parts of the experience for an additional cost.
The way the game is designed would make pay-to-win difficult: the game’s “easy to play, hard to master” offering would make IAPs seem exploitative, which appears at odds with Nintendo’s own philosophy. It would flat out suck having Super Star IAPs for $0.99 in Toad Rally.
Instead, it could perhaps monetise Rally tickets, or lock behind a paywall all additional playthroughs to find special coins.
You’re probably cringing at the thought, but Nintendo’s success on mobile is ultimately something that benefits all of us. And that success is going to involve coming to terms with how the platform works, and why people spend money on mobile games the way they do.
Simply dismissing and hating on IAPs and free-to-play structures is futile, because it doesn’t make someone sitting on a train flicking through their phone any more likely to spend $10 on a mobile game, especially one as light-hearted and accessible as Super Mario Run.
That’s why we might all have to come to terms with the free-to-play, IAP model — one that proves successful — and inevitably leads to more mobile Nintendo games, more often.
What are your thoughts on Super Mario Run, its cost, and its struggles? Should Nintendo change the price? Should it go free with IAPs, or should Nintendo just half the price? Sound off below!