In March 2015 Nintendo made an announcement that sent ripples through the gaming world: the classic console giant would renege on its promise and produce mobile games using classic Nintendo properties such as Super Mario Brothers and the Legend of Zelda.
Last week Nintendo made good on its promise and announced the launch date of its first highly-anticipated mobile game—the simply titled Super Mario Run—in December 2016 for iOS (iPhone and iPad). Two more games from the popular franchises Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem are scheduled to release March 2017.
To understand Nintendo’s strategy for mobile gaming, let’s take a closer look at its first major release.
How will Super Mario Run be played?
The gameplay mechanics in Super Mario Run are simple. It’s an auto-runner game where Mario keeps running forward while the player touches the screen to make Mario jump over obstacles and onto platforms.
But this game isn’t like the simple concept of Super Mario Bros. where you run through several worlds and defeat an end boss: it’s actually three games in one. And the coolest part is that each mode of play builds on itself.
One objective is to collect as many coins as possible as Mario runs through obstacle courses. Another mode pits you against the play data of friends where you get Toads to join your ‘team’ by impressing them with play style. The third way to play Super Mario Run combines the first two modes where earned coins and Toads help you build your own Mushroom Kingdom.
It’s a clever way to expand the playability of a game that could have been simplified to boredom.
Nintendo is cashing in on nostalgia with the simple side-scrolling platformer but it’s part of a long-game strategy for the company that could pay off in a big way.
Why is Nintendo going mobile?
Nintendo is a company that, for over 30 years, has prided itself on its technology and the value of its deep history. The idea of a Nintendo mobile game threatened both.
One fear was the loss of focus on Nintendo’s console development in a very competitive console market. (Wii sales have been struggling against Xbox and PlayStation.) Nintendo’s brand has been built on the legacy of their consoles. Jumping to mobile could shake up how the public views the console giant, a risk the steady and pragmatic Japanese company didn’t want to take. The risk is financial, too: while console games require more resources to develop than mobile games, they also generate more revenue for each purchase as console games can easily cost $40 or more.
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However, the mobile games aren’t simply a port of the console games. Nintendo is working with Japanese mobile game developer DeNA to create new mobile game experiences using the company’s classic characters. As we see with Super Mario Run, the mobile games are full stand-alone experiences in and of themselves and not replacing the need for console games.
In fact, Nintendo is hoping that their mobile games will inspire a new generation of console devotees.
Nintendo bets on mobile to boost console
Moving to mobile might not be a step back as had been feared but a strategy to propel their console business forward. How? By creating a relationship with new gamers, and by connecting experiences across devices.
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Super Mario Run will first be launching to an audience of millions with their iOS deployment this December, and then expand to potentially billions with an Android release (likely before March 2017). This will be a new way for Nintendo to get in front of mobile-only players who will cash in on what Nintendo has to offer on console. (Hopefully.)
“By taking this approach, we firmly believe that doing business on smart devices will not shrink our dedicated video game system business and will instead create new demand,” said the late Satoru Iwata, former president and CEO of Nintendo, during the initial announcement in early 2015.
Connecting across the device divide
There are signs that Nintendo is connecting their properties within and across devices to direct interest from players.
The company’s foray into mobile gaming was February 2016 with the launch of Miitomo, a social network based on Nintendo’s iconic Mii avatars. It’s clear that Miitomo is intended to be a hub for connecting players to the full Nintendo mobile experience, potentially allowing a mobile owner’s Mii wander into Super Mario Run or having the ability to share play data in the Miitomo app.
And then there’s the Nintendo NX. It’s the next-generation console that is rumored to be portable with its own tablet. Perhaps not “mobile” in the sense of iOS and Android, but it’s a vote of confidence in mobile capabilities. Nintendo might translate their mobile game experiences to their new mobile console.
And one can’t ignore the uncanny timing of the mobile games and the new console. Both shared the same announcement as if they might both be key players in the same business strategy. Super Mario Run will be released four months before the NX. Nintendo’s next two planned mobile games will be released the same month as the NX.
Let’s just admit the first quarter of 2017 is going to be a Nintendo extravaganza.
How much does Super Mario Run cost?
The app price has not been announced yet. However, there will be a free download available with the option to make a one-time purchase to get the full game.
The good news is there will be no in-app purchases or microtransactions that would disrupt the play experience. (We don’t want Mario to trip while he’s constantly running, right?) The bad news is that this will drive up the one-time purchase price.
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Most Mario games for console and DS cost $20-$30. Mobile games are usually less expensive but popular franchise games produced by large developers with a longer development cycle tend to be a little more expensive than standard mobile games.
Considering these factors, our guess is that the full Super Mario Run could cost as low as $4.99 and as much as $14.99.