The days leading up to the December release of Super Mario Run were full of buzz and excitement about the beloved franchise’s latest iteration. It was widely known that the mobile app would charge $9.99 for full access, one of the heftier price tags as far as mobile gaming is concerned.
Despite that, it seemed that the Mario legacy would be enough to make the game a smashing success. But after Super Mario Run launched on December 15, it became evident that the game was not necessarily going to live up to the hype that preceded the launch or become a craze like Pokémon Go. With only about 4 percent of people that downloaded the game going on to pay the full price in the first three days (December 15–December 17), the vast majority opted to end their game play after the short free experience. The 96 percent that opted to not pay the steep price tag for the game may have been turned off by Super Mario Run and, instead, became negative influencers in the community, further putting out Nintendo’s fire.
While the quantitative metrics can’t be ignored – most people wouldn’t consider 10 million worldwide downloads on its launch day unsuccessful – qualitative factors like the market reaction and reviewer feedback don’t mimic that success. This lukewarm reaction serves as a major indicator that gamers, particularly the growing segment of millennial gamers, have shifting preferences, specifically in how they consume media and entertainment. Nintendo and other content producers can use this launch as a case study to better understand the changing needs and desires of today’s modern gamers.
The modern gaming industry
Not too long ago, the gaming industry was much smaller and restricted to controlled environments, like a console or desktop computer. With the advent of mobile gaming, however, gaming has become an everyday activity for a much larger audience, outside of the traditional ‘gamer.’ Today, mobility, augmented reality, and virtual reality technologies have enabled gaming companies to step outside of traditional boundaries and introduce not only new platforms for gaming, but new formats.
In a research study completed by App Annie, the mobile app economy is expected to grow to $101 billion by 2020, with gaming as a segment reaching $74.6 billion by 2020. Another report by the Open Gaming Alliance estimates that PC gaming software will grow to $35 billion in 2018, a $9 billion dollar increase from 2014. None of these numbers are by any means questionable as to the long-term success the gaming industry will foster, however, it does show that the growth for mobile channels will balloon in the coming years in comparison to PC applications.
Considering this, it is important that traditional gaming companies stop thinking about what they can bring to devices made exclusively for gaming, but instead how to evolve traditional gaming to reach new audience segments uninterested in archaic platforms. And while Nintendo certainly put forth this effort with Super Mario Run, their effort seemed to come up short in adapting to the expectations of the modern gaming industry.
Shifting consumer expectations
When looking at mobile apps specifically, many apps are either free, or utilize a freemium model. Therefore, consumers frequently now expect not only for mobile games to be free but to also simultaneously provide a high-quality experience. Nintendo has stated that it choose its pricing model for Super Mario Run in an effort to be completely transparent with parents who may be purchasing the game for their children. While this is a fair and respectable point, it left out a massive audience segment of Mario fans over the age 18 who make their own purchasing decisions and may not be interested in paying more than normal for a mobile app, which typically ranges from $1.99-$6.99.
This isn’t to say that consumers will never pay for an app or make in-app purchases to enhance an already great experience, but they will only when they see significant value in it, rather than when it is imposed on them – like in the case of Super Mario Run. But what’s important to consider is that the user must instantly recognize the value, otherwise they will quickly lose interest. For example, this value from in-app purchases must supply significant enhancements to the game, like new capabilities or even new levels. Alternatively, a completely additional capability within the game too, such as new worlds or extra stories, are additional examples of what this enhanced value could look like.
Ultimately, Super Mario Run should serve as a lesson for other content providers and gaming companies. Namely, they should note how pricing models must reflect what the consumer is willing to pay for and the importance of adapting content to emerging platforms and formats to better meet the increasingly high expectations of today’s gamers. We are not familiar with the development process prior to the game’s launch, but there are several practices that guarantee better results, such as soft launching in smaller markets before going global or conducting exhaustive focus groups in different target markets
It could not have been an easy decision for Nintendo to finally make this switch and ‘cave in’ to the mobile gaming trend by publishing one of their most beloved games outside of what has so far been a controlled ecosystem of platforms. While this was absolutely a great innovation for the company, they fell short by not adapting to new platforms’ conventions, business models and ultimately consumer desire.
Today, consumers have a short attention span as they’ve grown used to multitasking as well as instant satisfaction. If a product doesn’t immediately satisfy their needs, they won’t try harder to like it. Considering that brand loyalty is at an all-time low, Nintendo may have relied upon their legacy, which may not have been enough to encourage users to put in more time than they traditionally would.
I myself am a huge Nintendo fan, but I know I am not alone in hoping that this tough transition to mobile gaming will not hold them back. If they can prove that they have learned from the mistakes made with Super Mario Run, I’m sure we can plan to see mobile gaming greatness from Nintendo that will live up to the hype and user experience traditionally expected from the gaming giant.
Nicolás Cuneo, CEO and cofounder of digital entertainment company The Other Guys, has been involved in different startups and small companies, all of them related to internet, technology, and entertainment for over 20 years.