Super Mario Run launched on December 15, officially marking the true beginning of Nintendo’s foray into the smartphone gaming sphere thanks to their partnership with DeNA. But Mario’s first leap into a very crowded pool of games is facing some mixed financial reactions and challenges not being faced by the other big Nintendo property on mobile phones, Pokemon GO.
— Nintendo of Europe (@NintendoEurope) December 16, 2016
First, the good news: Super Mario Run had a good first day, no matter whose numbers are right. Variety reported on mobile app store optimization company Sensor Tower’s data that the game was downloaded over 5 million times and generated over $5 million in revenue in the first 24 hours. Other sources, like Forbes, reported on Apptopia’s data on the Mario game, saying the day-one downloads were closer to 2.85 million.
Either way, the numbers fare well compared to Pokemon GO. The monster-catching game only made 900,000 downloads on day one. However, that number did jump to 5.6 million on day three, reflecting the game’s slow spread of popularity.
Comparing the two games isn’t entirely fair; Pokemon GO is clearly designed for a more on-going, immersive experience, while Super Mario Run is more in the vein of a console or handheld Mario game, with a one-time price of entry and a finite end (meaning no additional post-release content, at least at present). But closely eying the relative successes and failures of Nintendo’s first steps into smartphone games is instructive in discerning how Nintendo might move forward in this arena.
On the one hand, Super Mario Run is only available on iOS at the moment; Pokemon GO is available on iOS and Android every time it launches in a new country. On the other hand, Super Mario Run had far better advertising than Pokemon GO. The release date was announced well in advance, Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto gave a highly-publicized interview with The Verge about the game, and Jimmy Fallon featured the game on his late-night talk show alongside the upcoming Nintendo Switch.
The game also saw a simultaneous launch in 150 countries worldwide, while Pokemon GO has been rolling out slowly over the world, partly because of the legal issues surrounding its usage. If Pokemon GO had also received a simultaneous worldwide release, it might just as easily have broken 5 million downloads on day one as well.
The biggest barrier between Super Mario Run and Pokemon GO is money. Super Mario Run features a one-time unlock price of $9.99, while Pokemon GO relies on the more conventional “freemium” setup of microtransactions.
This means that Pokemon GO is likely to continue generating tons of revenue over time as players pay for in-game items. Mario’s game, meanwhile, has a built-in ceiling. Once players fork over the $9.99 for the game, they don’t have to pay more to fully enjoy the game.
The revenue uncertainty made itself felt in Nintendo’s stock. Quartz is reporting on a four-percent drop in value on December 16, a drop that meant Nintendo stock ended down ten percent this week. Quartz notes the price tags of both games as a source of frustration for some fans, but also marks the stock dip as shareholders taking comfort in the smooth release of the game to make a profit. Nintendo’s stock has been steadily rising since Super Mario Run‘s release date announcement in November, and it has improved over last year overall.
The pricing issue may not be a big deal to Shigeru Miyamoto. In his chat with The Verge, he mentioned that Super Mario games have always served as a gateway for new video game consumers and that Super Mario Run will serve the same role for people new to mobile gaming. This seems to be the mandate for future Nintendo mobile phone games as well.
If Super Mario Run achieves the goal of grabbing new consumers, per Miyamoto’s prediction, then it might foreshadow some innovation in Mario games on the upcoming Nintendo Switch to hold onto the novice audience. For now, though, Nintendo’s hopes ride on the new Mario game, which continues to dominate the iOS App Store charts in several countries around the world.
[Featured Image by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP]