As they prepare a hybrid mobile/in-home console for early 2017, and with the sell-out success of their throwback NES Classic, Nintendo dropped their first-ever mobile smartphone game for iOS devices last week. Released amongst much fanfare (and with a complete banner take-over in the Apple Store), Super Mario Run was downloaded an estimated 5 million times the first day, crushing the previous first-day record set by Pokémon GO earlier this year (a title that Nintendo owns a partial stake in).
Unfortunately, once the downloads came in, that’s when things started falling apart for Super Mario Run.
Though it currently still sits atop the App Store’s free chart, Nintendo’s first foray into the mobile gaming market isn’t garnering the kind of response the company likely hoped for. With over 55,000 reviews, Super Mario Run is averaging 2.5 stars—with many users complaining about the lack of actual “free” content available for the game. The poor reviews have impacted Nintendo on Wall Street as well, where the company has experienced a 16% drop in stock price since the game’s launch.
And why are both Wall Street and the fans disappointed in Super Mario Run? It all boils down to four main points.
Super Mario Run is listed as a “free” game—which, by definition, is true. Problem is, the “free” part of Mario is extremely limited; after which, gamers need to pony up $9.99 to play the rest of the levels.
Pokémon GO took the opposite approach: for the most part, the game is completely free; sure, there are in-app purchases that make the game more competitive, but no purchase is required to play. This is similar to how many popular mobile-based games earn revenue, and retain players for the long-run.
Nintendo’s “demo” version of Super Mario Run, particularly given how the game is classified in the App Store (as a “free” game), is of course being viewed as a bait-and-switch by fans. Hence, a large number of the negative reviews.
2) Required Connectivity
In addition to cost, Super Mario Run requires users to be connected to WiFi or mobile data to play. That means, no playing on the subway on the way to the office—or anywhere else your connection is spotty. It also means, potentially, paying even more for the game in the long run, as most users don’t have unlimited data plans in this day & age.
3) Let’s Face It: It’s a Side-Scroller
Also unlike Pokémon GO (which we’ll keep comparing since there’s literally been nothing else this popular on mobile recently), there’s nothing groundbreaking about Super Mario Run. Sure, it’s the first Mario game on iOS. So that’s cool. But, at the end of it, it’s your basic mobile side-scroller; no augmented reality, or VR, or super-realistic graphics to be found. It’s fun—but, comparable to other smartphone games, is it really $10, always-connected fun?
4) Where’s Android?
Not releasing the game on iOS and Android simultaneously was a huge miss for Nintendo, who could’ve rode the hype wave on both platforms, instead of waiting for the (now negative) reviews to hit and try to re-ignite them for a much larger user base. Not sure what the strategy was here; but whatever their rationale, this needs to be re-evaluated for the next go-round.
And make no mistake: there will be a next go-round. Nintendo needs mobile gaming to work—and they have the beloved lineup to do just that. Super Mario Run may have its misses; but don’t expect the company to throw in the towel just yet.