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Nintendo fully embraces in-app purchases with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Publisher moves past its "deep-rooted suspicion" of free-to-play for next mobile release

The looming question of what revenue model the forthcoming Animal Crossing mobile game will adopt has been answered.

Animal Crossing was always an obvious contender for not only a mobile release, but one monetised through in-app purchases, and this is the exact direction Nintendo seems to be taking with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

As detailed in Nintendo's latest Mobile Direct, the free download will be available for iOS and Android in late November, and will employ the typical free-to-play model that Nintendo has skirted around in the past.

Players will be able to purchase Leaf Tokens ($0.99 for 20), which can be traded for crafting materials, cosmetic upgrades, and most importantly, to save time. With some tasks taking hours or even days to complete, Leaf Tokens could become very moreish for players and very profitable for Nintendo.

"The monetization seems to be more aggressive than the casual appeal the title suggests," Serkan Toto, founder of consultant Kantan Games Inc. told Bloomberg. "A high-quality mobile version of Animal Crossing can become a long-term cash machine for Nintendo."

While a free-to-play model seems like the most viable option for Nintendo in monetising Animal Crossing, and a perfect fit for the type of game, the company has had a difficult history with in-app purchases.

When Super Mario Run launched at the tail end of last year it should have, by all rights, been a runaway success. One of the world's most beloved and easily recognisable characters on a platform everyone owns - failure seemed impossible.

Nintendo employed a free-to-download model and charged a one-time fee of $10 to access the full game. Super Mario Run broke 150 million downs earlier this year, but it was a far cry from the sensation it was supposed to be. Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima was even quoted saying that revenue from the iOS edition "did not meet our expectations."

Fire Emblem Heroes was more successful however, employing a typical free-to-play model and proving more profitable as a result. According to data from Sensor Tower, in September alone it generated $17 million in revenue across iOS and Android, compared to the $800,000 of Super Mario Run.

However, as Rob Fahey wrote for GamesIndustry.biz, Nintendo has a "deep-rooted suspicion and dislike of F2P mechanics which dominated mobile games."

This is made clear when, despite the modest success of Fire Emblem Heroes, a senior Nintendo employee told the Nikkei Asia Review that: "Heroes is an outlier. We honestly prefer the Super Mario Run model."

Goldman Sachs analysts have previously estimated that Animal Crossing could generate twice as much revenue than both Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes combined, which brought in $79 million over the June Quarter.

Perhaps it is this revelation where Nintendo's "deep-rooted suspicious" finally met with compromise.

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