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8th July 2021

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More time needed to judge Super Mario Run experiment

What can we conclude from the game's first week?

Super Mario Run is an unprecedented mobile launch in many ways.

It is the first real mobile game from Nintendo. It's the first smartphone game to utilise a 'notify' scheme from Apple. It uses an unusual demo business model, with a test available for free and a price to download the whole game. That price is $10 - which is significantly higher than almost every other game on the App store. It also sees one of gaming's most iconic characters make the jump to a third-party platform for the first time since... well, the Philips CDI.

As a result of all of this, there's an understandable clamour and desire to analyse the early figures and reach a conclusion over whether Nintendo has hit mobile gold, or if Mario's iOS debut is a dud.

However, the fact that there is nothing to compare this launch to means we need to wait a bit longer to fully get to grips with what Nintendo has managed to do here - or not do.

Let's look at the early data. Nintendo has announced that 40m people have downloaded Super Mario Run, which is - to use a professional business term - completely insane. It's the fastest-downloaded game in iOS history and on course to be the most successful Mario game ever - and considering Mario is the most successful franchise in gaming history, that's quite an achievement.

When it comes to people that actually paid $10 for the game, the conversion rate (according to App Annie) is just 4%. Is that a low number? It seems low, but that still means 1.6m mobile gamers were willing to pay $10 for a game on their phones, and $16m in revenue in four days is nothing to turn your nose up at.

"The week between Christmas and New Year is regularly one of the biggest periods for App sales, and Nintendo is pride of place to capitalise on that.

In fact, all of this data is subject to change because there is a reason Nintendo released this game on December 15th. The week before Christmas - in the words of one senior mobile developer - is 'a bloodbath on the app stores'. Some developers are desperate to get their games out before December 25th rolls around, and that's due to the fact that the week between Christmas and New Year is regularly one of the biggest periods for app sales.

It's a time when consumers buy games for their new Apple devices they received for Christmas, or spend the vouchers they were given. It's also a prolonged period of time where millions of people are at home, looking for something to do between bouts of Monopoly.

How will that 40m figure and 4% conversion rate look in two weeks time? It could be the similar, it could also be radically different.

Then there are the user reviews. The element that has got investors twitchy is the middling-to-negative reception the game has received amongst consumers over its price. Once consumers have come to terms with the cost, however, how might the reviews look then? In the weeks to come, can we expect the star rating to rise, or will the barrier to entry continue to prove a thorn in the game's side? (Note, Nintendo hasn't actively courted review scores in the game, unlike its competitors).

After scrolling through the user reviews, what is interesting is that a handful of complaints are from people that don't actually have a payment method set-up with Apple and are confused over how to do it. It is interesting to see that Super Mario Run may have pulled in different users than usual to the App Store, and it'd be fascinating to discover what impact that has had on its conversion rates. If any.

One comparison frequently being made in various analyst reports is between Super Mario Run and Pokémon Go. The reality is that both games were built as different commercial prospects, and the gameplay experience is incomparable, too. Their launches were also radically different in terms of territories and platforms. The similarities start and end at the fact they're both Nintendo-related IP and both had big launch weeks.

Some articles are also asking what Super Mario Run might mean for Nintendo Switch. Does the fact that consumers appear reticent over a $10 app bode ill for Nintendo's next machine? Again, it's hard to draw that conclusion. The mobile games market has a very different price expectation attached to it compared with the console sector - $30 is a bargain on PS4, while that price would be eye-watering on iOS. Consumers having different value perceptions depending on what they're buying (and where) is common across all consumer segments. And let's not forget that Pokémon Go was completely free, but that didn't prevent Sun and Moon breaking franchise records at $40 a piece (so perhaps Nintendo is being over-cautious with Super Mario Run's price?)

In fact, we don't truly know what the main motivation was around Super Mario Run. Sure, Nintendo wants to see a strong conversion of paying customers, but it might also be happy to get the Mario brand in front of millions and millions of mobile consumers - just a few months before Switch is scheduled to arrive.

Miyamoto stated in the latest press release from Nintendo that time is needed for consumers to understand the benefits of paying the $10 for the game. He could be clutching at straws, he may also be right.

What I do know, is that my conclusion on the launch of Super Mario Run is decidedly inconclusive.

To be continued.

Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry

8th July 2021

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