Comment & Opinion

Is the backlash against Super Mario Run's $9.99 price justified?

Is the backlash against Super Mario Run's $9.99 price justified?

Super Mario Run is in the slightly odd position of raking in cash for Nintendo, while simultaneously provoking a 7% fall in shares.

And while it's unclear how much of a factor the less-than-positive reaction to its $9.99 price point has been in the latter, it's certainly fair to say that Super Mario Run has lacked the near-universal positivity that surrounded Pokemon GO.

Though with an estimated $14 million made in three days, it's certainly not short of adopters.

Many are actively criticising Nintendo's decision to gate all but three of Super Mario Run's levels behind a $9.99 in-app purchase to unlock the full game, but are they justified to do so?

It's an issue that's divided PocketGamer.biz, so here we have Editor Craig Chapple and Features Editor Matt Suckley to argue both sides.

Click through below to see their arguments.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 No, but Nintendo should listen to players

    No, but Nintendo should listen to players logo

    By Craig Chapple

    In some ways, I get why people are balking at the £7.99 cost of Super Mario Run on their £800 phone.

    Mobile users can access hundreds of thousands of free-to-play games in an instant through the App Store, many of which are of great quality.

    Many of these also offer those who want to play for free a solid and fun experience within their small window of play. Others though will require a grind to continue playing regularly this way.

    The most casual of consumers, which the App Store is full of, may also feel a bit hoodwinked by Nintendo.

    They’ve rarely ever had a free-to-start experience with a paywall, and, while the IAP is clearly listed for those who look, Super Mario Run’s main download button simply says “Get”.

    It’s certainly taught Apple and Nintendo a lesson in how to relay this tactic to customers. Or whether the audience is really amenable to the concept of demos.

    But just because Pokemon GO, Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are ‘free’ and doing fantastically well, it doesn’t mean Mario must be.

    Perceptions of worth

    I’ll admit, I’ve had fun with the concept of people putting hundreds, even thousands of hours of their time into games they spent nothing on or £50 for, while at the same time completely despising those same games.

    Many people start playing games out of habit, even if they aren’t enjoying them as much as they used to.

    Others will judge a game on its duration. If it “only lasted a few hours”, it should not be priced like other games. Or so the argument sometimes goes.

    I don’t think games should be priced on the game length, but rather, the experience. Super Mario Run isn’t the best Mario game out there, that’s reserved for Nintendo’s own consoles, but it’s a decent game. And as a contained experience, it certainly won't outstay its welcome.

    It’s worth £7.99.

    You’ve seen worse movies than this that cost more, probably on the App Store.

    Value distortion

    Free-to-play has certainly played a part in distorting perceptions of value, while triple-A games getting bigger and bigger have also distorted value at the other end.

    See how people reacted to ‘indie’ game The Witness and Jonathan Blow’s audacity to charge £29.99. For an indie game! (That had a full team behind it and was in development for years).

    And just ask Ustwo what happened when it tried to charge for new content in Monument Valley’s Forgotten Shores.

    Ustwo received a backlash after charging for new content with Forgotten Shores

    There seems to lack a healthy middle, where the prices aren’t set – and shouldn’t need to be.

    But between triple-A and free-to-play, many consumers are confused. There’s no comparable games of value to set expectations against.

    But when it comes down to it, £7.99 for Super Mario Run is really not that expensive. Its console counterparts cost upwards of £40.

    It just seems like it is.

    Nintendo will need to identify the lessons of Super Mario Run for games like Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem, which include being more transparent with pricing.

    But that doesn’t mean they have to be free-to-play. A F2P Mario is a fundamentally different experience that would not fit the design of a 2D platformer the way Nintendo crafts it.

    Billion dollar Mario

    Another criticism I hear, mainly in the industry, is that Nintendo could have made more money with IAPs. Investors certainly seem to think so, while also being concerned by the reviews complaining of the cost.

    Pokemon GO did it, why not Mario?

    But you know, not all games need to make a billion dollars and be played all-year round. Super Mario Run is frankly already doing fantastically well at an estimated $14 million generated in three days.

    Super Mario Run is doing just fine as premium, but it's shown not all mobile consumers are amenable to demos

    Nintendo is using mobile mainly as a Trojan Horse for its own hardware. It’s a different strategy from Supercell and King.

    It’s using mobile to get people familiar with its IP, while offering enjoyable experiences at the same time.

    If you look at Pokemon GO’s impact, Niantic created a fantastic game that also spurred on record-breaking Pokemon Sun and Moon sales on the 3DS.

    So the tactic seems to be: Enjoy Super Mario Run? Come play the new Mario on the Nintendo Switch!

    I’d argue that, as a supplementary business to its main console ambitions, making “just” tens of millions of dollars without completely upheaving the design of a Mario game is a bargain for mobile consumers.

    Unless you want to pay 79p to continue.

    And honestly, if you don’t want to pay £7.99, just play something else. Nintendo doesn't owe it to you to be free, it just needs to be more transparent that it isn't.

    Click through to the next page to see why our Features Editor Matt Suckley thinks the backlash is understandable.

    Full disclosure: I worked at Nintendo between January 2016 and May 2016. I had no knowledge of Super Mario Run at this time.

  • 2 Yes, in the context of the market

    Yes, in the context of the market logo

    By Matt Suckley

    Since Super Mario Run launched on the App Store, it's been plagued by negative reviews.

    Many of these are concerned with the $9.99 cost to unlock the full game. For some, the very idea of spending that kind of money on a mobile game is an affront.

    For others, Nintendo's 'free-to-start' model has left them feeling hoodwinked after assuming they could play the whole game for free.

    A leap too far

    But who is more angry - those taking to the App Store to voice their frustrations, or those backlashing against the backlash?

    Right now, it's a close run thing. Anyone who criticises Super Mario Run's price has been held up as an example of what's perceived to be a problem endemic in mobile gaming - the sense of misplaced entitlement to free content.

    And I get that. If, like me, you grew up playing boxed games you paid for up-front and you care about the business and craft of game development, you'll want to defend a developer's right to charge money for their work.

    But the backlash from some quarters shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone. And more importantly, those leaving negative reviews can't be blamed for expecting the full Super Mario Run experience for free.

    79.04% of all apps on the App Store, and every one of the top 50 grossing according to App Annie, are free-to-play.

    This also includes Pokemon GO, which although developed by Niantic, still holds associations for many as a Nintendo game first and foremost.

    So after that game launched and broke records as a free-to-play title, why would any casual observer expect Nintendo to change tack for arguably its biggest property?

    Disconnect

    But more broadly, this comes down to a clash of values between the enthusiasts among the gaming commentariat and the general public.

    We all winced at the idea of “paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher,” a remarkably ill-advised suggestion from a Nintendo shareholder back in 2014.

    And with good reason - it's a horrible idea, and precisely the kind of cynical thinking that gives free-to-play a bad name.

    Our sister site Pocket Gamer imagines if Super Mario Run were F2P

    But if Super Mario Run been funded by balanced and fair microtransactions rather than a single $9.99 cost, would the game have prompted such a heated response?

    Among its core fanbase and the press, almost certainly - the former particularly important to Nintendo, and the best possible argument for going premium.

    But for the casual mobile gamer who's heard of Mario and wants something to play on the bus, the design compromises necessitated by free-to-play are hardly pressing concerns.

    Questions of value

    When discussing this at PG Towers, a superior - and one with the power to fire me, so I'll not contest his point too aggressively - compared Super Mario Run to a $9.99 bag of Gems in Clash Royale.

    If people can spend money on F2P hard currency without a fuss, he argued, why can't they see the value of a “full game” for the same cost?

    Is 14,000 Gems worth ten Super Mario Runs?

    This got me thinking, and led me to believe this is where we are at odds in our thinking with the majority of mobile gamers. After all, what even is a “full game” in 2016?

    You can complete Super Mario Run in one to two hours, albeit with additional pink and purple coins tempting you to play through the levels again and the competitive Toad Rally mode with its light kingdom-building metagame.

    It's also been revealed that there will be no further content added.

    Clash Royale, meanwhile, is a game someone could feasibly play for hundreds and thousands of hours, year after year, with new content added all the time.

    If either has a greater claim to being a “full game”, it's not Super Mario Run.

    Mario the outlier

    As a value proposition, then, a $9.99 bag of Gems becomes more understandable - disposable it may be, but the impact it has on a player's long and ongoing journey could be vital.

    One is not superior to another, of course. But the race to the bottom on mobile has already been resoundingly won, and we have to now accept that free-to-play is the new normal. It's what people expect.

    A proposition like Super Mario Run's is certainly no less valid, but in this market it's fast becoming utterly alien - and we can hardly criticise those who have had F2P drilled into them for being shocked at more traditional pricing.

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jon jordan
I'm with Matt! You can't argue against the market. The 4% conversation rate tells you everything you need to know.

Super Mario Run is like the Rolling Stones releasing an album on vinyl and then complaining about the sales. Millions of people won't spend $10 on a mobile game, any mobile game, even Mario.
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