Mobile Mavens

Why is Nintendo making Fire Emblem Heroes free-to-play?

Why is Nintendo making Fire Emblem Heroes free-to-play?

Nintendo has revealed that its next mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes, will be adopting a free-to-play model.

This is a move away from Super Mario Run's model, which was dubbed "free-to-start" by Nintendo but is effectively a premium game with a playable demo.

And with gacha character collection clearly visible in the announcement trailer, it's clear that Fire Emblem Heroes will be broadly in line with other RPGs on mobile - at least in terms of monetisation.

But why has Nintendo taken this decision? Is it a play for the core Japanese audience first and foremost? To find out, we asked our Mobile Mavens:

  • Why do you think Nintendo opted for traditional free-to-play over 'free-to-start' in the upcoming Fire Emblem Heroes?
  • Can a game so Japanese in style find mainstream, global success?

I think a lot in this decision is due to the mere fact that free-to-play was a possible option this time.

The Fire Emblem IP appeals to core, narrower demographics than Super Mario Run. Fire Emblem players are better receptive to the free-to-play model, and Japanese players even more so.

RPG is a strong, proven category on mobile that lends itself particularly well to free-to-play with complex retention hooks and deep gacha monetisation systems.

Finally, I suspect DeNA had more involvement and oversight on the development of Fire Emblem, if not near full autonomy.

Games hailing from Japan like Brave Frontier and more recently Final Fantasy Brave Exvius have proven that there is definitely a wide, highly monetising audience for mobile JRPGs.

Not to mention Summoners War from Korea and Heroes Charge from China.

It is likely that Nintendo and DeNA are targeting Japan first with this one, but if the game is good, in theory I can absolutely see it finding global success.

It seems to have a fresh take with weapons and equipment instead of just character collection, which could help it attract players from other RPGs.

Wilhelm Österberg Head of Studio Black Anvil Games

Wild speculation: I think Shigeru Miyamoto may have had a big role in Super Mario Run not going the free-to-play route.

Fire Emblem has no single person with that kind of clout presiding over it, and thus there was perhaps more room for business sense to make the decision.

Fire Emblem Heroes seems to follow the Nintendo DS tradition closely, which means it's quite heavy and slow.
Wilhelm Österberg

Miyamoto has been quoted as saying this on Super Mario Run:

"Because Nintendo is always trying to do something unique we also wanted to try and do something different on the business side too.

"We really didn't want to do something in the free-to-play space... Naturally the people on the App Store initially told us that the free-to-play approach is a good one..."

On the second question: I think a game with a strong Japanese style could well find global mainstream success, at least when narrowing that down to mainstream success among gamers (which we have seen can be enough to reach a very high position in the top grossing charts).

I'm quite pessimistic about Fire Emblem Heroes being that game, though.

From what little I've seen of the core game so far it seems to follow the Nintendo DS tradition closely, which means it's quite heavy and slow compared to similar mobile games that do well now.

This will narrow the audience down significantly.

I fear that in this regard the IP is rather acting as a hindrance, bringing a lot of legacy to the table when it comes to structure, gameplay and even pacing.

As part of that narrow audience, though, I'm looking forward to playing it on February 2nd!

Alexey Sazonov CEO Panzerdog

I'm a huge fan of anything turn-based, so I've played a couple of Fire Emblem games: Radiant Dawn and Path Of Radiance. Never noticed anything that would prevent them being successful on global scale or on mobile.

Despite many years after playing, I still remember the distinctive features of core gameplay and metagame - like the RPG elements and how characters evolve, and how relations between characters can be improved.

Some of these things could easily exist in many other tactics games, but it's a shame these elements were never borrowed and improved upon.

Will the franchise's nuances shine through in Heroes?

Now, let's take other past console exclusives. Valkyria Chronicles has sold almost a million copies on Steam. Disgaea has also sold decently. And both were ports and paid games.

In case of Fire Emblem, we are talking about a new game which is also a free-to-play title. And complex tactics are not known to click easily with free-to-play.

But who knows, maybe these game mechanics work well for card battler players?

I have my doubts about how it works for Nintendo and I'd rather see paid ports, but I'm excited anyway. Definitely going to play it.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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