Mobile Mavens

Monetizer Mavens on what went wrong for Mario Kart Tour

Another Nintendo misfire?

Monetizer Mavens on what went wrong for Mario Kart Tour

The good news for Nintendo is Mario Kart Tour is - by far - its best mobile launch ever in terms of downloads.

It’s estimated there were 20 million downloads on day 1 and 90 million during week 1.

That’s multiples better than anything Nintendo has previously achieved.

But downloads don’t necessarily correlate to engaged players, and the first news about the game’s monetisation doesn’t appear as good.

So, while we await further details, we fired up our Monetizer Mavens to get their first impressions.

Or, more specifically..

  • What are your views on how Nintendo has bought this much-loved console game to mobile?
  • Do you think this could be the last nail in the coffin for Nintendo attempting to bring its biggest IP to mobile?


Ben Cousins Vice President, Studios FRVR

Ben is a 15-year veteran of the games industry - he's worked as a senior executive, studio head, project lead, creative director and game designer at companies like DeNA, EA, Sony and Lionhead.

He started working on traditional games, but has been focussed on the free-to-play business model since 2006 - an extremely long time by western standards. During that time He's worked on a total of ten separate free-to-play games across five different platforms reaching over 50 million users.

There are three really big barriers to this game being the success it could be. The first is a hard sign-on is required.

My experience tells me that at least 30% of players could be lost at this stage alone. The addition of a guest account trial would be enough to mitigate this.

The second (and in my mind the worst) is the awful controls. I’m used to one control scheme for a mobile driving game being unusable, but both of them?

I work as a monetisation and retention design consultant, but often games fail before players even get to that stage - with core gameplay that just doesn’t work. No amount of clever metagame design or store offers will fix that.

The third is actually related to monetisation though: among the standard cosmetics and gacha offers, there’s a hard barrier to subscription at a price [$4.99] that makes little sense in terms of timing against Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass.

The beauty of free-to-play is the smooth transition between free and paying, between paying on a small scale and paying big.

Nintendo seem rather unwilling to do this. For a company who create the smoothest difficulty curves in the world, it’s very frustrating.

Mikkel Celinder Owner,

I agree, Ben. Place the sign-up gate (if you really need one) after the tutorial where you're asked to download the remaining 230Mb and get two birds I suppose.

The controls issue is rather ridiculous, to be honest. Often times in these games [with] a thumb stick-like behaviour, users blame the hardware when dragging a finger over the glass, creating an ever-changing amount of friction.

Monetization seems like an add-on and not a part of the core game.
Mikkel Celinder

But in Mario Kart Tour, it is a software issue, which is super frustrating. I'm torn between Nintendo overestimating or under-estimating the skill of the player - but it’s definitely a retention killer.

Karts, drivers and kites are upgraded when playing, which makes the new items the gacha offers quickly because worse and worse, making the engagement mechanics of progression kill the initial onboarding of the monetization mechanics.

Not to sound like a broken record, but monetization seems like an add-on and not a part of the core game.

I like that Nintendo is trying to bring the big IPs to the mobile platforms, but right now the gameplay team and the business/marketing team are just sitting in two different silos.

And we - as players - are suffering for it, but I don't think it's the final nail in the coffin.

Tim Rachor Creative Director Evil Grog Games GmbH

I agree - some of these decisions are baffling. One can only wonder what went into them.

You don't have to walk well-trodden paths but you should better have very good reasons to ignore them completely.

Some of these decisions are baffling.
Tim Rachor

Interesting though that the most recent numbers suggest a rather successful launch for the game. I wonder how that will play out in the long run.

We've seen other big franchises launching on mobile with great success just to die a slow death.

Another question for the future: How will the planned multiplayer fare with the implemented monetization systems?

After the initial push back to "pay-to-win" by Nintendo, coining the term "free-to-start", I wonder how a more aggressive monetization would be accepted in a competitive environment?

Rob Dagwell Head of Esports Bidstack

If you have the opportunity to bring a game to one of the most popular platforms in the world without disrupting or with little negative impact to the overall gaming experience, then why wouldn’t you?

It’s true that there are certain games that you can’t repurpose for portable devices because of the mechanics of the games and general experience. However for Nintendo games, this makes sense.

This won’t be the nail in the coffin. If anything it’s a learning curve for Nintendo.
Rob Dagwell

If you look at Super Mario Run, the game play was just as good on mobile as it was on Nintendo DS.

With nostalgia comes expectation and the level of expectation gamers had for Mario Kart and Super Mario was set by Nintendo. So it’s really Nintendo’s fault for setting the bar so high in the first place.

This won’t be the nail in the coffin. If anything it’s a learning curve for Nintendo. There are so many elements that need to be considered before bringing a beloved game to a different platform. There could be small hiccups along the way and that’s pretty normal.

Again if we compare this to Super Mario Run, players can play up to the 8th level before having to pay to play the rest of the game. This switched some gamers off, but it’s understandable why Nintendo did this gated version of the game.

In terms of improving monetisation methods, one solution is obviously native (or within) in-game advertising.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.