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Super Mario Run highlights absurdity of mobile price deflation (Opinion)

Super Mario Run is set to launch later today, and as we anticipate its release, I'm struck by a strange controversy that has been quietly stirring since its announcement. The unlock price of $10 has been described by some as giving "sticker shock"–a colloquialism formed to express discomfort at a surprisingly high price. Apparently in the year 2016, people balk at a single Hamilton, thinking that a full six-world Mario game produced with personal oversight by Shigeru Miyamoto is less valuable than a movie ticket. Have our all-you-can-eat F2P appetites really come to this?

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Super Mario Run is not very good. Mediocre, even. That would put it in the company of New Super Mario Bros 2, which was panned here at Shacknews and received a relatively low Metacritic average for a Mario title. It's even a handheld game, to make the comparison even more apropos. It's more than four years old now. Current download price? $29.99. At retail it's largely the same, or possibly even higher. That's three times the price for an old, mostly mediocre Mario game.

If comparing it to a first-party handheld game is unfair, we can just as easily contrast it against other free-to-play games on the App Store. As of this writing, the top F2P iOS game, Hill Cimb Racing 2, sells a $4 "Starter Pack," a $6 "Jeep Bundle," and several other packages of "Gems" for varying prices. Mobile Strike, the top-grossing app, sells a $10 gold pack. Clash Royale sells several starter packs ranging from $1 to $10 apiece, and Gem packages that top out at a whopping $50. Even my beloved Hearthstone only nets a measley seven card packs for $9.99. Super Mario Run, by comparison, has a one-time unlock price that grants you the full game. It's downright generous by iOS standards.

We could also compare it to other recognizable brands that have made the journey to mobile devices. Square Enix charges between $10-20 for mobile ports of its classic RPGs. Capcom sells its Phoenix Wright episodes for $10-15 for full unlocks. Each of these are mobile ports, varying in quality but not built explicitly for iOS, and Super Mario Run is still cheaper on average.

This is in keeping with Nintendo's philosophy toward free-to-play. As David explained in a piece detailing the late Satoru Iwata's philosophy toward mobile development, the former president of Nintendo was acutely aware of the risks posed by gouging mobile practices, endless free-to-play loops, and timers. He set in motion plans to finally bring Nintendo properties to mobile, but to do it deliberately and carefully.

"Above all, as Nintendo is a family brand, we do not intend on changing the situation where parents and guardians can give Nintendo products to their children with peace of mind," Iwata said. "In that sense, we want to pay very close attention to how we receive money."

The implication is clear: mobile can be mercenary, and Iwata didn't want Nintendo to sacrifice its identity in the process. The deflation of the mobile market has led to plenty of games that are ostensibly free, but built with hooks to urge continuous spending for months or even years. Now as Nintendo stands on the verge of releasing its most iconic character on a new platform, it's unjust to accuse it of shady practices for attempting to build its full cost upfront and avoid those thorny problems.

If anything, we should be glad that Nintendo is fighting the devaluation of game development on mobile devices. The de facto standard on mobile has become zero dollars, which necessitates that game developers build spending hooks into the underlying framework of their games. The result has been heavy spending or frustrating barriers for consumers, and all-or-nothing gambles for developers. The low barrier to entry means players have all the quantity they could ever wish for, with the side-effect of obscuring which games are high-quality.

I wouldn't presume to know anyone's financial situation. If $10 is too much to spend, please don't. All the same, Nintendo isn't at fault for failing to abide by an absurd race-to-the-bottom pricing strategy common on mobile devices. Compared to Mario games, compared to other F2P games, and by every reasonable entertainment measure, this is a fine price. 

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