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

Apparently $10 is considered a lot of money for a brand new Mario game now.

10

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. 

Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    December 15, 2016 6:33 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Super Mario Run highlights absurdity of mobile price deflation (Opinion)

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 7:13 AM

      $10 for a one button game?! I was interested but no thanks, I'm not made out of money! *drives away in a Tesla*

      • reply
        December 16, 2016 7:06 AM

        This. I read the article. I get what they are getting at. But at it's core, it's a Mario-skinned running app. Most of these are free. Nintendo's first super successful app Pokemon Go, is free. That's why people have an issue with it.

        This isn't a Full game by any means. It's an App.

        In an age where we can frequently get full digital games for sub $10, I think if it was $5 (or less), we would see less people complaining.

        Even the GO games like Hitman, Tomb Raider, etc (which I admittedly have not yet played) have great ratings and are very frequently available for about $1.

        Personally, I'll dig a little deeper into the "free" version, but this is 100% a "wait for a sale 'game'" for me.

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 7:15 AM

      A well established developer with a massive audience has more pricing freedom compare to an unknown or an experimental games developer. There are lot of good developers mixed in with a bunch of bad or mediocre ones and to some people its a gamble to spend anything more than a $1 or $2. I am sure if the stores where curated better or the apps weren't considered as disposable this might be totally different thing.

      Take the popular mobile games on the year such as Pokemon Go, most of them wouldn't have been as popular without being either free or close to it. Plenty of people are price conscious as evident by the popularity of deep discounts on steam and else-where. The value of a game really differs massively from consumer to developer. The developers are free to try and price it how they want.

      • reply
        December 15, 2016 7:20 AM

        I was basically typing out this same reply. The $10 price point of SMR doesn't point out the absurdity of mobile pricing, it points out that Nintendo does not play by the same rules as any other mobile dev. They bring a massive audience with them.

        It's also not uncommon to see paid apps that launch with no free version and get popular follow that up with a free version of the app, and the free version makes more money than the paid ever did. Threes is a good example of that, an entire year after the paid version of that game was released a free version followed it, and while it didn't out-earn the paid version it equaled it. The userbase was much larger, the retention rate was about the same, so their audience expanded.

        The market expects free. Nintendo is essentially dictating to them, and that's not at all how things usually work. It may not even work for Nintendo in the long run.

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 7:16 AM

      $10 is a lot, because Devs have mastered micro transactions. Free to play then get you to pay hundreds of dollars over the course of the time you play the game.

      Nintendo is new to the space (Sans Miitomo) but I am glad that they allow me to pay a one time fee of $10 for the full experience. I hope they don't add a ton of micro transaction BS later on, but for now $10 is a bargain for a new Mario game.

      • reply
        December 15, 2016 7:19 AM

        Also I am buying it on my iOS family account. My daughter and Wife will be able to play it too. $3.33 each. If there were Micro Transactions per account, this wouldn't be possible.

        • reply
          December 15, 2016 7:23 AM

          Plants vs Zombies 2 would have turned out so much better with a "one price to unlock everything" option.

          • reply
            December 15, 2016 7:25 AM

            This is very true. I was so put off by the f2p bs i just gave up

          • reply
            December 15, 2016 7:26 AM

            I wish it had made the jump to consoles. Tommy and I still enjoy playing PvZ from time-to-time, and that's after playing through the game at least twice already. :)

            • reply
              December 15, 2016 7:29 AM

              The first PvZ is one of my favorite games ever. I own it for almost every system for which it's available. My wife and I loved the multiplayer options on Xbox 360 and PS3 (yeah, I bought both!). Versus felt weighted too much toward zombies from what I recall, but the co-op mode was a blast. I love the idea of each playing only getting a few cards and having to coordinate who uses what and who does what for each round.

          • reply
            December 15, 2016 9:55 AM

            Yep. It's the reason I dropped the game after a few hours.

        • reply
          December 15, 2016 8:33 AM

          Actually I just realized that this wont work. If the game is 'free' to download but has an IAP for $10 to unlock the content, then I guess all accounts need to pay the IAP fee :(

          • reply
            December 15, 2016 9:51 AM

            Heheh, yeah, you figured it out. Totally makes sense for them.

          • reply
            December 15, 2016 11:21 AM

            I was wondering about this very point. I'm about to setup tablets for my kids for Christmas and this was something I was wondering if it would be an issue. bleh

        • reply
          December 15, 2016 9:51 AM

          Not true. in app purchases are not shared. This is why they went in app purchase instead of outright price on app. You will be buying it for every apple ID in your family if you are not sharing a single one.

      • reply
        December 15, 2016 9:53 AM

        They've stated that for this game, it will always be the $10 unlock. Future games may have different pricing strategies.

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 7:46 AM

      If it wasn't free to try I would question the approach, but since you can try it and make sure it's something you like, the $10 seems fair and is even lower than I was expecting.

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 8:02 AM

      What time does it come out?

    • reply
      December 15, 2016 11:26 AM

      I don't get why people are moaning about $10. The real problem isn't that $10 is too much for a quality game (assumption, but hey it's Nintendo). The problem was the immediate flow of cheap and disposable content when Apple first launched the app store. Free to about $2 games wrecked it for everyone. And, I blame that for the reason we have mobile game mechanics that wear out quickly.

      I too had sticker shock when Square launched the FF games at a high price point. But, honestly, it is a full and robust game. Why shouldn't it be worth more than standard simple mobile game?

      $10 is probably about the right price point for a game that's meant to have a decent amount of playtime or replayability. Just as industry has set the normal price for console games, and to some limited extent PC games, I don't see why that can't happen for mobile. And, I feel $10 is a good start.

      Millennials just need to get over their entitlement feelings for free disposable games. I have no idea if that's a real thing, but it you gotta blame someone, right?