I’ve been watching with mild disgust and very little surprise as the iOS community reveals itself to be largely made up of whingeing entitled little kids whose mummys and daddys clearly didn’t teach about how commerce works. It’s happened before, with the likes of Tweetbot, and now it’s Super Mario Run’s turn.
A lot of users are getting their knickers well and truly in a twist over Super Mario Run’s price. Apparently they weren’t aware it would cost them money to buy the game, despite the game being announced as a free demo with a price to pay for the whole game, and the actual price being revealed a full month before release. And despite the fact that it has an ‘Offers IAPs’ badge on the App Store ‘Get’ button, and that the single IAP is listed in the App Store description.
No, apparently it’s a bait and switch. A scam. A con. They expected the whole game to be free dammit! And so many don’t understand how it works once they’ve exhausted the free demo, with many tweets saying they’ve got to “pay per level” (nope, one price to unlock the whole thing). Or that it’s the “definition of pay to win” (nope, that would be freemium games like Clash Of Clans or Clash Royale, where you pay to get cards that not many others have, and pay to upgrade them beyond what others have).
There’s even a brilliant review on the App Store that says this game would be so much better if they’d released a free Lite version with a few levels, then had a paid version that had all the levels… despite the fact that this is essentially what’s on offer already: try a free demo, then unlock the rest via IAP if you want the full game.
And another review that says Nintendo has so much money they should have made the game free. Seriously.
In fact, the App Store is where Super Mario Run is getting roasted the worst, with one and two star reviews vastly outnumbering five and four star reviews. Sadly, most of them are about the fact that users gotta pay for an app. Because, y’know, developers don’t deserve money to buy food or pay rent.
And yet there are actually lots of other things wrong with the app that are much more deserving of objective criticism, things Nintendo really could stand to look at before their next release.
As much as I firmly agree with Nintendo’s decision to make this a pay-once-play-forever deal, a traditional game with one price and no freemium gems or timers, I do think they made some errors in many respects.
I believe they resisted entering the smartphone app market for so long because by entering it they feel like they’re admitting failure of some kind. So when they did finally enter these markets, they refused to be told how to adjust their existing model. They stuck to their stupid Friend Codes, their ugly outdated bubble-tastic interface, their premium price point and more.
So what could Nintendo have done better?
1) They could have made it much clearer how SMR pricing works.
They shouldn’t have to, but smartphone users are now used to ‘free’ freemium shite, and have a visceral reaction to being “made to” pay for something, especially if it’s more than 99 cents. They can afford one of the worlds most expensive consumer-focussed smartphones at hundreds and hundreds of dollars, but not a few bucks for stuff to run on that smartphone (music, apps, whatever). Hypocrites.
What could Nintendo have done to make it clearer? If they wanted to stick to an IAP to unlock they should have made the very first words in their App Store listing a description of the game as a free three-level demo with a paid unlock if you want the full game. Or they could have opened the game for users that haven’t yet bought the IAP with a screen that explained “Welcome to the Super Mario Run demo”.
It still wouldn’t have been enough to educate the idiots that see FREE and expect it to be, well, FREE. But it would have helped head off accusations of a bait and switch.
2) They could have released two versions.
One free and clearly labelled LITE, with just three levels. The other paid and clearly labelled FULL with the whole game. But frankly this is messy and requires more updating and introduces confusion and people still would have whined, that there weren’t enough levels in the free version or that they didn’t realise there was a free version and they want a refund, or something. People are idiots.
This would also have sidestepped the issue that comes with IAPs, where they aren’t available for family sharing. See, if you buy an app for your own phone, but your kids want it, or your partner wants it, and you have family sharing, they can have your copy of the app on their phone. But IAPs aren’t included in that. So you could all download the free version under family sharing, but everyone that wanted to have the full game would need to buy it. One IAP purchase does not extend to all family users.
This is obviously because of the likes of freemium games that sell gems. Those developers, and Apple, don’t want one freemium gem purchase going to four different family users, for example.
But this also affects apps trying to sell upgrades to the full version. It makes no sense that a regular paid app can be sold one time to all members of a family but an upgrade to a paid app can’t be. But them’s Apple’s rules, and they aren’t likely to bother fixing or clarifying or otherwise improving the inconsistency any time soon, because Apple historically doesn’t give a shit about user experience when it comes to stuff like this, unless enough people bring a class action or enough media outlets run them over the coals for it.
3) They could have made it freemium
No. No no no. Pocket Gamer already explained perfectly well why this would be an utterly shit idea. With very, very few exceptions (I can think of really only one in recent times, Clash Royale, and even that’s still ‘pay to win’ frankly), freemium games are pay to win time wasting skinner box shit. They’re there to make gameplay as boring as possible unless you pay, to hoodwink as much money out of you as possible, and with no real end or purpose. They’re just cash generators for the developers. If you can get by without paying anything good for you, but I’d rather pay money once for as much properly-balanced gaming fun as I want, whenever I want.
Apparently I’m in a minority, which is why the smartphone app gold rush is long over for the overwhelming majority of developers, unless you create a whale-hunting freemium skinner box.
4) They could have made it cheaper.
I’ve seen analysists banging on about how many copies were downloaded versus sold. I’m not really sure what black magic they base their claims on, and frankly I don’t trust analysts anyway (how many polls claimed Brexit wouldn’t happen or Trump wouldn’t win?) and would love to know how to get a job like that because I think most bloggers would do a better job in most cases.
Anyway, they say around 4-5% of the 40 million downloads have actually paid. Let’s say that’s true. That’s a lot of money but obviously leaves so much on the table. Would making the game a little cheaper have increased sales to the point that overall revenue would be vastly increased? Again, some analysts claim so. One even produced a fancy graph that suggests way more revenue if the app was cheaper, but it’s all guesswork.
Personally, I’ve not bought it. I think £7.99 ($9.99) is too much for what’s on offer – I don’t really enjoy Mario games at the best of times and while Mario Run does seem to have far more depth than most ‘endless runners’ like Temple Run, it doesn’t seem all that deeper than Rayman (which is free and blighted with gem purchases, but it barely impacted on my play experience when I tried it), and £8 is a lot for something I’ll play a few times idly on my way to work, versus something like Steamworld Heist which is around the same price and offers hours of deep, strategic gameplay.
Oh, except I can’t play Mario Run on my way to work because Nintendo think I might be a thief. See the next point…
5) They could remove the always-online requirement.
Nintendo basically expects everyone to steal their game (smartphone app piracy is at absolutely fucking disgusting levels to be fair) and so to punish all their legitimate users while making life merely awkward for the piracy community (who will doubtless find a way around it eventually), Nintendo in their infinite arrogance decided to make the game require an online connection at the end of every level.
They’ve admitted this is because of piracy (or as they rather sweetly and naïvely put it, user security), but they buried that under a load of smoke about online features for other modes needing to be tied into the main game because it was too tricky to try to separate them. Yeah yeah, whatever Shigs.
As a result, you can’t really play the game unless you have a very strong cell signal, or a wifi connection. I’ve tried on a bus travelling through London, with a 80% signal, and it wouldn’t even connect to play the game. Kept telling me I needed to connect to the internet to download level data – this after downloading and installing the game?!
So, Nintendo have released a casual one-thumb-playable mobile phone game, that can’t be used on most people’s commute, or in areas of remotely patchy internet. Goodbye tube, metro, tram, train, bus, and plane users. And anyone queueing in a large warehouse-like supermarket, as I also personally discovered.
6) They could improve the in-game opening experience
Nintendo has always had a clunky online experience. Clunky is being generous. Because they’re seen as a kiddie game company, they felt it necessary to build an online community that’s as kid-friendly as possible. In order to significantly and repeatedly interact with a friend over Nintendo’s online systems you both need to manually enter in a long string of letters and numbers that represent that person’s ‘Friend Code’.
So rather than trust Apple’s existing system for gaming communities (and is there any other company more neurotic about child safety using their devices than Apple? A company that, for a while at least, banned any representation of a gun in an app’s icon, even if your app was an approved game all about shooting people?!) Nintendo have brought Friend Codes to Mario Run.
They’ve also brought a really reeeaaally long list of countries to the game! I’ve literally never been forced to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroooll through such a long list trying to find my country before being allowed to play a game before, and I’m not sure why I had to anyway. Can’t they tell where I am? Why do they need to know anyway?
After getting through that boring shit, then they make you play the tutorial. They’ll make you play this tutorial every time you accidentally hit the button that asks for a tutorial, by the way. It’s unskippable once it starts short of quitting the app.
And after all that, then they start to download the first level. For real.
You’ve downloaded the app, installed it, fired it up, scrolled through a massive list of nations, tried to understand the whole Friend Code bullshit, skipped it, gone through the tedious demo (which could be boiled down to ‘tap to jump’).. and then they initiate a further download of the actual game. Did nobody at Apple sit Nintendo down and explain anything whatsoever about today’s app users to them? Ever?
“Okay but I heard it’s going to be free when it comes to Android?”
The game is due out on Android soon and some folks have it in their head that Nintendo will either reduce the price, or adjust how they charge. Maybe make it properly freemium.
Yeah… no. It’s extremely unlikely Nintendo are going to change a single thing about the app for Android.
They can’t reduce the price without also permanently reducing it on iOS, and if they do that they’ll have every single person that already bought it going nuts at them. They’d have to refund those people, or tell them to suck it up. Neither are going to happen. QED: the price won’t be reduced for Android.
Same goes for making it a more freemium game for Android. They can’t do that and not change it for iOS, and they won’t do that. It’s a proper paid app for a reason, so that they don’t have to cripple the gameplay with gems to increase the height you can jump, or premium coins to buy access to the next level. One price, full game.
So no, Super Mario Run for Android won’t be cheaper, free, or freemium. Suck it up, cheap-ass freeloading whining entitled Mario-loving smartphone owners.