The Super Mario Run Debacle

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 07, 2017

Mario is on iPhone. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but with the recent release of Super Mario Run for iOS devices, the dream has become reality. Admittedly, it’s not as sizable as a full console release, but Mario’s simple gameplay translates well to mobile devices. All things considered, Super Mario Run is everything a Mario game could be on mobile, which raises an interesting question: why are some people so mad that it’s $10?

A lot of the uproar is due to two factors: the initial free download and the price relative to other mobile games. When downloading Super Mario Run from the app store, it appears to be free; this is only partially true, however. The first set of levels is free, but after that, the remaining levels can only be unlocked by paying $10. If Nintendo had simply asked for the money upfront, consumers would not feel like they had been misled (although the notion that Mario’s debut on mobile devices would be free seems ridiculous to most), but asking for money is only part of the issue. The second half of the issue is how much money the game actually costs.

Ten dollars is a steep price for a mobile game, no matter how you look at it. In an era of free to play successes that eat up countless hours of time, charging such a high price for a game as short as Super Mario Run seems absurd at first glance. Perhaps if Nintendo had set the price point at $5, there would be less grumbling, but that’s merely a hypothetical. The game costs $10, and given the enduring popularity of Mario, any deep discounts in the near future seem unlikely.

The two factors listed above are mostly responsible for some of the angry and confused reactions that surfaced after the game released. But while marketing a game as free only to hide most of it behind a paywall is certainly a dubious strategy, is it worthy of the harsh criticism levied by some against Nintendo? Perhaps not.

First of all, the app does not force itself upon the user. At the end of the free stages, Nintendo does not enter gamers’ homes and forcibly coerce them to hand over their money; if someone does not want to pay, they do not have to, and they can uninstall the app and carry on with their day. If one can overlook the Mario facelift, the core gameplay of Super Mario Run is not dissimilar from more than a few free games on the app store, so it is easy to find a similar experience elsewhere. This counterpoint may seem dismissive of the problem, but it is important to acknowledge that there are always alternatives.

In regards to those who are not necessarily upset that the game costs money, but are rather upset about how much money the game costs, I posit the question: how is Super Mario Run radically different from any other Mario game? You run, jump, collect coins, etc. The gameplay has been slightly altered, but Super Mario Run is fundamentally identical to any other Mario side scroller. The difference is that other Mario games cost anywhere from thirty to fifty dollars, depending on your platform of choice. This makes the shock some have expressed at Nintendo for charging $10 for a Mario game on the most accessible device ever created somewhat confounding.

Super Mario Run has broken records since its release, and despite mixed reactions to the game’s marketing and price point, it will probably continue to do so. The success of the game is not in question. Still, one cannot help but think that Nintendo has possibly mishandled the beloved franchise’s debut on mobile devices. Whether the game is fundamentally sound or not (in this writer’s opinion, it is, for the record), the release of Super Mario Run provides an important precedent moving forward: mobile gamers want console-quality experiences without a premium price, and striking a balance between the two can prove difficult.

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