Last week, video gaming giant Nintendo released its first ever full release for smartphones, Super Mario Run. Since then, the title has drawn both praise and criticism, breaking App Store records for downloads but sending Nintendo's share prices crashing. How can one game be both a success and a disaster?
A lot comes down to both consumer expectations and Nintendo's choices in how it released Super Mario Run. The company had a huge success earlier this year with Pokémon Go, a free-to-play smartphone game that integrated geolocation, activity tracking and AR in smart and characterful ways.
The success of Pokémon Go raised expectations for Super Mario Run, but as users began to abandon the game, it also brought fears that a similar arc awaited all of Nintendo's mobile releases. Pokémon Go has managed to maintain some interest with seasonal updates and additional content, but the mania that surrounded it during the summer has certainly faded.
The initial release of Super Mario Run seemed to indicate the game would be a massive hit, perhaps even bigger than Pokémon Go. The app saw 5m downloads on the first day, and passed 25m downloads within four days, a milestone that Pokémon Go took 11 days to hit. At its peak, it ranked first in the App Store's free games category in 140 countries. In addition, the game brought in $5m (£4m) in revenues on day one, and over $21m over the first four days.
However, those numbers come with a significant asterisk after them. Unlike Pokémon Go, which had a staggered release across the globe, Super Mario Run was available worldwide on iOS from the first day, giving it a considerable advantage when it comes to initial downloads.
On top of that, while the game may sit in the 'free games' section of the iOS App Store, that's a misleading characterisation. Only the first three levels of the 24 level game are free, with players having to pay $10 to unlock the complete game.
This payment model is common to video games, where free demo versions of games are a regular feature of marketing campaigns, but is less common on smartphones, where games tend to be free-to-play with in-app purchases used to generate revenue.
Nintendo had followed this model with Pokémon Go, with players able to access the entire game for free, but also able to pay for in-game items. The change for Super Mario Run seems to have angered a number of fans, and because anyone who downloads the 'free' version of the app is able to review it within the App Store, the game's rating has suffered as a result. Currently, the game boasts a two and a half star rating on the iOS App Store, the result of 15,000 five star reviews from fans and over 25,000 one star reviews from dissatisfied players.
The game has also drawn disapproval from both games critics and consumers for requiring a constant internet connection, a feature largely brought in as a security measure aimed at preventing piracy. This has resulted in players with jailbroken iPhones seeing more crashes, and led to even more low ratings on the App Store.
This mixed reception has seen Nintendo's stock take a significant hit, dropping 15 per cent since the game launched. While the company has had a successful year overall, with share prices still up over 50 per cent year-on-year, the muddled result may have already caused Nintendo to change its future plans for smartphone games.
The company is still planning an Android release for Super Mario Run, but has yet to confirm as specific launch date. The game was built using the Unity engine, making it relatively simple work to create an Android version, and with Android's international popularity, it's unlikely that Nintendo will leave that potential revenue on the table for too long.
However, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the firm has confirmed it has no plans to release additional content for the game in the future. Additional downloadable content (DLC) is common practice for both console video games and long-running mobile games, with new levels, characters and seasonal updates keeping players interested.
Nintendo had made no previous public commitments to creating DLC for Super Mario Run, but to rule it out entirely so early after the release, especially before the Android launch, suggests the company has, to a certain extent, abandoned the game and doesn't plan any long term support for the app.
This news, combined with the growing criticism over the game's payment structure and need for internet connection, has already seen its buying population begin to decline, barely a week into its life.
In the first three days of its release, Super Mario Run accounted for 30 per cent of mobile game revenue on iOS devices, according to figures from Slice Intelligence. Relative to Pokémon Go's first day, Super Mario Run's buying population was three times larger.
However, Pokémon Go's buying audience increased from its launch, peaking nine days into its release, when the number of in-game buyers was 74 per cent larger than Super Mario Run's launch day purchasers. In contrast, Super Mario Run's in-game buy rate has already started to decline following early adopters making their initial purchase.
This swift drop following an initial peak is likely Nintendo's worst fears realised for their first full-blown mobile release, and suggests that the gaming giant may not be as much of a natural fit for the smartphone world as many would have guessed. Whether the company will attempt another mobile game following the botched release of Super Mario Run remains to be seen.