In an ecosystem dominated by free-to-play titles, Nintendo’s decision to price Super Mario Run at $9.99 seems wildly out-of-touch with the rest of the mobile games market.
But Nintendo also may feel like it can play by its own rules — especially when it comes to Mario.
In the current mobile games ecosystem, the average price of the top 1,500 paid iOS games worldwide by revenue in third quarter of this year was $4, according to data provided to Polygon by mobile analytics group Sensor Tower. Even Minecraft: Pocket Editon, which rarely leaves the App Store’s Top Paid chart, is $4 cheaper.
But even with that data, Sensor Tower co-founder Oliver Yeh wasn’t shocked by Nintendo’s price point.
“It’s in line with what we were expecting, based on historic pricing trends of the company's games around a high perceived value,” he told Polygon in an email.
Analyst Joost van Dreunen, founder of games market research agency SuperData Research, added that this was part of Nintendo’s slower pivot to a mobile-focused mindset.
“It is likely a remnant of Nintendo's inertia to fully embrace the current market landscape and go full free-to-play, which it continues to regard with some suspicion with its insistence on 'free-to-try' and other semantics.”
Pricing is something other game publishers have struggled with as well. Yeh pointed to Square Enix, which priced many of its mobile ports like Final Fantasy 5 at $15.99 when it launched in 2013. Square Enix has since adjusted its strategy with mobile-first games like Hitman GO, which launched at $4.99.
Nintendo is definitely still in its “experimental” phase for mobile, with only social app Miitomo actually under its belt.
“Based on this price point, Nintendo clearly sees the value of Super Mario Run as being on par with an eShop-only title for 3DS,” Yeh said.
And the brand recognition of Nintendo’s characters allows it to play by its own rules sometimes. There hadn’t been a singular smash in the augmented reality space — that is, until Pokémon Go decimated the mobile charts this summer and become the most downloaded app in its first week in App Store history. (And that wasn’t even published by Nintendo.)
“I have no doubt that Super Mario Run will perform well because of its brand equity.,” ,” van Dreunen said. “The game looks beautiful and appears to offer several innovative add-ons like Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder. But at $9.99 it is clear that Nintendo is pursuing a different strategy than the one that brought success to Pokémon GO.”
But an in-app-purchase-driven business model is something Nintendo wanted to avoid for Super Mario Run, according to game director Shigeru Miyamoto. When the game was announced, Miyamoto said in an interview that having one price was important for the family-friendliness of the game.
“For Nintendo’s audience, we have parents buying the game for their kids. So they know once they have paid a set price and they won’t have to worry about other charges down the line.”
Super Mario Run won’t require that purchase upon download, but instead after players have demoed the game and choose to buy the full thing. The game comes to iOS on Dec. 15, with an Android version in the works.