Nintendo unveiled Super Mario Run, its first full mobile game using its own IP, alongside the launch of Apple’s latest iPhone and Apple Watch devices.
Available as a paid download, the app is already featured in Apple’s App Store where interested users can sign up to be notified when the title is launched. Super Mario Run features Nintendo’s best known character in an endless runner game with three modes including: simple courses; a rally challenge mode; and a “create your own kingdom” area.
At the same event, Nintendo partner Niantic announced that it will bring its hugely popular Pokemon Go title to the Apple Watch.
A long time coming, but the move should not be a surprise
Nintendo’s presence at Apple’s event may have taken many by surprise but the launch of a Mario game for mobile had been anticipated for some time. Nintendo first unveiled plans to bring its popular video games IP to mobile when it agreed a partnership with Japanese mobile specialist DeNA in March 2015.
The power of the brand is growing on mobile – premium strategy will remain for the few
Brands are becoming increasingly important for mobile games success. The top grossing app charts have become very static in recent years. Pokemon Go’s launch has been one of the few major new successes and it is a success built on its long videogames and popular culture heritage. Nintendo’s decision to launch Super Mario highlights the strength of the Mario brand; in a freemium dominated market, few other developers are able to launch new titles as paid downloads.
The premium strategy also highlights Nintendo’s concern about protecting its brand image and aims to avoid any of the negative publicity that has been associated with titles that generate high in-app purchase revenues. The choice of the runner category underscores Nintendo’s cautious approach to mobile in choosing an established game genre for the Mario IP, one which it will suit quite well. Nintendo does not have the greatest track record with freemium models, but it has shown it can perform service-style support of premium games, that’s both high-quality and long-term.
In terms of design quality and company ethos, Nintendo has often been compared with Apple. Launching a new game at a major Apple event is a good fit for both companies. Apple has a long track record of trying to secure the biggest brands for its various platforms. In the days when it was trying to promote iPod devices and its iTunes Music store, its goal for a long time was to secure digital access to The Beatles’ catalogue. Now there is a greater focus on games, it's about getting Mario in a (timed) exclusive.
Nintendo has already laid some of the groundwork for mobile success
Following the success of Pokemon Go, a brand which Nintendo is part owner of but not the developer of the game, is a good time for Nintendo to make a bigger move into mobile. Nintendo launched its Miitomo mobile social platform earlier in 2016 and while user engagement may have dropped due to a lack of activities available on the service, Nintendo will already have signed up fans to its network which can be leveraged when it comes to competitive play in a title like Super Mario Run. The launch of Super Mario Run should also be viewed in the context of the run up to the launch of the new Nintendo NX hardware, the new title can be a valuable tool to raise and maintain Nintendo awareness ahead of the NX.
Device makers use games to show new hardware, but other features drive purchases
Smartphone makers often turn to games when showing off new devices. Games are a great way of demonstrating the latest hardware advances and capabilities. Games may run better on the latest hardware, but publishers try to support as many devices as possible - including older ones – so the games experience is not generally a major motivator for new device sales. A more common hardware feature that drives new smartphone purchases is the camera – which Apple devoted a lot of attention to at its launch event.
Pokemon Go for Apple Watch could boost apps for wearables
Pokemon Go could provide a boost to the smart watch apps business. Apart from health and fitness experiences, developers have been fairly reluctant to embrace smart watch platforms. This is particularly true for games – but the location based and activity centric nature of Pokemon make it a good fit for wearables. And it is better to bring the game to a general purpose device rather than a dedicated single app centric peripheral. It is important to note, though, that there is no real separate market for wearable apps, instead they are extensions of existing smartphone apps and do not generate extra revenues.