Nintendo Isn’t Chasing Whales With Mobile And That’s A Good Thing – Forbes

Fire Emblem Heroes

Credit: Nintendo

Fire Emblem Heroes

Is it possible that Nintendo doesn’t want all our money, at least when it comes to mobile gaming?

After all, compared to other publishers in the mobile gaming business, the maker of Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes seems rather timid about emptying our collective wallets.

My colleague Paul Tassi finds Nintendo’s approach to actually making money on mobile confusing, though possibly also temporary:

I can’t figure it out, to be honest. I think this is just Nintendo getting its feet wet in the scene and figuring out what they can and can’t get away with. They’re playing it very safe for now, probably too safe, but as they continue to find success, my guess is that things like flat-priced games and spending limits will gradually disappear. So enjoy this pro-consumer period while it lasts, because it may not be around for long.

I’m not so sure. I think Nintendo genuinely doesn’t view mobile revenue as the end-goal of its presence in that market. Nintendo is still very much a company that wants to sell you its hardware; the 3DS, the Switch, and the full-priced software that runs on those machines. They’ve said as much.

In 2014, the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told the Wall Street Journal that the company planned to use mobile games in order to “make connections with customers.” Nintendo wanted to introduce a new generation of gamers to its portfolio via simple, easy-to-digest games in the hopes that these gamers would graduate to their premium devices.

Meanwhile, the company has officially stated it prefers the one-time-fee model used for Super Mario Run over the free-to-play model in Fire Emblem Heroes, even though the former did not meet the company’s sales expectations. “‘Heroes’ is an outlier,” a senior company official said via Nikkei. “We honestly prefer the ‘Super Mario Run’ model.”

That’s good for gamers even if it’s not what investors and analysts want to hear. The gacha model used in so many mobile games is frustrating and anti-consumer. It’s all but turned me off to playing mobile games entirely. Certainly I’d rather pay to play Fire Emblem Echoes than play a random numbers game rolling for heroes in Fire Emblem Heroes. Sure, lots of mobile gamers prefer the freemium model to something like Super Mario Run, but Nintendo can still release free-to-play games that don’t engage in the industry’s worst practices even if that means they earn less money.

I find Nintendo’s (and by extension the Pokemon Company’s) approach to mobile gaming refreshing. It’s a much needed shot of honesty and pro-consumer business practices injected into an industry where those words are almost entirely absent.

Mobile gaming has some gems, sure, but the big money makers tend to earn based on things like time gates, gacha collecting, and various other methods that essentially break the free version of the game and force consumers to pay to fix it (or spend an endless amount of time grinding.) Most mobile game companies are chasing whales—those consumers who will spend big on micro-transactions—but Nintendo is doing something different.

Nintendo is trying to win over loyal customers who will move on to buy a 3DS or Switch and games on those platforms. It’s a good strategy even if many find it puzzling or wrong-headed. Nintendo is playing the long game, and I say bravo. I don’t want Nintendo to turn into just another mobile company churning out tired, greedy games that I delete within moments of installing. Thankfully, so far at least, I don’t see any reason to worry.

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