Developers behind some of the free-to-play mobile games Nintendo has published in recent years say the company has told them not to be too aggressive with the microtransactions that these games tend to rely on to make money, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Where individual studios Nintendo partners with are looking to profit off of the games, the paper reports, a source familiar with Nintendo’s business strategy said that the company sees these games more as ways to promote its brand and characters. The Journal summarised the Nintendo official’s thoughts as follows: “The company is concerned it might be criticised for being greedy in smartphone games.”
One of those games is Dragalia Lost, a pretty-looking role-playing game in which players grind to collect characters, created by CyberAgent Inc. When it came out last September, some players said they felt it was too difficult to get the rarest fighters, which also have the option to be unlocked by spending real money on an in-game lottery system. As as result, Nintendo apparently asked the studio to re-balance that aspect of the game so players would spend less.
Kotaku’s Mikey Fahey, who has been playing the game practically every day since it launched, says every new update since the game’s release has been quite generous. “The game is constantly rewarding players with summon tickets or in-game currency used to summon new characters,” he told me. “Just about every time a new summoning event comes around, it features new characters or powerful dragons that are easy to acquire.” As a result, even continuing players like him who really enjoy the game don’t necessarily feel compelled to spend a lot of money.
“Nintendo is not interested in making a large amount of revenue from a single smartphone game,” an official at CyberAgent told the Journal. “If we managed the game alone, we would have made a lot more.”
Like a lot of free-to-play mobile games, Dragalia Lost lets players spend real money for the chance to earn in-game heroes of varying power and rarity. (Screenshot: Kotaku/Dragalia Lost)
A spokesperson for Nintendo did confirm details of this specific instance to the Journal but said the company does have conversations with game developers about the payment models in games. “We discuss various things, not just limited to payments, to deliver high-quality fun to consumers,” the spokesperson told the Journal.
Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for further comment.
DeNA Co., Ltd., another mobile gaming studio, has worked on all of Nintendo’s major mobile spin-offs, including Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and the recently delayed Mario Kart Tour. According to the Journal, the company’s CEO Isao Moriyasu said in February that the only one of its mobile games that isn’t struggling is Megido 72, a heavily monetised RPG which it developed alone.
At the same time, Nintendo doesn’t seem to have completely shied away from the microtransaction model. Super Mario Run, free to try and then £10 for the full game, failed to meet sales expectations when it came out in 2016. Fire Emblem Heroes, microtransaction-based gacha game like Dragalia Lost, meanwhile, brought in five times as much revenue as Super Mario Run during its first year.
In 2017, a senior Nintendo official told the Nikkei Asian Review, “We honestly prefer the Super Mario Run model.” Despite that, Nintendo has continued to release monetised freemium games. Animal Crossing Pocket Camp is also based around microtransactions, which, as Kotaku’s Gita Jackson has written in the past, seems to run counter to the spirit of the series as a chill hangout sim. In January, Nintendo announced its next mobile game, Doctor Mario World, expected to release this summer. It will also be free-to-play with optional in-app purchases. Though it may not be as aggressively monetised in the way that some freemium games are, that underlying model for mobile games still appears to have won out over the Super Mario Run approach, at least for now.