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After over a year-long wait, Nintendo’s Mario Kart Tour arrived for iPhone and iPad this week, and by all reports the game has had a pretty successful launch, quickly reaching the top of the App Store charts within a day of its release.
However, as we’ve known since Nintendo first announced the popular title would be coming to Apple’s mobile devices, Mario Kart Tour will be following in the footsteps of the company’s other popular title, Super Mario Run, as another “free-to-start” game.
Despite the tactic of misleadingly using the word “free,” what this actually means is that the game isn’t just being monetized, but it’s being monetized in what is arguably one of the most consumer unfriendly ways possible — basically giving users a “demo” of a few levels of the game before making them pay to continue playing, or locking other important features and modes behind in-app payments and subscriptions.
In the case of Mario Kart Tour, the game is free to download, but once you get into it and start playing, it feels, as Engadget’s Nick Summers puts it, like an Excel spreadsheet with all of the different currencies and in-app purchases hidden inside. There are coins that you can either earn from races or buy yourself with real money, then there are rubies that you can buy to multiply your coins, and then there’s the “pipe” that’s just a lootbox by another name, which requires rubies to buy.
However, what Nintendo really just wants you to do is skip all of the nickel-and-diming and purchase a $4.99 monthly “Gold Pass” subscription in order to access all of the features of the game instead, including some, like the fastest 200cc race mode, that’s simply not accessible in any other way except by ponying up for a monthly subscription.
Out of Touch with Reality
Simple math reveals that what Nintendo is asking for here is the same monthly subscription fee as Apple is charging for its whole subscription gaming service — a platform that promises over 100 high-quality games that won’t be saddled with anything that even remotely resembles an in-app payment system or subscription.
So if you’re wondering what the executives at Nintendo are smoking, you’re far from alone. As Polygon explains, Nintendo’s pricing is even egregious by its own standards. The company charges $3.99 for a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, which grants Switch users access to dozens of games, ironically also including the original Super Mario Kart for Super NES.
Mario Kart Tour’s monetization might have flown a few months ago, even if some players would have grumbled, but what felt opportunistic before the launch of Apple Arcade now feels like a remnant from another time entirely.Austen Goslin, Polygon
We were exceedingly disappointed when we first heard of Nintendo’s plans for the game, and now coming in the shadow of Apple Arcade, it’s suddenly feeling downright anachronistic.
This kind of hubris isn’t new for Nintendo, however, which famously held out from releasing its games for iOS for years in an attempt to keep its fans within its own hardware ecosystem. Still, it seems that Nintendo is counting on a loyal fan base that it believes will be willing to shell out $5/month for a single Nintendo classic, but nonetheless it’s a move that feels downright hypocritical from a company that told its partners only a few months ago that freemium games were tarnishing its reputation by making the company appear “too greedy.”
Even if Nintendo hasn’t gotten the picture yet, however, Apple has written the message on the wall loud and clear with Apple Arcade that the era of exploitative “freemium” gaming is coming to an end.