It’s looking like “Super Mario Run” is the smash hit everyone expected. Nintendo on Wednesday said its first big smartphone title was downloaded more than 40 million times in its first four days. That’s superb.
Despite that massive figure, though, Nintendo’s investors aren’t impressed. As this chart from Statista shows, the gaming giant’s share price has steadily tumbled in the week since the app’s launch. This is in stark contrast to what happened when the “Pokémon Go” phenomenon began earlier this year; that sent Nintendo’s stock skyrocketing, despite the fact that the company had almost nothing to do with the game.
The easy takeaway here would be that Nintendo’s investors are clueless, but the dip is really aimed a more structural problem: the dominance of free-to-play gaming in Apple’s App Store.
The user reviews for “Super Mario Run” are terrible, sitting around 2.5 stars as of this writing. Some of that is because it requires a constant internet connection, a bigger part is because it’s only free to download — to go beyond the first three levels, you need to pay $10.
Nintendo’s stab at getting people to pay one price for a quality game may be a more noble pursuit than bleeding customers dry via in-app purchases, but it simply makes less business sense in the environment the App Store has created. There, the value of mobile games has plummeted to the point where gaming’s biggest brand (“Mario”) is probably the only one that could get away with going for even $10. People want access, then the decision to pay from there, even though that inevitably leads the quality of games to drop.
“Pokémon Go,” for all its problems as a game, understood the realities of the App Store market. That’s why people were so willing to throw money at anyone in its airspace. “Super Mario Run” may be generating revenue to start, and it may be the first step toward a change in how people value mobile games, but its rejection of what works was bound to generate investor backlash, warranted or not.
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