Even in a month of high profile releases, Super Mario Run is starting to stand out as one of the most buzzed about titles of the end of the year. Nintendo has begun a full-court press promoting the game, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Apple lean so hard into a specific game partnership like this.
Analysts are already beginning to estimate how exactly Super Mario Run will perform for Nintendo, and predictions are rosy. Analyst firm Sensor Tower, who has done a lot of great work on Pokémon GO’s numbers, predicts that Mario will make about half of what GO made in its first month.
As you can see in the chart above, they’re predicting a $71M initial month, a little less than half of what GO did in July when it was a worldwide phenomenon. That’s also less than a rival like Clash Royale, but there are a lot of key differences here.
First, let’s be clear. GO was a hit on a completely different level than anything else that came before it. If Super Mario Run does even half as well as Pokémon GO, that would frankly be an incredible achievement. It would be even more significant for Nintendo itself, given that it has a more direct stake in Super Mario Run than it does GO.
Nintendo owns one third of The Pokémon Company, which partnered with Niantic to make Pokémon GO. Therefore, Nintendo itself is only reaping a fraction of the zillions that game has made. But while Super Mario Run was made in partnership with DeNA, Nintendo is way, way more involved in the production and publication this time around, which is why you have Reggie and Miyamoto showing up on Fallon to promote it. The result will be that they will see a huge portion of the revenue compared to what they got from GO.
But there’s one more difference between GO/Clash Royale/most huge mobile games and Super Mario Run, and that’s the revenue model, which makes me think that even if the game is a hit, its very nature is somewhat limiting.
Though Super Mario Run will show up in the “free to play” section of app stores, it’s essentially a demo, where a full unlock of the game is $10. That is both a very high price for a mobile game, and a somewhat limiting revenue model, given that games like GO and Clash Royale and Candy Crush make money from selling infinite amounts of microtranscations. Super Mario Run may be nobly hiding nothing behind bonus paywalls after that $10, but it is incredibly rare to see games put up enormous numbers using this format. The only that even comes to mind is Minecraft.
But, I suppose, if there’s a game that can rival Minecraft in terms of popularity and appeal, it’s Mario. And it’s pretty clear that it’s never wise to underestimate Nintendo.
I don’t think there’s any world where Super Mario Run is not a success. The only question in my mind is if the game will be as big of a hit as many are predicting. Nintendo is rewriting quite a few rules here when it comes to both their use of their own IPs, but also what consumers will commonly accept in the app store. Pokémon GO featured unique gameplay, but a traditional mobile revenue model. Super Mario Run features rather traditional Mario gameplay, but a revenue model that is out of the ordinary for mobile. If Nintendo can make both sides of this coin work, that just goes to show just how massive their IP appeal really is, if there was ever any doubt about that.
My hunch is that once Nintendo gets a second taste of big mobile money, that we are going to see them invest even more and become an increasingly dominant force in the market. Right now it seems likely that the 3DS is going to be phased out, and will only have the console/handheld Switch hybrid to replace it. I can easily see Nintendo now devoting a lot more resources to mobile game development, free from hardware concerns, and if they make quality products and figure out the best ways to monetize them, they will easily become a mobile powerhouse as large as the current players in the scene. The only thing limiting their revenue might be their desire to not rip customers off, which other top mobile devs don’t seem to mind. But if it works, they could theoretically remake large portions of the industry in their image.
We will see how these revenue projections play out. Pokémon GO surpassed anyone’s wildest dreams, so now people seem to have high expectations for Super Mario Run, not wanting to make the same mistake twice. I remain skeptical of the $10 price point, but ultimately, I’m guessing the power of Mario will make this a giant hit, albeit short of the absolute insanity we saw with Pokémon GO.