Nintendo’s Mario games are famed for their longevity. Games starring the iconic moustache-sporting plumber rarely miss the mark for Nintendo, and some go on to be played for many years after their launch. There are even people who still keep their old Nintendo 64 consoles plugged in so they can play “Super Mario 64” or one of the early incarnations of “Mario Kart” whenever the mood takes them. That’s why the news Nintendo gave us this week comes as a surprise. After barely two years of operations, they’re pulling the plug on the mobile game “Dr Mario World.” As one news agency put it, Dr Mario has been pronounced dead.
If you enjoy the game, but you haven’t played it for a while, you still have time to get some more enjoyment out of it before it disappears. After launching Dr Mario barely two years ago, Nintendo will declare it to be officially “out of service” as of November 1st this year. You can no longer buy diamonds, the title’s in-game currency, with immediate effect. That’s a sure sign that the game’s performance has been disappointing, and that idea is backed up by data from Sensor Tower. According to their figures, “Dr Mario World” was already Nintendo’s worst-performing mobile game just six months after its launch. Its revenue and download numbers were even worse than those of “Super Mario Run,” which was itself a big disappointment for the company. In fact, Nintendo’s best-performing mobile game isn’t even Mario-related. “Fire Emblem Heroes” continues to draw more money on mobile than any other title for Nintendo despite its advancing age. It makes more money than every other Nintendo mobile game put together.
Does this mean the end for Mario games on mobile? Probably not. Nintendo might have to re-think the way it presents Mario games in the mobile format, but there’s obviously an appetite for the character if it’s presented correctly. In evidence, we can present two different Mario-themed online slots games that attract thousands of players to online slots websites every day. One of them appears to have an official Nintendo license, but the situation with the second (entitled “Plumber”) is less clear. If people are happy to spend their cash playing slots online with a Mario theme, it suggests there’s a mobile audience for Mario. Most online slots are played on phones or tablets rather than laptops, so the same people who enjoy the slots would presumably enjoy a “proper” Mario game if it was good enough to hold their attention. Nintendo is more likely to go back to the drawing board than to give up on the idea altogether.
In going back to the drawing board, Nintendo might have to think outside the box. The company hoped that the appeal of “Dr Mario World” would be its connection to the classic-era Nintendo Game Boy games of the same name. When they come to reflect on its failure, they might conclude that they drifted too far from the original format and tried to leverage too much money out of it in too many places. The colossal amount of money made by mobile games every year tells us that players are happy to pay for content that they enjoy, but they don’t enjoy the feeling of being fleeced or asked to pay for something every time they make progress in a game. The constant requests for cash take all the fun out of the game, which appears to have been the case for “Dr Mario World.” Reviews of the game weren’t kind at the time of launch, and opinions haven’t improved since then.
While it enjoys astronomical success with the Nintendo Switch console, Nintendo is yet to gain a foothold in the mobile gaming world. Despite the launch of multiple titles and the fact that it has decades worth of characters and intellectual property to cash in on, revenue from mobile games still accounts for less than four per cent of the company’s income. That number is low, but it’s even worse when you consider that games licensed but not made by Nintendo are included in that figure. It seems that the entire Nintendo mobile gaming division could do with an overhaul and new ideas. That process might already have started, hence the sudden withdrawal of the game and the decision to stop trying to sell currency within it immediately.
The anniversary of a famous game is always a good opportunity to make money, and Nintendo has such an event lined up for next year. 2020 was all about the anniversary of the Super Mario franchise. Next year, everyone’s favourite gorilla Donkey Kong will turn 40. Nintendo hasn’t confirmed anything official for the event yet, but numerous sources close to the company say there’s a new “Donkey Kong” game in development at the moment, along with companion games for mobile devices. One source (a veteran Nintendo leaker known only as “Zippo”) goes even further, claiming that Nintendo will announce a “Donkey Kong” animated series and plans for new theme park attractions in Japan. The Super Nintendo World theme park already exists in Japan (with a sister park in development in the USA), so new Donkey Kong-related attractions would be a good way of boosting revenue for it.
With not one but two Mario-themed mobile games performing poorly for Nintendo, is the character’s enduring appeal finally beginning to fade? The answer to that question is “almost certainly not.” Nintendo’s first big release of 2021 was “Super Mario 3D Word & Bowser’s Fury.” Even the unnecessarily long title didn’t put players off buying the game. It sold far more copies than Nintendo expected it to and even went out of stock (along with the Nintendo Switch console) for a brief period. It’s still one of the strongest sellers for the platform as of the time of writing. The character of Mario will never fade as far as gamers are concerned – it’s games that sometimes let him down. Put him at the heart of an exciting adventure, and players will be happy to buy him. Stick him at the centre of a cash grab, and they’re less inclined to bite. Let’s hope lessons of this kind are learned at Nintendo before they give us another Mario mobile game.
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