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Why Super Mario Run was a flop and we should've seen it coming

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

“Super Mario Run is no longer the highest grossing app anywhere”. This is the headline Nintendo woke up to less than two weeks after the game's release. Nintendo's shares plummeted hours after the game was launched, due to bad user reviews and slow sales that resulted in disappointed investors. It is safe to say that “Super Mario Run” was not the smash hit everyone expected it to be.

If I have to describe the entire game in one word, it would have to be “trainwreck”. It just failed to deliver on all fronts. It disappointed gamers, it drove investors away and it had a bad impact on Nintendo's shares. No one won in this run (pun completely intended), and there are several reasons for that.

Quality of the game

Don't get me wrong. “Super Mario Run” is not a bad game. It's polished, bug-free and well put together. But it's also generic, short and becomes repetitive easily.

The levels are not infinite or procedurally generated, which drives the replay value way down. What you get is a total of 24 levels, which you can replay several times before you have done all you can do on them. To put this in perspective, the original "Super Mario Bros." had 32 levels. That's not a lot of content for a one-touch runner, so we naturally assumed that there will be more levels added in a future update. Nintendo dismissed the idea, though.

When it comes to the other two game modes – Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder – they simply disappoint. Toad Rally pits you against a semi-transparent ghost of a friend, which completely destroys the feeling that you're racing someone, and Kingdom Builder provides no more than half an hour of additional content.

Overall, I'd say that the 2.5 stars “Super Mario Run” got in the App Store are well deserved. Anything more would be overrating.

The business model is correct for the game, but wrong for the genre

The game provides a free demo that lets you replay the first three levels as much as you like. The full game can be access for a one-time fee of $9.99. Do you see where the problem is already?

“One-time” is the keyword here. People pay once, then never again. And they have complete access to all the content of the game. So, even if the small percentage of users that actually bought the game after trying the demo continue to play for months after the initial purchase, this will not result in additional revenue for Nintendo.

But let's look at the other business models Nintendo could've chosen for “Super Mario Run”. There is a grand total of two that could work, and let me explain why neither of them would fit Nintedo's vision for the Italian plumber.

If “Super Mario Run” was free with microtransactions, it should've chosen a completely different structure. A finite number of 24 levels that can be replayed three or four times until you explore them fully wouldn't drive enough interest in purchasing additional lives. Users would beat the game for a week or two, and then completely ignore it. Think about it, how many people would keep investing in a game that they've explored completely already? Especially one that doesn't offer any extra benefits after being beaten. I, for one, wouldn't pay money to be bored by the same old levels over and over again.

So, in order for the microtransactions business model to work, you need some content to make users come back. This could come in the form of weekly updates, new levels every few weeks, or simply procedurally generated levels. If there is new content, far more people would be willing to pay the few extra cents for a lives refill.

The other way Nintendo could've gone in order to generate a steadier revenue stream would be to make the game free with in-app ads. I don't think it's necessary to explain why this would be a very bad choice for the legendary Japanese company.

Including annoying ads or forcing users to view video ads for an extra life would completely ruin the over-excited plumber's image. Nintendo aims to deliver premium experiences with its games. Stuffing them with ads will only create the feeling that the game is cheap and generic. And it will definitely drive away the users that play the game due to nostalgia.

So, to summarize, Nintendo charges us $9.99 for a runner game that brings nothing new to the table, and offers pretty limited gameplay time for its genre. What we get with “Super Mario Run” can be found in most free runners out there, with some of them offering real-time multiplayer races, infinite worlds and levels, and huge replayability.

What made the game so popular was the fact that it's a Super Mario game, and it's the first title from the franchise on mobile. Which brings us to the next point.

Over-hyping the game turned around to bite Nintendo

There was so much hype around the game's release. Fans went wild all over social media the moment Miyamoto announced it. Everyone was looking for information on release dates, availability, gameplay mechanics, and whatnot. “Super Mario Run” was the main focus of the mobile gaming industry for the past several months.

And it's not really our fault that we were hyped. Shigeru Miyamoto came back from retirement for this title. This was the first Super Mario game he has actively worked on for years. It was bound to be great. Except, it wasn't.

The mediocre game, paired with the insane amounts of hype around the title resulted in more disappointed fans than any of us expected. When you add the unreasonable price tag to the mix, the picture is complete.

And since everyone had very high expectations for a product that failed to deliver on them, investors backed away. Nintendo's shares soared the day “Super Mario Run” was announced, and crashed the day it was released. Despite the $5 million in revenue at launch day, Nintendo seems to have lost the faith of investors and fans alike.

We should've seen it coming

We had all the clues right in front of us. Official gameplay videos, release dates, pricing, everything was available weeks ahead of release. When I look back at the info that was available in the middle of November, I can actually see that the flaws were already uncovered. Why did we fail to realize that “Super Mario Run” will not be that good, then?

There are several factors that mislead us, really, the first one being that this is Nintendo. We've seen our fair share of not-so-hot games on the Wii, but none of them were that bad either.

In addition to the pristine reputation of the Japanese developers, we had the success of Pokemon GO. Sure, things slowed down a bit after the initial euphoria around the game's release, but it's still among the top apps on both Android and iOS.

And last, but not least, was the price. For ten bucks, we expected the premium quality of a true Super Mario game. We wanted the genuine experience. What we got instead was a dumbed down version of it, that sort of captures the spirit of the original, but not quite.


We expected more, and our favorite plumber deserved more. “Super Mario Run” is nothing but a disappointment for everyone. Users received a sub-par game, investors felt cheated, and Nintendo will have to deal with the consequences.

My guess is that the game was not costly to develop. It's small, simple and comes with graphics that look like they're refurbished from the Wii line of consoles. So, if we look at the app alone, despite all the controversy, it will probably be quite profitable for Nintendo.

What makes “Super Mario Run” a flop is the impact it will have on Nintendo in the long run. Will users be that open to another Super Mario game on their phones? Will investors be that confident about Nintendo's future mobile titles? I honestly doubt that the answer to any of the two questions is “yes”, but as a Nintendo fan myself, I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

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