Mario's latest outing hasn't been able to match Nintendo's most financially successful mobile title, Fire Emblem Heroes, but it's off to a very good start. We speak with Sensor Tower for more details. [UPDATED]
[Update 10/2/2019] The analysts at Sensor Tower today have even more good news for Nintendo, as Mario Kart Tour has reached 90 million unique downloads in its first week and is not only Nintendo's largest launch, but the best first-week mobile launch in history. Player spending, arguably a more important metric, has not broken any records, however. Mario Kart Tour is in third place with $12.7 million generated in its first week, behind Super Mario Run’s $16.1 million and Fire Emblem Heroes’ $28.2 million.
Original story 9/27/2019
Mario Kart remains one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises and one of its regular top performers. In fact, in 2017 when Nintendo shipped the enhanced Switch port of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it quickly became the fastest-selling game in the series to date. Expectations for the first smartphone entry in the series were understandably high. The good news for Nintendo is that expectations have been mostly met, as research firm Sensor Tower has reported that Mario Kart Tour was downloaded 20 million times on launch day, making it Nintendo’s most successful title in terms of adoption.
Mario Kart Tour’s day one downloads are actually triple that of its previous best, Super Mario Run. Of course, in a free-to-play dominated mobile market, the number of downloads any game sees doesn’t tell the whole story. From a financial standpoint, Sensor Tower said that Mario Kart Tour trails behind both Fire Emblem Heroes and Super Mario Run.
“Mario Kart Tour is Nintendo’s third best mobile launch in terms of day one player spending, having grossed approximately $1 million in its first 24 hours,” Sensor Tower co-founder Alex Malafeev wrote. “This is about 25 percent of the publisher’s best performing title on mobile during its launch day, Fire Emblem Heroes, which grossed an estimated $4.3 million across both stores worldwide. Super Mario Run posted the second best launch day for in-app spending among Nintendo’s mobile titles, or about four times more than Mario Kart Tour.”
Mario Kart Tour has some catching up to do if it’s going to have the same impact or better on Nintendo’s bottom line, but as GameDaily freelancer Mike Futter explained earlier this week, Nintendo has deliberately been experimenting with different business models to see what sticks in mobile. The latest test, a $4.99 subscription to Mario Kart Tour, could be one reason why the game is off to a slower start by comparison to previous Nintendo mobile titles, and it’s also something that could lead to more financial success over the long-term.
“It’s possible that Mario Kart Tour will have a slower start in terms of spending than Nintendo’s other mobile titles as the publisher and co-developer DeNA are experimenting with season pass monetization which includes a free two-week trial period before subscribers are actually charged,” explained Malafeev. “The $4.99 per month Gold Pass is current[ly] the game’s most popular in-app purchase, but none of the users who have purchased it will be charged for another 13 days; Some of those will likely cancel before that point.”
Craig Chapple, Mobile Insights Strategist, EMEA, at Sensor Tower, told GameDaily that while traditional gacha mechanics have worked best for Nintendo so far (bringing in an estimated $618 million life-to-date for Fire Emblem Heroes), individual game subscriptions could be an attractive option, especially if the experiment proves successful for Mario Kart Tour. As Chapple noted, there is history of this working well in the mobile space: “The addition of Season Challenges and a $4.99 Gold Pass in Supercell’s Clash of Clans earlier this year saw the game hit its highest revenue-earning month since 2017, picking up $76 million in global player spending on the App Store and Google Play.”
Unlike its development partner, DeNA, or mobile giants like Supercell, Nintendo has its own hardware to support. Historically, that’s worked wonderfully for the House of Mario, but there’s always been a feeling that smartphone games play second fiddle to the more feature rich console games. But what if Nintendo leveraged its own portfolio of incredible IP and its vast catalog to go the Apple Arcade route and offer a subscription to many Nintendo games instead of a monthly pass to one?
Chapple is not so sure that Nintendo would ever consider that.
“Previously, Nintendo’s president Shuntaro Furukawa has said he wants to turn mobile into a billion-dollar business, so there’s some intent there but it does seem that for the foreseeable future that its own hardware will be its primary focus,” he said. “It’s possible Nintendo could look at a subscription service for games on mobile, but we’re a long way off from that. It remains to be seen whether Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass will cut through in the long-term.
“The mobile games market is dominated by free-to-play, not least because the top games are experiences designed to be played for years. Inserting a barrier into accessing these games - even a library of them - is a risky strategy. You’re playing against the market.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Mario Kart Tour fares over the coming weeks and months and how Nintendo’s strategy evolves as a result. In the meantime, the game is off to a nice start as the No. 1 free iPhone app in 58 markets, including the App Store's most lucrative regions (the U.S., Japan, Great Britain, South Korea, and Taiwan). It’s also a top 25 earning title in nine markets, seeing the highest spot on the chart (No.4) in France. There isn’t a specific reason for that, but the French just love Nintendo apparently.
“France has always been a top grossing country for Nintendo’s mobile games (except for Dragalia Lost), ranking inside the top six for each title. Those figures are often dwarfed by much bigger markets like the U.S. and Japan, however, which typically take the lion’s share of revenue,” noted Chapple.
Nintendo has definitely upped its mobile game and there’s tons of potential for growth. It just needs to avoid that pesky banana peel.
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