Tech by VICE

'Super Mario Run,' a Record-Breaking App Store Launch, Disappoints Analysts

Nintendo's first in-house mobile game pulls in huge launch numbers, but other factors may hurt profits.

by Leif Johnson
Dec 17 2016, 6:00pm

Image: Nintendo

All these years later, Nintendo's Mario still pulls in an impressive crowd. According to data from analytics firm Apptopia, the world's most famous plumber helped generate around 2.85 million downloads on launch day for Super Mario Run, smashing Pokémon Go's previous launch day download record of 900,000 like a goomba. According to firm AppAnnie (as quoted by Polygon), the number was probably closer to 3.5 million in the U.S. alone. This, despite a launch relatively late in the day that had Mario fans worldwide impatiently stamping their feet. The question now is whether Super Mario Run can keep up, as Pokémon Go had already pulled in 5.6 million downloads by its third day.

Surprisingly, some analysts are skeptical in Mario's ability to bring in the coins. They're so skeptical, in fact, that Nintendo's stock shot down 5 percent in the wake of Super Mario Run's release, devaluing Nintendo by around $2 billion. But that's no surprise. Nintendo stock took a big 18 percent hit earlier this year after investors finally realized the famed game company didn't have all that much to do with Pokémon Go, and they caused Nintendo's stock to drop 6 percent following Nintendo's presentation for its upcoming Nintendo Switch console. As we said in October, sometimes investors just don't really get Nintendo.

Now we're seeing similar see-sawing with Super Mario Run. Prior to its launch, research firm SuperData told investors to expect around 30 million downloads in the iOS-only game's first month, resulting in around $60 million in revenue. After it came out, though, SuperData super-backtracked and suggested it may only bring in around $12 million to $15 million in its first month. It didn't say if it had changed its forecast regarding actual downloads.

"Requiring to 'always be online' is prohibitive and the game is still a bit too heavy-handed for quick-play on a phone," SuperData told GameSpot. "Finally, we anticipate Nintendo to announce a discount after the holidays to keep momentum."

The discount in question targets Super Mario Run's "true" price of $9.99, which isn't clear until you've played a few short demo levels after downloading it for free. But that's all there is. There is no in-game cash shop like there is in Pokémon Go and innumerable other mobile games, inviting you to spend a dollar here and five dollars there and thereby potentially leading to huge bills.

It's not a decision Nintendo came to lightly. For years the company stayed out of the mobile market partly out of fears that mobile games would ruin its integrity, and because smartphone games mark a significant departure from the established Nintendo experience. As recently as 2013, Nintendo's late president Satoru Iwata said that players would "never" see the company's games on platforms like the iPhone and Android devices.

"If I was to take responsibility for the company for just the next one or two years, and if I was not concerned about the long-term future of Nintendo at all, it might make sense for us to provide our important franchises for other platforms, and then we might be able to gain some short-term profit," Iwata said.

"However, I'm really responsible for the long-term future of Nintendo as well, so I would never think about providing our precious resources for other platforms at all."

It's still not clear how this experiment will work for Nintendo, especially since it's bold enough to try to break away from the established practice of bringing in revenue through cash shops or ads. Way back in September, noted analyst Serkan Toto predicted it would hit huge numbers on the basis of its free initial download alone:

He remains confident in those projections, saying yesterday that "he will take App Annie numbers over the ones from Apptopia any day. Much, much better data."