Nintendo’s first ever Super Mario game for Apple’s iPhone and iPad is available now. It’s called “Super Mario Run,” and, if you ask me, it’s quite good.
But you probably shouldn’t ask me, as tens of thousands of people took to the iTunes Store to trash the game in the past few days.
It’s currently sitting at a two-and-a-half star rating, with over 25,000 reviews giving the game just one star. And Nintendo’s stock is responding accordingly – it’s down 7% in trading as of Monday morning:
Conversely, nearly 15,000 reviews gave the game a five-star rating, so it looks like something is going on here.
Digging through the reviews, it seems that many of the one-star reviews are based on the game outright not working. “I see the Nintendo logo and then [it] crashes….disappointed,” one review reads, similarly to dozens surrounding it. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson points out, these are likely people who have “jailbroken” iPhones – which is to say hacked iPhones capable of running software Apple would prefer you didn’t run.
And Nintendo intentionally made “Super Mario Run” require an internet connection for this reason: piracy.
Jailbroken iPhones are notorious for circumventing the App Store’s payment and verification system, which Nintendo creative director Shigeru Miyamoto specifically cited as the reason for “Super Mario Run” requiring an internet connection in an interview with Mashable:
“The security element is one of the reasons that we decided to go with iPhone and iOS first. So this is just – based on the current development environment – a requirement that’s been built into the game to support security and the fact that the three different modes are connecting to the network and interacting with one another.”
One way that game makers have gotten around the issue of piracy on iPhone is by making games free-to-play – the “Clash of Clans” and “Game of War” model.
Traditionally, you buy games the same way you buy any media: You pay a flat fee up front for access to that media in perpetuity. But with the free-to-play model, the game is free and you pay its creator by opting in to in-game purchases. In the case of something like “Clash of Clans,” you pay for the ability to play the game at your own pace – a certain number of in-game actions are allowed before you hit a wall that can only be passed by waiting a (usually long) period of time. At that point, you can either wait or you can pay.
But in the case of “Super Mario Run,” the game costs $10 outright.
There’s a free version of the game that you can play in a limited capacity, but after the first few levels you hit a wall. You can either pay $10 or be forever limited to the first three levels (of a 24-level game).
It’s a bold proposition from Nintendo in a world where even the most popular paid iPhone game costs $0.99. Heck, even “Minecraft” on the iPhone – the second most popular paid iPhone game according to the current charts – costs $6.99. As such, Nintendo released “Super Mario Run” as a “free-to-try” game – when you initially download the game, it doesn’t ask you to pay. You are, essentially, downloading the demo version of “Super Mario Run.” When you pass the third level, suddenly there’s a pay wall; pay $10 once and you’ll own the game.
Since Apple’s App Store doesn’t allow for demo versions of games, Nintendo got around the issue by making the first few levels free. And, as Thompson notes, anyone who downloads the game – whether or not they pay for it – is able to leave a review on iTunes. That’s how we end up in this situation, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the “Super Mario Run” iTunes listing and firebombed its customer review section to the point where Nintendo’s stock is losing millions in value.