It was inevitable that Nintendo would enter the mobile gaming market at some point in time. There are many mobile games that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year based on brand new licenses, which means that Nintendo could surely replicate their success by using their own prized first-party characters.
The first Nintendo mobile title was Miitomo, which felt more like an experimental leap into the new technology than a full-fledged game. Miitomo was launched in 2016 and it ended its service in 2018. Miitomo was followed by Super Mario Run, which meant that Nintendo was quickly bringing out the big guns. Super Mario Run was an auto-runner game, which allowed the developers to bypass a lot of the touchscreen control issues that might have cropped up if they tried to recreate a regular Super Mario game on mobile phones.
Super Mario Run attempted a more conventional video gaming pricing model, but that turned out to be a poor decision in the long run.
How It Works
Super Mario Run is free to download, but the majority of the content in the game is gated behind purchases. The first few levels are free, but the player needs to purchase the rest for $10/£10 in order to unlock the rest.
Nintendo treated Super Mario Run as if it were any other game and wanted to charge a rate upfront for the bulk of the content. Super Mario Run was praised for this tactic by people in the industry at the time, but it turned out to be a mistake. The problem with this method was that the mobile gaming market is packed with competition and most of the biggest names don't charge the player anything at all. The secret to their success is getting the player hooked with the free stuff in order to make them want to pay for the premium content.
The Game Underperformed
It took Super Mario Run two years to pass the sixty million dollar mark in gross revenue. This number might seem like a lot, but it's considered a huge underperformer in regards to the value of the Super Mario Bros. license and the platform that it's released on. The mobile market is one of the biggest in the world and Super Mario Run had the potential to bring in so much, but sixty million dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to the money brought in by games like Candy Crush Saga, Puzzle & Dragons, and Clash of Clans.
The main reason why Super Mario Run underperformed is believed to be due to its pricing model. The majority of successful mobile games are free-to-play with optional microtransactions. It's difficult to justify the price tag of Super Mario Run when so many other popular mobile games can essentially be played for free.
Nintendo Went Full Microtransaction
Nintendo quickly learned from its mistakes and the company's next mobile games followed the usual microtransaction formula of other successful mobile titles.
It's hard to fault Nintendo for choosing this strategy when looking at the numbers brought in by Fire Emblem Heroes. The Fire Emblem license was never a huge deal compared to the other first-party Nintendo properties (or at least it wasn't until the recent success of Fire Emblem: Three Houses), but Fire Emblem Heroes managed to be a major hit.
Fire Emblem Heroes uses every trick in the gacha playbook in regards to microtransactions, yet the game has brought in over five hundred million dollars in profit. The fact that Fire Emblem Heroes has received continual support in regards to new content and events has helped keep interest in the game alive and it has its own fanbase outside of the fans of the main series of games.
The Results Weren't Always Successful
Nintendo has attempted to use a heavy microtransaction focus on their other mobile games, but they haven't seen the same degree of success as Fire Emblem Heroes.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has brought in similar numbers in terms of profit as Super Mario Run, despite receiving continual updates and coming from a series that is more suited for a smartphone. Dragalia Lost is an original property and that has also brought in around fifty million dollars in profit.
Nintendo's least successful mobile venture so far has been Dr. Mario World, which brought in less than two million dollars during its first month of release. Dragalia Lost brought in over twenty times that amount in the same time period, despite having a much smaller install base and not bearing Mario's name.
Nintendo seemed to want to avoid the shady business practices used by a lot of popular mobile titles and approached Super Mario Run in the same way that it would any other console game. This turned out to be the wrong attitude in regards to business and the beta of Mario Kart Tour suggests that Nintendo won't be shifting away from microtransactions anytime soon.