The Cost of Heroism

Fire Emblem Heroes has landed on mobile devices, and I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news, console gaming fans: the mobile gamers have won.

They’ve won this particular battle, anyway, and let me explain what I mean by that (though some of you have already guessed). Fire Emblem Heroes is the second pure video game experience developed by Nintendo for mobile devices after Super Mario Run, and if the review trends on the iOS App Store are any indication (SMR has not yet hit Android devices) Fire Emblem Heroes is the bigger hit… for a very specific reason.

Super Mario Run, the tap-and-jump Super Mario auto-runner that puts a surprisingly deep spin on traditional Super Mario platforming, represented a line in the sand drawn by Nintendo. As has been well documented, Super Mario Run offered its first three levels for free. After completing those levels, users could then choose to pay a one-time “premium” price of $9.99 for the full game. That ten spot would be the only fee anyone would ever have to pay for a full (yet simplified) Super Mario experience on their mobile devices.

Customers hated it.

App Store users flooded the Super Mario Run page with negative reviews, and unscientifically speaking, about 200% of those reviews were some version of, “Ten dollars for an iPhone game? NO WAY JOSE!” In their most recent earnings report, Nintendo revealed that only 5% of people who downloaded Super Mario Run ended up paying the ten dollars to upgrade to the premium version, which is about half of what the Big N estimated, but still equals a cool $53 million in U.S. money. Not what they had hoped for, surely, but still: earning $53 million is certainly not anything to sneeze at. (Aside: if you’ve not yet paid the $10 for Super Mario Run, I highly recommend it. It’s my favorite 2D Mario game in quite some time.)

Fire Emblem Heroes has only been out for a few days now, and while raw numbers suggest that not as many users downloaded the app over its first few days as downloaded Pokemon Go! or Super Mario Run, that’s to be expected. Even though I recently declared (and so it has been written, and so it shall be done!) Fire Emblem has graduated to the A-List franchise level among Nintendo properties, let’s get real: Fire Emblem is not Pokemon, and it is not Super Mario. For that reason alone, it is likely to get a greater benefit of the doubt; nowhere near the same amount of hype or buzz comes alongside the first Fire Emblem mobile game as came with the first Super Mario mobile game or the “catch Pokemon in real life!” mobile game.

If the reviews are any indication, though, the REAL benefit of Fire Emblem mobile is that unlike Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem is a legitimate free-to-start experience (Super Mario Run is more of a free-to-sample experience.) I have played several hours of Fire Emblem Heroes by now, and I’ve yet to give Nintendo a single penny. It is a free download, and it is absolutely free to play the game for as long as you want.

So how is it that Fire Emblem Heroes has reportedly already grossed upwards of $3 million over its first few days?

One hyphenate sums it up: micro-transactions. Fire Emblem Heroes allows users to pay real cash for, among other things, “orbs” that can then be used to “summon” a random Fire Emblem hero (wait; do you think that’s where they got the title from?) to join your party of warriors on their quest to who really cares you’re just here to play Nintendo’s version of chess. If you don’t know the Fire Emblem franchise, you know there are dozens and dozens and dozens of potential warriors for you to summon, and you can summon duplicate versions of the same warrior at different power levels that you can then “merge” together (for the cost of more purchasable resources) to form an even MORE powerful version of the same character, and as you progress in the game it takes more “stamina” to participate in battles (fortunately, you can real-world buy a “potion” to “replenish” your “stamina”) and…

You get the point.

Okay, fine, here’s the TL;DR version: Super Mario Run asked players to pay ten dollars once, and mobile gamers lost their minds. Fire Emblem Heroes is one hundred percent designed to nickel-and-dime players well beyond ten dollars, and if the lack of negative reviews is any indication, mobile gamers are totally cool with it.

Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes are both the same thing, in a sense: they are really well-designed though streamlined versions of classic Nintendo franchises. One of them costs a lot of money (for a mobile game) up front, and the other could cost players a lot more money in the long run. It’s early yet, and Fire Emblem Heroes might still fall off a cliff in terms of user numbers, as many mobile games do… but the early consensus is loud and clear:

“Rip us off!” the mobile gamers shouted. “Make us pay forever!” And Nintendo looked at them in disbelief, the same way that the many mobile developers before them looked in disbelief at the howling masses, until finally they shrugged their shoulders and said, “Uh… if that’s what you really want.” The battle is over. The people have spoken. Get your nickels and dimes all lined up and ready to spend. We’ve asked for it.

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4 comments

  1. I got increasingly irate the further I read through this. You’re right on every point. I hope this doesn’t turn into a rant but it’s very possible.

    I’ve maintained for years that the App Store is a cesspool. It has cheapened gaming so that people (mostly young children) have come to expect games to be 100% free. In turn, the games are now freemium trash with micro-transactions to remove inconveniences. I gladly paid $10 to unlock Super Mario Run, a game which has afforded me countless hours of great times. I feel I already got my moneys worth a while ago. I’m also an adult with disposable income. $10 might as well be a million to a kid with no job.

    This phenonon of cheapened gaming can be compared to music being available on streaming services. No one born after the late 80s who grew up downloading music on Napster will ever drop $12-15 on a CD ever again, because for $10 you can listen all you want from your phone. Music is cheap.

    Read reviews for absolutely any game on the App Store and they’re filled with whiney children. If they have to pay even $.99, they complain. Much like what mp3s did in the early 2000s, the App Store is doing to gaming now.

    This is why when companies like Sony say things like “portable handhelds are dead because of mobile gaming,” I have a mini-stroke. It simply is not the same demographic at all, yet the larger companies see this huge demo of 11 year olds on $700 cell phones that refuse to part with even $.99 (of their parents money, nonetheless) for a full-fledged game.

    BUT ! Here is the good news. Silver lining, if you will. These crappy mobile games provide a constant stream of income, and appease the masses who don’t call themselves gamers yet launch birds and crush candy for hours a day. This money in turn can be used to take risks and develop games of actual substance for actual gamers.

    Whew, this turned into a rant. Good topic and observation though, as you can tell I’m pretty passionate about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are also right on the money. I just happen to be in the “acceptance” phase.

      1.) I’m all for Nintendo going microtransaction. It means more money to put towards a great Metroid for Switch.

      2.) I forget what point 2 was gonna be, but it was gonna be great!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. DUDE – if a Metroid Prime comes out for Switch I’m just not going to be able to contain myself. Zelda, Xenoblade 2 and a 3D Mario game was already more than I could handle for the rest of 2017. They HAD to have gotten the hint after the backlash with Federation Force…

        Liked by 1 person

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