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Is Nintendo a natural free-to-play game company?

By on October 8, 2012
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I was reading the comments on Rob Fahey’s column on the challenges facing Sony with the Vita. This comment, by Felix Leyendecker, a senior 3D artist at Crytek, leapt out at me.

“Nintendos IPs are successful because their games are insanely fun, while many of Sony’s heavy hitters are heavily relying on presentation and narrative.”

Successful F2P games don’t rely on narrative. They don’t rely on spectacle and visuals to distract you from the fact that the core mechanics are weak or repetitive. They make games that are fun, compelling, quick-fixes (and, yes, some of them use pyschological tricks to keep you coming back long after the fun has dried up).

It made me think that while many AAA businesses, such as Sony, may not be natural fits for free-to-play, Nintendo, with its focus on accessible fun, is a shoe-in.

What do you think?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • It all depends on your definition of Minimum. I think that being a “well-tested” product often means putting it in the hands of large numbers of end consumers.
    So the question is whether Nintendo has the will to release games earlier in the develoment lifecycle, with fewer features, and add features if consumers engage with the product.
    There is still hope…

  • That’s a strong point that is often lost on AAA developers. There is a real skill in understanding and balancing that relationship.

  • I agree it is unlikely that Nintendo will embrace it. But arguably F2P suits their games (and their approach to audiences) better than it suits most other publishers.
    If they can get past their kneejerk dislike of Free, or find a way to embrace paymium, they might have a great business.

  • It would be a mistake to think that Nintendo’s games don’t succeed on narrative terms as well… However, the real barrier to Nintendo joining free-to-play is that they are an old Japanese company who have a successful strategy based upon adequate investment in well-tested products. Free-to-play thrives on minimum viable product – for Nintendo, this is a concept they simply do not have, nor are likely to get.

  • There are no “shoe-ins” in free to play. I agree that Nintendo’s ability to create fun is an advantage when moving to free-to-play, but it is a lot more complex than that. There is the relationship between fun, tension, monetization, virality and retention and if any of those are broken, the game does not work. I think we can agree Nintendo has the fun, but can they understand the other core elements.

  • Interesting point – given Nintendo’s slow adoption of network technologies previously, I’d suspect they will be slow to adopt any F2P scheme as well. But because only Nintendo make games as fun as they do, they might get away with it. Will they want to use any of their heavy hitting brands with F2P though? Would that devalue them? I’d expect to see F2P Luigi games before Mario.