Nintendo Is Reportedly Toning Down Micro-Transactions In Its Mobile Games

Nintendo Is Reportedly Toning Down Micro-Transactions In Its Mobile Games

Developers behind some of the free-to-play mobile games Nintendo has published in recent years say the company has told them not to be too aggressive with the microtransactions that these games tend to rely on to make money, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Where individual studios Nintendo partners with are looking to profit off of the games, the paper reports, a source familiar with Nintendo’s business strategy said that the company sees these games more as ways to promote its brand and characters. The Journal summarized the Nintendo official’s thoughts as follows: “The company is concerned it might be criticised for being greedy in smartphone games.”

One of those games is Dragalia Lost, a pretty-looking role-playing game in which players grind to collect characters, created by CyberAgent Inc. When it came out last September, some players said they felt it was too difficult to get the rarest fighters, which also have the option to be unlocked by spending real money on an in-game lottery system. As as result, Nintendo apparently asked the studio to re-balance that aspect of the game so players would spend less.

Kotaku’s Mikey Fahey, who has been playing the game practically every day since it launched, says every new update since the game’s release has been quite generous. “The game is constantly rewarding players with summon tickets or in-game currency used to summon new characters,” he told me.

“Just about every time a new summoning event comes around, it features new characters or powerful dragons that are easy to acquire.” As a result, even continuing players like him who really enjoy the game don’t necessarily feel compelled to spend a lot of money.

“Nintendo is not interested in making a large amount of revenue from a single smartphone game,” an official at CyberAgent told the Journal. “If we managed the game alone, we would have made a lot more.”

Image Like a lot of free-to-play mobile games, Dragalia Lost lets players spend real money for the chance to earn in-game heroes of varying power and rarity. (Screenshot: Kotaku, Dragalia Lost)

A spokesperson for Nintendo did confirm details of this specific instance to the Journal but said the company does have conversations with game developers about the payment models in games. “We discuss various things, not just limited to payments, to deliver high-quality fun to consumers,” the spokesperson told the Journal.

Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for further comment. 

DeNA Co., Ltd., another mobile gaming studio, has worked on all of Nintendo’s major mobile spin-offs, including Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and the recently delayed Mario Kart Tour.

According to the Journal, the company’s CEO Isao Moriyasu said in February that the only one of its mobile games that isn’t struggling is Megido 72, a heavily monetized RPG which it developed alone.

At the same time, Nintendo doesn’t seem to have completely shied away from the microtransaction model. Super Mario Run, free to try and then $14.99 for the full game, failed to meet sales expectations when it came out in 2016. Fire Emblem Heroes, microtransaction-based gacha game like Dragalia Lost, meanwhile, brought in five times as much revenue as Super Mario Run during its first year.

In 2017, a senior Nintendo official told the Nikkei Asian Review, “We honestly prefer the Super Mario Run model.” Despite that, Nintendo has continued to release monetized freemium games. Animal Crossing Pocket Camp is also based around microtransactions, which, as Kotaku’s Gita Jackson has written in the past, seems to run counter to the spirit of the series as a chill hangout sim.

In January, Nintendo announced its next mobile game, Doctor Mario World, expected to release this summer. It will also be free-to-play with optional in-app purchases. Though it may not be as aggressively monetized in the way that some freemium games are, that underlying model for mobile games still appears to have won out over the Super Mario Run approach, at least for now.


  • I think companies need to cap the amount of micro-transactions in a game. It shouldn’t be even possible to spend $1000 (for example) on a game in micro-transactions. Obviously the companies need to make money or they’ll stop making games, but we shouldn’t be seeing players gouged mercilessly either. So I’m not sure what the optimal amount for a cap is.

    Anyway, once the cap is reached it should effectively fully unlock the game. no more paying for skins, or lootboxes or speed ups or other boosts. They should become free. At least for that “season”. A season being a reasonable length of time. Like seasons in Diablo 3, or xpacs in WoW, or just plain calendar years. Each new “season” the cap would reset.

    I also think the micro-transactions should be stuff that people want, but for fun reasons, not mandatory game-breaking type stuff. Some bad examples are an RTS style game where the research timer for a new unit type is something ridiculous like 16 weeks, or you can pay $16.95 to get access to that unit now! Or literally buying the best weapons in an FPS type game.

    And while we’re at it, I’m surprised no-one has tried the micro-transaction approach used in early games – pay per game life, like all the arcade machines. Pay 20c for a round of Command & Conquer Mobile, or a bout of Street Fighter XYZ, or a race in Mario Kart 2020.

    • I agree and would go a few steps further with the suggestion that we stop giving money to complete dickheads* while holding the expectation we’re getting something other than hot, wet shit straight into our mouths in return.

      *Anyone other than owner-creators and perhaps co-operatives.

    • You have some great ideas here. Your system would also encourage the developers to progress the game with content and new ideas as they would need to get people to “buy in” every season.

      • Yeah that’s kinda the idea. I refuse to play the micro-transaction heavy games, but I have a number of friends who do. I know one who is still playing the same game 3 years on and they haven’t got any content updates but he’s nowhere near “endgame” because he can’t afford the micro-transactions required to get there. So effectively he’s stuck grinding the same stuff over and over and over…

  • Wait, I just checked and Dragalia Lost is finally available in Australia. How in the world wasn’t this news?

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