Nintendo continues cuddling up to microtransactions

By Peter Allen Clark

Using one of its strongest franchises as a test subject, Nintendo continues an exploration into microtransactions.


Grabbin' life by the poké balls

Around a year ago, multiple outlets like Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported on an letter sent by Hong Kong hedge fund manager Seth Fischer to Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata.

The letter plainly stated the benefits that Nintendo could see from taking the burgeoning mobile route and incorporating microtransactions into the Big N’s properties.

"Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher,” Fischer wrote in the letter Kotaku called “crazy”.

Well, Nintendo might have disagreed with Kotaku.

During January’s Nintendo Direct, Iwata announced the free to play 3DS (also available on the New 3DS) game Pokémon Shuffle, which released Feb. 18.

The tile-matching game comes with the increasingly familiar gimmick of limiting the number of chances to play, leaving players with the choice to wait for a cool down period or purchase more lives with microtransactions.

  By ‘Enhance’, they mean ‘continue’.

By ‘Enhance’, they mean ‘continue’.


Rough seas ahead

As we’ve discussed before, something is rotten in the state of Nintendo. After last years $456 million operating loss capping off a continued struggle for the two years before, Nintendo is probably investigating all possible routes to entice consumers and sales.

And the game developing strategy has certain worked for others. King Digital Entertainment has certainly found success with a little game called Candy Crush. It employs a similar play style whereby you can wait for more lives or simply buy them.

King claims Candy Crush Saga is played on average 834 million times each day. They also released a total of $1.7 billion in revenue for the first three fiscal quarters of 2014, an overall increase of $394 million.

Surely, Nintendo would like to see similar numbers.

  Nintendo has developed a serious sweet tooth.

Nintendo has developed a serious sweet tooth.


Micro crushing on transactions

This isn’t Nintendo’s first attempt at the free-to-play market. The company attempted a similar model last year with the release of Steel Diver: Sub Wars for the 3DS. Nintendo offered a stripped down version of the game to players for free — a fuller experience would cost you.

“You can purchase the Premium version to unlock five more underwater adventures and a formidable 18-vessel sub fleet,” according to the Steel Diver: Sub Wars website.

Nintendo also released an oddity known as Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball last April. Players have free access to a limited set of demos with the opportunity to purchase 10 separate expansion packs for $4 each.

“You can download Rusty's Real Deal Baseball for free and play the demo game, but Rusty's going to need to see some real money from your Nintendo eShop account to purchase the individual baseball minigames,” the game’s website says.

What’s interesting about this game is that players can actually haggle with the eponymous Rusty on how much to pay for the additional content. Some outlets, including Kotaku again, appreciated the approach as the “right way” to do in-game purchases.


At this point, a week after the Pokémon Shuffle release, players have already found a way to bypass the pay-to-play restrictions by merely putting the system to sleep and waking it up again.

Still, you can’t ignore the move Nintendo has made towards microtransactions. The leadership might merely see it as an experiment. After all, Pokémon shuffle is only a reskinning of Puzzles & Dragons and it doesn’t seem like much of a risky release compared to larger games fighting with much bigger marketing budgets.

As always, consumers with vote with their wallets and Nintendo might listen.