Nintendo Not On Board With Free-to-Play

Jason Winter
By Jason Winter, News Editor
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Here we go again. Another major video game company poo-pooing free-to-play as some passing fad and citing that it can't possibly work for them because of vaguely specified monetary reasons, despite the fact that some of the biggest F2P games rake in millions...

Wait, it's not quite like that? Well, I'll be.

As reported by Kotaku, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata commented on the F2P space in his company's recent investors' call. And, unlike similar “We don't like F2P” statements made by Square-Enix, Iwata offers rational and reasonable explanations for his stance.

On the other hand, the integrated hardware-software model has a significant handicap today, as the traditional way of explicitly telling consumers the investment they need to put in to buy hardware and software now comes across as being relatively more expensive due to changes in our environment... the hurdle we have to clear in order to encourage them to purchase dedicated game systems has comparatively become higher.

Iwata is saying what every maker of primarily non-F2P games knows: that with the gaming market as it is now, it's hard to push games with a $60 price tag out there when players can get stuff for free. It doesn't matter what your philosophical feelings are on the subject, whether you think it's good or bad or whatever – that's just how it is.

And he recognizes that his company needs to do more to encourage people to buy their full-price games (and consoles). This is at least a better, and more rational, stance than just saying, “You'll buy our games because we're an old, established company with well-known IPs, and gosh-darnit, we're just better!” The times are changing, and those who don't at least recognize that change and adapt to it will be left behind.

As with games that are free-to-play, or "free-to-start" as we like to call it, there is a tendency within the entertainment industry to make gaming as easy as possible to start playing. Because our hardware and software are integrated, we first need consumers to purchase our hardware to get our business off the ground, a challenge I outlined when I talked about changing the way we sell our products.

First off, “heh” on the “free-to-start” line. Consoles are typically a loss leader for their manufacturers, or at the very least, they hope to break even on their sales. So it makes sense that a console maker would be averse to offering up “free” games for their products when the only way they'll make money is by selling the games themselves. This is an issue that a developer for mobile devices or PCs doesn't have, since they're just making the software and don't care how well the platform sells.

However, only two years ago, many people urged Nintendo to follow other companies into what was then a very lucrative area, but no one says so any longer. In a similar vein, those who now claim that we should make games for smart devices might or might not be saying so in three years. It is our determination for our mid-term future to make efforts to devise our own solutions different from others.

With this, it seems that most of Iwata's comments are directed at mobile games, which quite possibly have peaked. They'll still remain profitable for a while, but they're so far outside Nintendo's sphere of influence that jumping on now would probably be a bad idea.

As for free-to-play in general, I think Nintendo's in a difficult spot. As mentioned, console makers have a different set of needs than pure software developers, and, as difficult a time as devs have with getting their F2P offerings on Sony's and Microsoft's hardware, you'd have to imagine it's a lot tougher with Nintendo, considering their relative lack of online infrastructure.

Also, most of the “big” free-to-play games (League of Legends, World of Tanks, Dota 2) are PvP-styled affairs. When you think “competitive PvP,” do you think Nintendo? Not so much. While not exactly e-sports-ready, F2P Smash Bros. or Mario Kart could be awesome, but they would require some kind of reworking, such as a progression system, in addition to the simple overcoming of Nintendo's long-held beliefs and traditions.

Considering how the Wii U has tanked, they can't really rule out any potential moneymaking avenue. It's not like the other consoles are totally embracing the concept, so the ideal situation would be for Nintendo to figure out a way to make it work on consoles and provide innovation in the field the way they did with motion control devices for the Wii. The Wii made consoles more accessible to a wider range of people than ever before; free-to-play has that same potential.

But Nintendo moves slowly and doesn't give in easily to what it perceives as short-lived trends. Even if they welcomed free-to-play games on the Wii U, it's probably too late for that console. F2P is unlikely to be something they can ignore forever, but for now, you'd best look elsewhere.

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About the Author

Jason Winter
Jason Winter, News Editor
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

Discussion (30)

Paladinrja 8 years ago
Really intelligent article, thanks for the effort, I enjoyed reading it Jason.

I'm not sure Nintendo see F2P as a useless concept. At the time of your writing this peice it may not have been public knowledge and now it has come to light that a hybrid philosophy of how some of their franchises will be offered has come to light. Some of Nintendo's games will indeed use a peripherally similar model to F2P whilst others evolving their titles through new content will use seasons passes, so I don't think its too far off where we'll see F2PMMO's available on the platform.

Yet I don't think that door will open until the next LoZ and X actually arrive, the reason being mostly technical and to do with the eDRAM which offers expanded instruction increasing AI. That facility won't be on offer to developers until its generated through their support regime but its the most obvious use of the eDRAM through instruction. This doesn't mean that devs can't produce this themselves, its just unlikely that they will when they are trying to cross develop with parity rather than engage in a disparity (no matter how great it is).

I'm expecting F2P in the near term on the Wii U, but any dev right now will tell you that the support from Nintendo isn't there for them to use the hardware in the way they would want. Developing such mechanism's themselves is out of their cost scope.

FatalItalion 9 years ago
I feel Nintendo will never make their main franchises (Zelda, Mario, Smash Bros, Pokémon, etc.)
F2P, and with good cause, considering the Wii U is falling behind due to the lack of IP's and 3rd party support. Nintendo needs to make more of the main titles (listed above) for the Wii U, as well as develop new IP's, hopefully these IP's will consist of core online multiplayer gameplay (As we all know many Nintendo games don't consist of ANY multiplayer). Only then will Indie companies take notice of Nintendo, and join in to make epic games. People are mistaken about the whole Nintendo dying though, considering the 3DS is raking in tons of money, able to keep the fail ATM, Wii U afloat.

UnseatedTitan89 9 years ago
Did we teleport in to some mystical land where nintendo is actually relevant still? I mean, lets face it, in another 10 years Nintendo most likely won't even exist.

Merkadis 9 years ago
Don't care about consoles either.
Facts are facts however, f2p (and by free to play i don't mean free to pay) are the future.
Path of Exile had shown the lot of those idiots that it is perfectly possible to make f2p without p2w, i expect more games embracing f2p model like poe to appear in the future.
And perhaps one day i'll even witness the extinction of companies like aeria games, nexon, pw, etc... the lot of those cash milkers, oh yeah, it would be beautiful indeed.

View 2 replies
Jambock 9 years ago
Well, since i don't care about consoles... Meh... Consoles lost me as a consumer soon when i got my 1st PC...

Razer 9 years ago
I'd rather see my childhood favorite franchises die with a little dignity than be butchered by another shoehorned progression system. I've seen enough games ruined by that already.

moomooflavor 9 years ago
F2P games are crap.

P2P games are crap.

PVP games are crap.

Please Nintendo make more Cooking Mama and Nintendogs!

View 1 reply
Flevalt 9 years ago
A link referring to Kotaku that expects to be taken seriously?

Stone the crows!

JoJoPoSe 9 years ago
"some of the biggest F2P games rake in millions"... "SOME"... Not all... Let's face it, not all f2p games are successful.

View 1 reply
GANONDORFIVY 9 years ago
Well basically in my opinion the free to play games will never feel as complete or worth as the ones you buy complete, examples is today beat em ups , they only let you use one fighter and you must buy all others, something really disapointing in my opinion.
Second why all games need online? in fact most games should not have online, not everyone wants to compete or "stay conected" to play, nor have the fear to never play a game again just because servers went down.
Third somewre there i think i read about mobile games, well touch screen will never be able to let the gameplay of complex games be played correctly, like FPS, or beat em ups example street fighter 4 for ipod touch is really disastrous compared to the consoles one.
Not because something is mainstream and everyone can play it means all developers must focus on doing it, in fact in my opinion we should have more hardcore games and less farmvilles or candy crushes

CBYL 9 years ago
Why is the writer so personal about this? If you're writing an article on a site that gives out news you should try not to be bias, or at least respect the one you're talking about.

I understand that this site is about free MMOs, but you could have taken a stand without mocking Nintendo.

Hard to find professionalism these days...

View 2 replies
Trenix 9 years ago
To be honest, I was more satisfied with games that were part of the B2P model more than any other model. There is less greed and trickery involved overall. While F2P is the new trend, that doesn't mean that it's the most successful model. It's already killed many games and companies because the developers don't understand that the mass majority hate P2W.

View 1 reply
nintendo 9 years ago
Nintendo Don't Play
they straight OG!
go ahead iwata let em kno!

Mystika 9 years ago
I seriously doubt Mario Kart & Smash Bros. would EVER go F2P - those are among their best selling franchises already (even now, most people who are interested in the Wii U but haven't bought it yet want to buy it for either Mario Kart 8 or the next Super Smash Bros.).

However, I do think Nintendo needs to embrace F2P...and even with it's big franchises like Zelda or Mario (they'd of course need to do progression differently). MMORPGs will be a main area to target - I reckon they could do an Animal Crossing MMO, or even an MMO set in Hyrule (Zelda) or the Mushroom Kingdom (Mario)...or most notably wanted by fans; a Pokemon MMO (people keep wanting that especially).

As for PvP games, some of their more obscure franchises like F-Zero, Metroid & Star Fox could be used as F2P games - F-Zero being the free racing game, Metroid as an FPS game and Star Fox as a third-person space shooter (similar to Star Fox: Assault).

But firstly...Ninty needs to turn things around (get the Wii U going especially). Once they've got their financial problems under way, then F2P (Steel Diver is a start I suppose) should become much more embraced by Ninty.

ugurano 9 years ago
mounted

zoren 9 years ago
meh


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