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Super Mario Run falls short of Nintendo's expectations

So far, the Nintendo Switch is a big success, but not everything that Nintendo touches turns to gold. While the legendary developer has made a major push into the mobile marketplace over the past year, releasing titles like Miitomo, Fire Emblem Heroes, and the world-conquering collaboration with Niantic Labs known as Pokémon Go, the move to smart devices hasn't been a seamless one. To wit: Super Mario Run, the first-ever mobile game starring Nintendo's iconic mascot, "did not meet [Nintendo's] expectations," according to president Tatsumi Kimishima.

The statement, given to Japanese financial publication Nikkei, comes just a few days after Super Mario Run made its long-awaited debut on Android devices. The platform game launched on iOS phones and tablets last December.

The premium pricing model for Super Mario Run drew criticism from many users, who balked at the game's high barrier to entry. While the first three levels are free, players need to pay a one-time $10 fee to unlock the rest of the game, which includes 21 additional levels. While Super Mario Run racked up 90 million downloads in its first month or so on the market, only three percent of players decided to shell out for the full game, which was fewer than Nintendo had hoped.

By contrast, Fire Emblem Heroes, which runs on a free-to-play model (the base game is free, but players can pay for optional upgrades—in this case, orbs, which are used to purchase random assortments of new characters) is performing quite well with revenue of more than $5 million in its first week. However, going forward, Nintendo will probably stick with a Super Mario Run-like pricing scheme. "Heroes is an outlier," a Nintendo executive told Nikkei. "We honestly prefer the Super Mario Run model."

As Nikkei notes, that's probably because Nintendo's goal with its mobile games has less to do with raw cash and more to do with marketing. By producing mobile games featuring Nintendo characters and key franchises, the publisher hopes to boost sales of Switch and 3DS titles, a strategy that paid off when Pokémon Sun and Moon launched just a few months after the free-to-play Pokémon Go.

If any company has the clout to give the mobile gaming marketplace some much needed changes, it's Nintendo. So hopefully the lackluster performance of Super Mario Run won't stop the company from doing what it does best: shake up the game industry with weird, quirky, and innovative experiments. We'll see.