Nintendo insists on calling next mobile games "free to start"

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Shakespeare did write. But the same is true for undesirable things as well. Nintendo might be trying to distance itself from the ubiquitous but still criticized free-to-play games, but its still ambiguous "free-to-start" model might not fare any better. In fact, given the literal interpretation of the phrase and Nintendo's rather colorful reputation in today's gaming market, the label might do more harm than good in promoting Nintendo's upcoming mobile titles.

The Free to play business model was born and grew together with the rise of smartphones. Game makers and publishers needed a way to make money off the then nascent platform, which didn't easily lend itself to previous game selling practices. While premium expensive games do exist, some definitely worth their salt, many games would have died an early death if they carried rather high prices. Free to play gave them a way out by offering the game for free and then charging for additional experiences.

Nintendo's next two mobile games will follow that pattern, whether or not Nintendo calls it as such. The gaming giant already confirmed that the next tiles will be taken from existing popular franchises instead of a somewhat new one like Miitomo. Fire Emblem is Nintendo's strategy RPG popular for its memorable characters but also notorious for permanently keeping those characters dead. Animal Crossing is relatively newer and has been designed around an in-app purchase (IAP) system that would fit right in with mobile games.

Nintendo hasn't yet revealed how it plans to implement its free-to-start strategy, but the name itself already has some negative implications. A lot of free-to-play games these days simply offer optional IAPs to enhance the gaming experience, like optional power ups, costumes, and accessories. There was a time, however, when free-to-play games actually required players to buy something, either outrightly or subtly, in order to even progress in the game. That strategy, however, was eventually frowned upon by government regulators and consumer rights groups.

The free-to-start name does imply that kind of model, however, though Nintendo could probably still implement it tastefully. Additional episodes or chapters, for example, can be offered at a price. Given Nintendo's silence on the matter, it's hard to guess what path it will eventually take. Hopefully, it won't ruin the good start that Miitomo has been experiencing in the US, much to the surprise of analysts and market watchers.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal