Exclusive: Mario Kart Tour‘s in-app purchases a massive money-maker for Nintendo

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Mario Kart Tour is a massive money spinner for Nintendo
Success shows why Nintendo changes its strategy on mobile games.
Photo: Nintendo

Nintendo’s new subscription model seems to be paying off in droves for the company — as shown by the company’s most popular mobile game, Mario Kart Tour.

Mario Kart Tour debuted to massive download numbers in late September 2019. According to Apple it was the most downloaded App Store game of 2019. But as figures exclusively obtained by Cult of Mac show, it’s proving quite the money generator as well.

Mario Kart Tour: A big hit for Nintendo

Mario Kart is a key console franchise for Nintendo, which already has a broad audience and a place as a consistent system seller,” Craig Chapple, a mobile insights strategist at leading app analytics platform Sensor Tower, told Cult of Mac. “It’s little surprise to see that Mario Kart Tour has generated the most downloads of any other Nintendo mobile game. Although the fact it has racked up as many installs as it has in such a short amount of time is impressive.”

Figures provided by Sensor Tower show that Mario Kart Tour has racked up 142.3 million downloads on Google Play and iOS in the 98 days since its debut. On iOS, it secured 59.4 million downloads during that time. That equates to 41.8% of game’s total downloads.

Comparing that with the first 98 days of Nintendo’s other mobile games to date, it gives Mario Kart Tour a very healthy lead. The next closest game, Super Mario Run, managed downloads of “just” 44.2 million in its first 98 days. 40 million of those were on iOS.

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Downloads across Google Play and App Store during the first 98 days.
Photo: Sensor Tower

All about the revenue

But it’s revenue where Mario Kart Tour truly shines. In its first 98 days, it’s pulled in $75.1 million through Google Play and the App Store. $50.7 million of this came via iOS — approximately 67.5% of the game’s total revenue. It is second only to Fire Emblem Heroes in both games’ first 98 days.

“Over the last 98 days, it’s generated more than twice the revenue of the company’s second-highest grosser, Fire Emblem Heroes,” Chapple continued. “If sales stay consistent, which they have done so over the past couple of months, it could be seen as a win for Nintendo’s subscription strategy.”

This model is one that Nintendo first introduced with its game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp last year. Nintendo offers two subscription plans with Animal Crossing. One is the $7.99 per month “Cookie & Depot Plan”, while the other is a $2.99 per month “Happy Helper Plan.” Nintendo then introduced a similar subscription model to Mario Kart Tour. This $4.99 Gold Pass features exclusive unlockables. These include a high speed mode and, currently, a beta version of multiplayer.

The Gold Pass isn’t the only way Mario Kart Tour gets money from players. Although you can play the game for free, there are other micro-transactions available. You can buy the in-game currency rubies — with the biggest single payment being $69.99 for 135 rubies.

Nintendo hasn’t revealed exact figures for its number of Gold Pass subscribers.

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How Nintendo’s games stack up in the revenue front in Google Play and the App Store.
Photo: Sensor Tower

How Mario Kart Tour rakes in its cash

Nintendo’s decision to embrace subscriptions and in-app purchases (IAP) is in striking contrast to its early approach to mobile games. When it first introduced Super Mario Run in 2017, Nintendo avoided the popular IAP model of gaming. Instead, it allowed the entire game to be unlocked for a single $9.99 payment.

But that proved not to be as lucrative as Nintendo hoped. In a 2017 earnings report, Nintendo said that Mario Run had “not yet reached an acceptable profit point” — even after 200 million downloads.

According to Sensor Tower’s figures, despite its triumphant number of downloads in its first 98 days, Mario Run faltered on revenue. It pulled in “just” $37.4 million in its first 98 days. That puts at around half of Mario Kart Tour‘s earnings.

Nintendo went back to the drawing board, and decided instead to embrace subscription services. This is in keeping with what other companies are doing right now. Apple, for its part, is pushing subscriptions such as Apple Music and Apple TV+. This provides a continuing source of income rather than one-off payments.

Adapting to gaming, circa 2020

Whether this is ultimately for the betterment of Mario Kart Tour is open for debate. I wasn’t enormously impressed by Mario Kart Tour. As I wrote in my review, it’s too easy and the touch controls don’t feel overly responsive. The game’s decision to heavily promote in-app purchases also compromises the gaming experience.

Nonetheless, Nintendo is adapting to one of the most popular current business models for software. Charging a recurring fee also has obvious benefits for gamers, such as giving Nintendo more motivation to keep the game updated. It continues to roll out new tours, characters, and other goodies.

What do you think of the gaming subscription model? Do you think Nintendo has made the right move? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.