Free-to-play mobile games have proven popular with casual gamers over recent years and there is seemingly no end of developers looking to create another addictive bird chucking or candy crushing title to harvest money from people's e-wallets.
Many people have wondered if this free-to-play model can work for much larger games - classic titles from yesteryear, for example. Nintendo has already revealed it aims to experiment with the pricing framework with Steel Diver, which will come to the eShop soon.
We're sure you've all wondered what Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the best games ever made, would be like on a smartphone. Well, we say wondered it's probably likely if you ever have you've awoken upright with cold sweat streaming from your forehead. Go back to sleep, it's just a nightmare. Or is it?
Well, three game designers, including Ethan Levy, were recently challenged to create an "evil" version of the classic NES title and they presented what they came up with at last month's Casual Connect summit held in San Francisco.
It's definitely worth mentioning at this point that Levy did state that it was all a bit of a laugh and wasn't to be taken seriously. And yet here we are still hopelessly counting sheep.
How the team went about devising a touch-based Super Mario Bros. 3 is actually quite interesting. First off, he recommended using swipe-based controls as virtual sticks on a smartphone are disastrous at best. Basically, you swipe forward to move forward, back to stop, up to jump and down to grab your hat and crouch. Meanwhile, a double finger tap will make Mario perform his special move.
This is where it starts to get all PEGI 18 - the monetisation.
Levy noted all the things that could be charged for and it's harrowing to say the least:
You have lives, you have time, you have score and you have coins. In addition to that at the end of every level, there's a special mechanic where you hit this thing and you get a little slot machine thing and after you get three slot machine things, it turns into an item in your inventory. You have an overworld, which has slightly linear gameplay content. You have mini-boss castles, boss castles, hammerheads. You have these mini-games that you can play for items in your inventory, or you can just go to Toad and pick a chest and get a straight item that goes into your consumable-based inventory. This game has everything we need to make a modrn free-to-play game on a mobile phone. Everything's already there. All we need to change is a couple of little tweaks here and there.
That's right, it's all there. All you'd need to do is add a price tag.
He then went on to talk about charging for emotions, in particular delight and achievement:
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterclass in surprise and delight. The player is introduced to novelties throughout the game that keeps the experience constantly fresh. In order to monetise emotion, we will introduce elements like a crafting system that allows the player you unlock new characters for use with slightly different powers which allow for more novelty.
We can build off of the slightly linear nature of Super Mario Bros. 3 to build a system dependent upon earning stars instead of pure level completion to unlock new areas and abilities. Taking queues from games like Candy Crush Saga and Jetpack Joyride, we will build in systems of achievements that will motivate players to use a variety of consumable boosts.
In order to make Super Mario Bros. 3 more like Candy Crush (why would anyone want to... never mind) Levy said the very structure of the game would change. For example, all levels would do away with simple completion and players would now need to achieve a high score that would equate to being awarded stars. There would then be a social leaderboard and you could get bonus stars for completing levels with other characters - that have been purchased of course. By collecting stars you can unlock new worlds, allowing you to progress.
Interestingly, lives would not be found in the levels and they would regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes. Meaning if you fall down a pit you'll have to wait half an hour to play again, or you could get your wallet out. Meanwhile, mini games are only available once every 24 hours, you want more? Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
So if coins don't grant you an extra life, what's the point? Well, they can be used for in-game currency to buy Tanooki suits, Fire Flowers or Mushrooms. Collecting them is bound to become tedious so players will have the chance to buy a pack to save them time.
However, the major "coin sink" in the game would be Toad, who would play the role of a craftsman. Essentially, you'd use coins and other rewards to conjure up bonuses like additional characters including Peach, Luigi, Wario, Donkey Kong, Samus and Link. All of these characters would have special abilities akin to Super Mario Bros. 2 and if you want these abilities then you'll need to splash some cash.
Levy said there would be notifications showing the player where they could pay money for things and the game would start up by offering them $20 worth of content for a mere $5. A new survival mode would also be included to increase the game's longevity, with a new level being added every week to keep the player interested. Linear content would mean people stop playing and developers really do not want this.
We're sure you'll agree that all of that sounds pretty horrific. Thankfully it's all hypothetical.
You can check out the presentation from Levy in the video below, it starts at 21:05 and finishes at 32:00. If you fancy looking at the slides, they can be found here.
Let us know what you think to this mobile adaptation of the classic NES title in the comment section. Now if you don't mind we're all going to switch on the Wii U, load up Super Mario Bros. 3 and hug the GamePad for a bit.