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Nintendo’s next smartphone releases will be free-to-play

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Stefano Tinti/123RF
After testing the waters with social networking app Miitomo, Nintendo will continue its efforts to seize smartphone gaming with adaptations of its Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem franchises. Now, there’s confirmation that these two releases will be free-to-play — or at least free-to-start.

The term “free-to-start” was specifically used by DeNA chief executive Isao Moriyasu in reference to the upcoming releases, according to a report from Engadget. DeNA is the Japanese mobile gaming specialist that has partnered with Nintendo in connection with its smartphone output.

Nintendo is hoping that it will be able to hook players with a complimentary introduction to its games, before introducing the micro-transactions that will fund development. The company has previously used this strategy on games released for its own hardware, like its 3DS puzzle game Pokemon Picross.

However, it remains to be seen how these particular franchises will implement freemium techniques. Animal Crossing is a game that revolves around paying off a debt to your landlord after moving to a new town, so it’s likely players will be able to speed up that process via micro-transactions — assuming that the smartphone adaptation will be comparable to previous installments on Nintendo hardware, and not some kind of spin-off.

It’s even more difficult to figure out how Fire Emblem will be monetized. Some are suggesting that RPG series might offer paid options to revive characters who are killed in combat, but fans might argue that this would undercut the high-stakes nature of a perma-death mechanic.

It certainly makes sense for Nintendo to use the free-to-play model, as its most devoted fans are likely willing to spend much more than the low cost of an app if the games give them a reason to. Smartphone gaming is all about the players who check in every day and spend small amounts of money on a regular basis. If Nintendo can capture that kind of audience, the company is likely to thrive in this new market.

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