Much has been made about Nintendo's latest mobile game launch. Mario Kart is one of Nintendo's crown jewels; a game that is both a system-seller for whatever generation of Nintendo device you can think of, as well as a game that continually sets the standard for what a fun racing game should be.
Nintendo games running on Nintendo's own hardware tend to be a seamless experience. However, shifting these games onto mobile has meant that the combination of classic Nintendo IP and free-to-play monetization has created a very different user experience.
Nintendo has already experimented with different monetization models. The first foray into mobile, Miitomo, used in-app purchases to allow players to customise their Mii avatar. This was quickly followed by Super Mario Run, which was positioned as a free-to-start game with a $10 price tag for the full experience. Subsequent games Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp make use of a stamina/energy system that is very familiar to many free-to-play games.
"Mario Kart Tour is probably the first implementation of a Battle Pass that puts a game mode behind a paywall"
For Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo has shifted its monetization approach once again, using its own take on the 'Battle Pass' approach. The hard paywall this has introduced to the game has already created plenty of negativity, but as we'll see, Nintendo is just the latest games company to use battle passes as their key monetization strategy.
Mario Kart's season (tours) last for two weeks and players have a limited time to complete and earn the rewards. Similar to any Battle Pass, the Gold Pass unlocks the "premium" reward track. One interesting difference from the norm, however, is the implementation of the gold pass as a monthly-based subscription, whereas other Battle Passes ask for a single transaction for the entire season (e.g. two months). Mario Kart Tour also puts the fastest racing class behind the paywall of the Gold Pass instead of just giving better season progression rewards.
Battle Passes are relatively new to the mobile gaming market. Fortnite was the first major title to introduce it back in spring of 2018 with the game's mobile launch. For a while, the feature was mainly seen in other Battle Royale games, but if we fast forward to today, its popularity has skyrocketed. The big boom started early this year, back in February only 2% of top 100 grossing games (iOS US) included a Battle Pass and today we are at 13% with a clear increasing trend.