Nintendo has always had a strange mix of traditional business practice and innovation. The publisher pushed forward motion control to great commercial success with the Wii, whilst the 3DS took impressive steps with 3D gaming. Conversely, the company has been restrictive with the rights to its games and products, keeping its most important intellectual properties in-house as much as possible.
Recently, however, Nintendo has been tentatively moving towards a number of practices that have been par for the course for other gaming giants. The publisher has revealed a new line of mobile-style software for the 3DS, and its massively successful Amiibo brand is similar to the figurine gaming franchises of Disney Infinity and Skylanders. Nintendo has also been far more focused on DLC of late, with fan favorites like Mario Kart featuring not only DLC based on other Nintendo IPs but commercial tie-ins with external companies such as Mercedes.
Unfortunately, it looks as though Nintendo has also picked up some of the negative aspects of the modern gaming business. There has already been contention over Nintendo’s treatment of YouTube Let’s Play channels, but now the publisher seems to be getting in bed with the freemium model. According to the posters at NeoGaf, a new free-to-play Pokemon title called Pokemon Shuffle includes some particularly nasty microtransactions.
Pokemon Shuffle is the spiritual successor to puzzle title Pokemon Trozei, and will release in Japan this week. However, there are some disappointing gameplay restrictions on offer. Pokemon Shuffle gives players five hearts at the start of the game, and these hearts count every time a user plays a stage – win or lose, a heart will be taken. When the player then runs out of hearts, there is a wait-to-play time of 30 minutes for each heart to regenerate. This wait time can be removed with the use of gems, with each gem accounting for five hearts.
The problem comes with the price structure for these gems. Although they can be obtained via the 3DS StreetPass function, its likely that players will have to buy them through in-app purchases. One gem costs 100 Yen, which works out at $0.84. Gems can also be used to buy coins, which can in turn be traded for items to make stages easier or Great Balls to make Pokemon easier to catch.
Here is a full breakdown of Pokemon Shuffle’s pricing:
5 Hearts = 1 Gem
20 Hearts = 3 Gems
45 Hearts = 6 Gems
75 Hearts = 10 Gems
5000 Coins = 1 Gem
20000 Coins = 3 Gems
45000 Coins = 6 Gems
75000 Coins = 10 Gems
Although the game can no doubt be completed without making any in-app purchases, it’s going to result in a lot of waiting around; there are 160 stages in total, which could result in about 80 hours of wait time. It’s a disappointing move from Nintendo, who could have circumvented the controversy by included an unlimited hearts purchase. Given the company’s family-friendly image, it’s a shame to see them take up a business model that has seen some publishers charge players for ‘gas’ in racing games.