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Pokémon Go vs. Super Mario Run: Which Engages Users Better?

Out of all the words that could define 2016, the most unexpected would be “Pokémon.” This year saw the resurgence of the popular ’90s phenomenon with the summer release of Pokémon Go, the GPS-enabled mobile game that got millions of people walking around their neighborhoods in the hopes of catching those elusive pocket monsters.

To remind everyone just how successful its first few months were, Pokémon Go became the first mobile game to gross $600M worldwide from in-app purchases, after only 90 days on the market. But by mid-September, as the weather cooled, so did its run: the game had lost 79% of its players. So what’s a Pokémon Trainer to do?

When we first covered Pokémon Go in July, we recommended a few user engagement tactics to turn the fad into long-term fun across channels, such as milestone mobile notifications and a welcome email series. Although game developer Niantic has yet to put our suggestions into action, it did introduce new ways to re-engage players, including a designated Buddy Pokémon to gain extra candy as you walk and daily streaks to increase active users. Its events during Halloween and Christmas were especially successful: Pokémon Go players were incentivized to find holiday-related Pokémon like Pikachu in a Santa hat.

However, at the end of the day, the whole point of Pokémon Go is going outside, and the probability of that happening drops rapidly with the temperature. Enter the new kid on the block: Super Mario Run. Another property owned by Nintendo, this mobile game (currently only available on iOS) doesn’t require thousands of steps — or even both hands.

Gameplay is simple: Mario runs automatically, and you control his movement by tapping your screen to make him jump and defeat enemies. Users can play in typical World Tour mode or compete against time trials of other gamers in Toad Rally. The coins you earn during either mode can be used to purchase special items and decor for your Mushroom Kingdom.

While most love the idea of playing a Mario game on their phones, many aren’t convinced that it’s worth the $10 price tag. Despite 40 million downloads in its first four days, Apptopia estimates that only 2 percent will convert into purchases.

Because of its cost, Super Mario Run suffers a different user engagement challenge than Pokémon Go. Whereas freemium games can entice users who want to achieve accelerated progress to make in-app purchases, premium games must significantly wow users upfront with a demo in order to convince them to pay.

The freemium model works for Pokémon Go, because players expect to commit a significant amount of time into catching each Pokémon, especially when they have to walk great distances to locate them. In-app purchases are the way to make that grind a little easier.

On the other hand, Mario games are meant to be easily consumed in a single-player mode composed of short, fast-paced tours. Forcing users to watch ads or buy items to play a 60-second level might be a bigger ask than purchasing the game outright.

With these two beloved properties, user acquisition isn’t an issue: the demand and word of mouth are already there. Engagement techniques will differ depending on the monetization strategy, which we’ll be addressing in future posts.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be getting back to catching Pokémon and battling Bowser…you know, for market research.*

*Note: Some productivity may have been lost in the making of this blog post.

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