Gather 'round while I fall on my sword. Last month, I confidently (smugly, even) predicted Nintendo's upcoming Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing games for mobile won't be free-to-play because early information about the titles made no mention about either game being free.
Turns out I'm wrong. Earlier today, DeNA chief executive Isao Moriyasu told the Wall Street Journal that Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing's mobile iterations will be "free-to-start," carefully using Nintendo's preferred term for its free-to-play games. The Wall Street Journal requires a sign-in and / or subscription to read, but you can see the quote on Gematsu.
"Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing are both free-to-start apps," Moriyasu said. He also reminded the Wall Street Journal that both titles are full-fledged games, whereas the first product from the Nintendo and DeNA team-up, Miitomo, is more of a social app.
Mea culpa. While it is very common for mobile game developers to state outright whether an app will be paid or free-to-play, I seemingly forgot Nintendo will move by its own ruleset in whatever space it occupies.
But at the risk of making myself look sillier, "free-to-start" means a lot of things in the mobile space. In other words, there's still a solid chance Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem for mobile will forego the mechanics associated with the maligned monetization system, e.g. microtransactions, stamina bars, and Gashapon-style draws for rare items.
It's actually quite common for mobile games to offer a slice of an experience before asking the player to pay for the full shebang. Mobile adventure games in particular favor this monetization method. A good example is Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, an adventure game starring the son of the behatted Professor Layton. The app is marked as "Free," but only the first chapter is a freebie. Subsequent chapters cost money.
(Incidentally, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room is a great game and you should try it. Hey! -- It's free! Sort of!)
Given Nintendo's insistence on using the term "free-to-start" in lieu of "free-to-play," who's to say Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem for mobile won't literally be free-to-start? It wouldn't be difficult to divide a Fire Emblem game into chapters, get you hooked on the first hour, then ask you to pay for the rest.
Getting a free sample of Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem for mobile before paying for the full games would definitely be preferable to playing either title under the thumb of a stamina bar. Still, Miitomo's lackadaisical approach to monetization prevents me from worrying too hard about a potential nightmare scenario wherein Nintendo asks for $0.99 to resurrect Fire Emblem characters who wind up on the business ends of arrows.