Fire Emblem Heroes launched on February 2, 2017. It's free. Well, sort of. It's the kind of "free" mobile game that works Kat into a bit of a froth, bless her.
Miitomo is also free, but Nintendo's social network / messaging app doesn't panhandle for in-app purchases. By contrast, Fire Emblem Heroes adheres to most of the free-to-play trappings that define mobile games these days, e.g. valuable hard currency that's difficult to earn in-game (but a cinch to buy with real-world cash!), Gashapon-style draws that may yield a five-star character if you're exceedingly lucky (but you're more likely to pull a three-star Frederick – even though Fire Emblem Awakening's bisexual warrior-butler should be a five-star character, no ifs, ands, or buts), and a stamina system that depletes every time you engage in battle.
As Kat's piece demonstrates, there's been some pushback against Fire Emblem Heroes. Not enough to stifle the game's success, though: It brought in nearly $3 million worth of worldwide sales in its first 24 hours. Comparative big launches include Pokémon GO ($10.2 million – yowza) and Super Mario Run ($8.4 million).
But Super Mario Run's "success" is a very interesting case study on how mobile games are regarded by the public at large. The game's $10 price tag certainly helped push those initial numbers up, but people were angry about paying so much for a mobile game. The response to Super Mario Run wasn't simply "Oh, I'd rather not pay for this." Rather, there was genuine anger. People raged about being "tricked" by Nintendo, even though Nintendo made it clear from day one that Super Mario Run is free to download and try for three stages, and then you can decide if you want to pay $10 for the full game.
There's room for criticism about Super Mario Run's monetization methods. You can argue it's too expensive (even though all future DLC is included in the price tag), or you can argue the three-stage demo is too short. But people largely raged against paying more than $0.99 up-front for a mobile game. The mobile market is a savage land, and eking out a profit is becoming increasingly difficult. There's a reason why so many indie developers are retreating to consoles and Steam.
Fire Emblem Heroes is clearly built around the free-to-play model, so I doubt the backlash against Super Mario Run influenced its monetization method in any way. Still, I wonder if Fire Emblem Heroes' success will cause Nintendo to abandon its "free-to-download" formula for future mobile projects.
I don't think it should; I think there are still ways to make the public less hostile towards free-to-download games. At the same time, I can see why going free-to-play with some of its franchises will be beneficial in the long run.
In her editorial, Kat argues that free-to-play mobile games like Fire Emblem Heroes will harm the property over the long haul. I argue that Fire Emblem Heroes is actually an example of Nintendo using mobile in the way it intended: As a means of drumming up interest in full-scale game releases for the Switch and the Nintendo 3DS. We already have proof that last summer's Pokémon GO phenomenon did great things for Pokémon Sun and Moon's sales.
Is Pokémon GO a top-notch game? Heck no. Is it a fun distraction? Sure. Does its existence devalue Pokémon Sun and Moon in any way? Definitely not. Pokémon Sun and Moon are the best Pokémon games in ages.
Full disclosure: I was a mobile games reviewer for years. I know the ins-and-outs of the platform, and there are many mobile games I'm genuinely fond of. I'm not offended by lightweight fanservice games like Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius or Final Fantasy Record Keeper. I enjoy them for what they are – but at the same time, I can acknowledge why other people might feel a little threatened by them. You need only look at Japan to see a market that's transitioning to mobile at the speed of sound. In fact, most Fire Emblem Heroes' day-one success can be credited to Japan.
I know the sting of seeing beloved franchises pared down into free-to-play cash-grabs. Not a day goes by where I don't light a candle for Breath of Fire. But I'm also confident that Nintendo values its properties too much to completely sell them into mobile slavery. In fact, Fire Emblem Heroes is just one tier in a multi-faceted plan for Fire Emblem that indicates the franchise is in very good health. Fire Emblem is coming to the Switch. It's coming to the Nintendo 3DS. It's getting a musou game from Koei Tecmo.
Granted, Fire Emblem Heroes isn't a fraction as complex as a "real" Fire Emblem game, but it serves its purpose: It's cute, it's fun for short bursts of play, and it has fanservice out the wazoo. While you may be upset the notion of Fire Emblem being "dumbed down" for mobile, I consider it a necessary evil (albeit one that's fun to burst into fits of fangirl-giggles over) that may ultimately wind up being a good dose of medicine for the Switch and the aging Nintendo 3DS. The people who play Fire Emblem Heroes will look forward to what's next for the franchise, and look back at what they missed.
I'm interested to see how sales of Fire Emblem do across the next few months. I know Fire Emblem Heroes has caused my long-smouldering intention to play Birthright, Conquest, and Legacy to flare up like a dragon's sneeze. My first five-star draw was Effie, and I've decided I must get to know her better. Ironically, the only thing stopping me is the fact I write about video games for a living, and we're heading into a very busy period with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn (fans of the Blood God know that my Persona 4 Golden playthrough takes priority too, of course).
Sure, there's a chance this could all go very wrong. There's a chance that ten years from now, Mario, Link, and all the heroes and villains of Fire Emblem will exist exclusively on phones and tablets despite Nintendo's efforts to use mobile as an interactive advertising platform. That's a bad ending. As someone who treasures diversity in game platforms and mediums, I do not want that ending. I just think Fire Emblem Heroes is a necessary step away from that devastating future.
Anyway, my friend code is 7782607109. Bring Hero Feathers.