Nintendo Experiments with Haggling in Free-to-Play

Nintendo Experiments with Haggling in Free-to-Play

An intriguing Japanese 3DS eShop title reveals Nintendo experimenting with the free-to-play model.

It's easy to forget that there's a lot of stuff Japanese players get to enjoy that we never see anything of.

Whether that's because the time, effort and money required for a translation wouldn't be worthwhile, or because the concept simply wouldn't resonate with players in the West varies from product to product. Regardless of the reasons, there are a significant number of experiences that remain confined to their Eastern homeland while, in many cases, Westerners have no idea of their existence.

One such example is Japanese 3DS eShop title Darumeshi Sports Store, uncovered by NeoGAF user StreetsAhead in this thread. Darumeshi Sports Store is particularly interesting because it appears to be an early foray by Nintendo into the potentially lucrative free-to-play market -- but Nintendo being Nintendo, they've put their own twist on the usual formula to make it a bit more friendly than usual.

In Darumeshi Sports Store, StreetsAhead writes, you control your Mii as they visit the titular store. Inuji Darumeshi, the owner, is an elderly dog and former professional baseball player. His store is failing and his wife has left him, and he is frustrated by the fact that children are no longer interested in playing baseball outdoors, instead preferring to immerse themselves in video games.

Eventually, you offer to take care of one of Inuji's ten children, and you get to play various baseball-related WarioWare-style minigames on an in-game 3DS-like system. Completing challenges in the games rewards you with stamps and items, which can then be taken back to Inuji's store and used to haggle over the price of up to 10 additional minigames. Each game normally costs 400 yen (about $4) from your eShop balance -- so, real money -- but can be haggled down considerably. There are also coupons available to give you a small amount off the price of the various games.

StreetsAhead notes that the game's heavy use of complex Chinese kanji characters and Kansai dialect in the text (rather than simpler hiragana or katakana character sets and more "standard" dialect) suggests the game might be intended for a slightly more mature audience than its cartoonish visuals may first suggest -- a feeling backed up by the somewhat bleak situation Inuji's life is in at the start of the game, too.

Content aside, though, Darumeshi Sports Store represents an interesting concept that hasn't been explored much in free-to-play games -- the idea of real-money prices being negotiable. The vast majority of free-to-play titles, whether they're on mobile, PC, console or the Web, tend to make use of a "hard currency" -- a special currency that may only be acquired using real money -- to purchase premium items, as this helps obfuscate the exact amount of money you're really spending. While many titles do offer special deals and discounts on a regular basis, none allow for the player to actually negotiate the price with the game according to their performance. In rare cases, hard currency can be acquired through sufficient grinding rather than reaching for the credit card, but this tends to be an extremely slow and tedious process that isn't really practical or fun.

What Darumeshi Sports Store is doing is still providing the player with a degree of choice over what they wish to spend their money on in the game, but allowing their performance, skill and dedication to dictate how much money they'll need to spend. If the player just wants to acquire all of the minigames straight away, it'll cost them a total of 4,000 yen (about $40) -- but by performing well in the games and making good use of the available rewards, they can get the total price down to less than half of that. It's an interesting idea that other developers would do well to experiment with and explore, because it's a whole lot more consumer-friendly than, say, Candy Crush Saga charging a flat rate of $20 for one powerup.

If you read Japanese, you can find out more about Darumeshi Sports Store on the official site.

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