Sponsored By

Mario Kart Tour: Gameplay: 1 - Onboarding: 0

Nintendo has just released a free-to-play mobile version of its famous license, Mario Kart. How does it compare to games developed by freemium experts?

Pascal Luban, Blogger

October 10, 2019

3 Min Read

Nintendo has just released a free-to-play mobile version of its famous license, Mario Kart. How does it compare to games developed by freemium experts?

It is clear that the Japanese publisher offers us a game that has a lot of strengths: Its level design is superb, the controls work well for a touch screen and game mechanisms are as effective as ever. In short, the gameplay is here.

Nintendo has also integrated the fact that a mobile game must be enriched and renewed regularly to keep its players active and increase its chances of generating revenue. Finally, its monetization strategy is rather clever, even if it comes dangerously close to pay-to-win.

And yet, Nintendo "missed" on one of the key aspects of freemium games: onboarding. As a reminder, the latter describes the construction of the user experience during the discovery phase of the game. Good onboarding is fundamental for a free-to-play game because of the large number of players who abandon a game after one or two game sessions.

So, what are the weaknesses of Mario Kart Tour's onboarding?

It starts with the mandatory registration of your profile with Nintendo, along with many questions: Gender, date of birth, country of origin and ... email address. If it is understandable that a publisher wants to create a direct link with his players. But asking for as much information as possible before starting the game and even blocking the game if they have not answered, is a good way to turn new players off. Nintendo probably does not care because of the weight of its license but this practice is strongly discouraged.

Once past the "police check", players are properly taken in hand. They discover the game interface, get used to the control on an initiation circuit, then start their first races ... and win because they play against bots.

But things are spoiling quickly. The progression system is convoluted, poorly explained, and players are quickly drowned in many screens. Nintendo lets players to their own means to understand. That’s too bad. A freemium game can offer a rich experience and complex progression mechanisms but these must be progressively brought. Indeed, players who are not "hooked" by the progression mechanism or who feel lost in a game they discover are players who are likely not to return. This is one of the great lessons to be learned from mega-successes in mobile gaming. They offer superbly crafted onboarding were players are not left to their own until they understand why they should engage in the game.

Finally, the absence of true multiplayer brings a new source of misunderstanding because it is one of the pillars of the franchise. If the latter is planned, why not say it in the game?

We work in an industry characterized by many changes: Technologies, distribution channels, genres, usages and ... game design. The latter is no exception, it too changes and there is a lot to learn from game design developed for mobile games.


My previous blog entries on freemium design:

Rise of mixed monetization strategies

Quantitative design - How to define XP thresholds?  FEATURED BLOG

Subscription 2.0: Will it become tomorrow's business model?


Pascal Luban

Creative director & game designer, freelance

24+ years of experience serving studios and publishers



Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Pascal Luban


Pascal Luban is a freelance creative director and game designer based in France. He has been working in the game industry as a game or level designer since 1995 and has been commissioned by major studios and publishers including Activision, SCEE, Ubisoft and DICE. In particular, he was Lead Level Designer on the 'versus' multiplayer versions of both Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory, he designed CTF-Tornado, a UT3 mod multiplayer map built to showcase the applications of physics to gameplay, he was creative Director on Wanted – Weapons of Fate and lead game designer on Fighters Uncaged, the first combat game for Kinect. His first game for mobile platforms, The One Hope, was published in 2007 by the Irish publishers Gmedia and has received the Best In Gaming award at the 2009 Digital Media Awards of Dublin. Leveraging his design experience on console and PC titles, Pascal is also working on social and Free-to-Play games. He contributed to the game design of Kartoon, a Facebook game currently under development at Kadank, he did a design mission on Treasure Madness, zSlide's successful Free-to-Play game and completed several design missions for French and American clients. Pascal is content director for the video game program at CIFACOM, a French school focusing on the new media industry.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like