In a surprise move this week, Nintendo stealth-released Stretchmo, the third game in the Pushmo/Crashmo series on 3DS, without any advance notice and with a "free to start" purchasing model.
Once again starring rotund protagonist, Mallo, it's yet another take on the 3D block-pulling puzzler. This time, however, blocks can be stretched left and right in addition to the signature front to back movement featured in previous games. The goal remains the same—get to the top of each structure to rescue trapped children (weird, I know)—but the new mechanic adds a fun, new spin on the adventure.
While it's great to see Nintendo continue to support a really inventive, newer series, I'm more interested in the way they released Stretchmo and what it means for Nintendo's future.
Previous games Pushmo and Crashmo both were featured in Nintendo Direct videos leading up to their launch (especially Crashmo, which built excitement off of the Pushmo's sleeper hit success). Strechmo, however, was announced as a game the day it ready for download. This, of course, isn't the first time we've seen companies do this (Nintendo has even done this before), but it's noteworthy to see Nintendo taking this approach during a week that isn't E3. In an era of games announced too early (see: The Last Guardian, first announced in 2007 and still unreleased but confirmed to be in development), it's great to see more companies eschewing protracted preview hype cycles for games that we can enjoy right now.
Moreover, though, we're getting another example of Nintendo experimenting with different ways to monetize their games within the free-to-play (F2P) arena. We've previously seen them try a haggle-with-a-dog-for-baseball-games approach, a few buy-games-from-a-rabbit ploys, a submarine-online-first-person-shooter game with F2P hooks, and a match-3-Pikachu game that showed up on 3DS systems automatically. Each of these has tackled the F2P model a little differently, but Strecthmo is being called "free to start," and it's a little different.
In Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, you did get to try a little of the games before hitting a paywall, but then you could only buy the subsequent mini games piecemeal (albeit with the potential for discounted prices through haggling). With the extra StreetPass games, you got a discount if you bought multiple games together, but there was no option to try before you buy. With Stretchmo, Nintendo seems to be combining the approaches: when you download the free software, you get seven free levels before you have any purchase options. At that point, you can choose to buy individual games OR get a discount by buying all the level packs together.
While Nintendo's new partnership with DeNA will help them make the jump into the mobile games space (which is primarily F2P these days), I'm left wondering if we're already seeing some effects of that team-up. Is DeNA helping Nintendo get creative with new F2P approaches?
Hard to say, exactly; but, if we have to live in a world of F2P games, I'm okay with this approach because it lets the player buy the game in a more traditional, "bundled" approach if he or she doesn't want to keep paying a little bit here, a little bit there. I don't know about you, but I prefer to spend as little time possible buying games and as much time possible playing them. For now, at least, it's encouraging to see that Nintendo still gets that.