This is a case study of how Nintendo turned the great offer of it’s fighting game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Smash Ultimate) into an amazing up- and cross-selling opportunity across its Switch console sales funnel.
Through providing massive value and clever positioning, Smash Ultimate has become best selling fighting game of all times!
Yet it’s also the hidden marketing edge that is boosting Nintendo’s current console sales funnel.
Discover how Nintendo how did it by reading this case study.
Let’s dig in!
- What is Smash Ultimate In A Nutshell?
- Break Down: What Does Smash Ultimate Offer Its Players?
- Upselling Smash Ultimate By Adding More Value
- How Nintendo Uses Smash Ultimate To Cross-Sell
- Takeaway: How To Use Great Offers To Create Lift Across Your Funnel
Smash Ultimate is a super popular fighting game for Nintendo’s Switch console. Launched in 2018, it is the latest entry in a long-running franchise.
Fighting games pit two or more characters against each other in a contest of strength and skill.
In Smash Ultimate players engage each other with slick, gravity-defying moves with one goal in mind… To reduce the enemy’s health bar to the point that you can kick them out of the arena they’re fighting in!
The Super Smash Bros. franchise first debuted in 1999 and has since become part of video game legend. Players can pit beloved characters against each other in epic, fun-filled battles.
If you’ve ever wondered who’d win in a fight between Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Smash has the answer.
Best of all Smash Ultimate is a party game, i.e. it’s meant to be played together with other people!
And with 75 playable fighters to date there’s something fun for everyone!
You can play against other people or the game’s artificial intelligence (AI), either by yourself or with others via online multiplayer mode.
Not interested in multiplayer games? No problem, Smash Ultimate has a single-player story mode that will keep you busy for days.
Needless to say, the game has charmed both old and new players alike. It offers plays deeply rewarding technical gameplay with a topping of sweet nostalgia.
Thanks to this Smash Ultimate has become the best-selling fighting game of all times by selling over 17.68 million units to date!
At its core Smash Ultimate delivers an engaging gameplay experience.
Let’s analyze how it uses this to make players an offer they can’t resist.
Games that deliver great gameplay satisfy some of the basic human wants and needs of players.
Some of these basic needs and wants include:
- A sense of achievement
- Thrilling competition
- Exploring new, unfamiliar places
- Escape from reality
- Plain old fun!
So, keeping this in mind, let’s have a look at what Super Smash Bros fans have to say about the series.
When you read comments like this what jumps out at you is that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate makes fighting both SIMPLE and FUN.
The game is well balanced and easy to get into. Yet it allows advanced players to put their skills to the test with more technical fighting styles. Combine this with being able to test yourself against other players and the AI -and you got yourself great gameplay.
Add to this the exploration of the “World of Light” or “Classic Mode” in the single-player mode -for an exciting story.
Then mix in the nostalgia of seeing beloved childhood characters pummel each other into submission… and you’ve got yourself a very engaging game.
While the above is good ROI, what makes Smash Ultimate a great offer is all the extra value it offers…
First of all, Smash Ultimate has a massive roster of fighters. You start the game with eight characters from the original Nintendo 64 game. Then gradually you unlock 67 other characters as you go along.
And that’s not even counting the “Echo Fighters” who are clones based on the main fighters you unlock. They play slightly different from their originals and offer even more fighting style options.
Secondly, Smash Ultimate offers lots of exciting downloadable content (DLC). We will cover the implications of this a little later in this case study, but needless to say this is huge.
Every DLC pack comes with a new fighter, extra levels, and other bonus material.
Lastly, there is a massive Smash Bros. community that loves this game and plays it on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
This community will keep you entertained for hours with spectacular fights between pro-players. If that’s no your thing, then there are training videos to help you become a better player. And, if that won’t do the trick, there’s a ton of memes based on the game to keep you entertained.
According to eSport Charts, Smash Ultimate was the most-watched fighting game of 2019. With over 25.5 million hours watched its easy to see why.
All in all, Smash Ultimate offers a high ROI even though it’s online playing mode is totally broken (more on this later).
When Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched in 2018 it had one core message:
“Everyone is here”
Simple, clear, and oh so powerful! Three words that promise what every Super Smash player had always wanted. A grand melee extravaganza featuring their favorite childhood characters.
But it didn’t end there. The game also promised new challengers that would add to the fun. Fans could look forward to more of the same frantic and fun fights.
For comparison, the previous game in the series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl only had a total of 37 playable characters.
Everything is bigger and better in Smash Ultimate. A message-driven home by the following support points:
- 70+ fighters
- 100+ stages
- New game modes
Nintendo promoted the game as the “ultimate showdown” in video game fighting history.
Ever since launch, Super Smash has stayed on message with this idea and expanded it.
New characters, called “challengers”, are introduced regularly through DLC. These give the whole thing a tournament like feel like a real-life fighting competition.
This competition format allows Nintendo to continue charging for new content. All while enhancing their compelling message of bigger, better, and more fun brawls.
The next element of a great offer is believability. That is how you prove to your customers that you can be trusted to delivers what you promise.
Nintendo uses two types of proof do this, namely social and factual proof.Let’s have a look at each of these proof points in turn.
Social proof is about showing that there is a large group of people that enjoy a product or service.
Humans are social animals. If others like something we naturally assume that it’s good and are tempted to try it ourselves if we are so inclined.
Smash Ultimate has extremely high social proof. Here’s what review aggregation site Metacritic has to say about it:
With social proof like this, Nintendo’s offer becomes more believable and trustworthy.
Then there is factual proof. This is evidence that shows that what you promise to deliver is actually true.
Any player can open the game and confirm the character rooster in Solo Battle mode. Looking at this line-up proves Nintendo’s promise that “Everyone is here”.
Aside from this Nintendo has a lot of credibility in the world of gaming. The company created many beloved childhood characters for gamers under the age of 40.
This nostalgia power is reflected in Nintendo’s brand value. According to Interbrand, it has been on an upward trend since the introduction of the Switch. From $4.6 billion in 2018 to $5.5 billion in 2019.
Lastly, the offer is believable because it’s been endorsed by the community.
As previously mentioned, there are hundreds of YouTube & Twitch streamers who play the game. Players that interact and share their love of the game in forums with tens of thousands of members.
All this even though Smash Ultimate’s online multiplayer mode is “…almost unplayable”. And the fact that Nintendo is often accused of not supporting the Smash community, unlike their competitors who sponsor and encourage tournaments.
No doubt, Nintendo makes gamers a great offer with Smash Ultimate. But they don’t just leave it there.
Instead Nintendo keeps delivering value to keep customers happy and continually upsells them with value adds. How? By offering a constant flow of DLC!
Nintendo has released 5 “challenger packs” and one individual DLC to date. Together these DLCs offer players 6 extra fighters and several new levels.
You can buy these bundles individually or together as “Fighter Passes” as shown below.
Have you noticed the difference between volume 1 and 2 of the Fight Pass?
The first offers players all the DLC that has already been released. But the second gives them a chance to pre-order challenger packs that are yet to be released.
With this Nintendo has essentially created a pre-paid subscription service to Smash Ultimate DLC. They get paid cash for content that will only be released in the future. Pure genius!
All without committing themselves to a clear schedule of when this content will be coming out…
Remember this, digital content costs almost nothing to distribute. Sure, you pay for the production but once it’s ready you’re transferring bits and bytes across the internet. So the distribution cost of this type of upselling is as close to zero as currently possible.
Now you might be asking yourself if this DLC content is actually making a difference to Nintendo’s revenue.
While we don’t have data on how well the DLCs performing we can reverse engineer the attention and interest they generate using Google Trends.
Source: Google Trends
The graph above shows us the search interest in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from the pre-launch phase in 2018, all the way up to early 2020.
One thing we can see right away is that there was a healthy amount of interest in the game before and during its launch. Of course, this leveled out once Smash Ultimate had been released. Which is normal and what you’d expect to see from a big-budget video game release.
However, what stands out is that whenever there is a DLC release we see a significant uptick in search interest in Smash Ultimate.
Assuming that a standard 1-2% of this traffic converts into sales that’s some serious money.
Considering the brand power and great offer that the game delivers, I’m pretty sure that Nintendo has a conversion rate well above 2% for its DLC.
Yet this isn’t the only upsell Nintendo offers for the game.
As mentioned before, the online multiplayer mode might be awful but that doesn’t stop players from using it.
To play Smash Ultimate online you need a Nintendo Switch Online membership which will cost you $19.99 per year.
Again, most players aren’t bothering with the online gameplay. But if only 0.5% of the 17.68 million players who bought the game also pay for Switch Online, Nintendo stands to make an extra $17.67 million per year! All thanks to a great core offer!
We can also assume that Nintendo has sold many more Switches and accessories thanks to the game.
So far so good. Nobody would have faulted Nintendo for stopping here. They have a great offer and they use it to upsell their paying customers with complementary goods.
But that wasn’t good enough for the optimizers at Nintendo. No Sir!
What they did next might surprise you…
Nintendo took their great offer and turned it into a platform to promote and sell other triple AAA titles on the Switch.
Many players are very sensitive about the idea that Nintendo is using Smash Ultimate to promote other games.
To be fair, Nintendo has been very careful NOT to use DLC to do this. Looking at the fighters introduced by the challenger packs so far proves this point.
All the above characters are from third-party titles, most of which were not available on the Switch.
Yes, Smash fans will point out that Byleth from the tactical strategy game Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the exception. Yet this character was only added several months after Fire Emblem came out for the Switch.
Now you might be asking yourself why isn’t Nintendo using its DLC to promote upcoming titles and what are they doing instead?
The short answer is that the players don’t like it. In fact, they hate it!
After all who wants to pay a company for the privilege of advertising to them. (Yes, fellow direct-response marketers, I know there are ways to do this. But that’s beyond the scope of this case study.)
There’s been much debate about the potential for Nintendo to “abuse” the challenger system to advertise other games. And clearly, thanks to social listening, Nintendo is aware of this.
So what Nintendo did instead is test how in-built game mechanics can be used to promote upcoming releases.
Firstly, they tried using the alternate costume system to create awareness and interest in upcoming games.
A good example is the alternate outfit for Mario’s dinosaur pal Yoshi. Just before Yoshi’s Crafted World launched, Nintendo introduced an outfit that showed the character as he appears in said game.
Source: Nintendo Soup
To be fair this seems to have been an early experiment that they haven’t repeated. My guess is that it didn’t convert as well as they expected.
Yet it does show you how you can leverage a great offer into a cross-selling opportunity with a bit of creativity.
Secondly, Nintendo uses spirit board events to promote upcoming games.
Spirits are non-playable characters that the player can collect in the game to gain various power-ups and abilities. By combining them in the right order a canny player can get an advantage over his opponents.
Nintendo has added characters from major upcoming games into Smash Ultimate as spirits to promote these titles.
A recent example of this is when Trials of Mana launched on the Switch.
Nintendo promoted this game in a 5-day event (after it launched) that allowed players to gather three unique spirits.
This indirect approach has its uses. It gets Nintendo free press and makes hardcore Switch gamers, i.e. Smash Ultimate players, aware of upcoming titles they might also enjoy.
Nintendo keeps using this method so they must be getting results.
Great offers can create a lift across your sales funnel if positioned right.
And that’s what it comes down to… positioning. But not your normal kind of positioning.
The concept of positioning was first introduced by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their classic 1980’s book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” (Amazon Affiliate link).
In this classic book the pair argued that instead of focusing on the product or service, marketers need to focus on how to differentiate their offer from competitors in the mind of the customer.
The book went on to establish the idea of focusing your marketing on a single idea that your product/service or brand can occupy in the customer’s mind. A “position” supported by strong and coherent brand identity.
Smash Ultimate provides awesome value to its players. Using a huge cast of iconic characters, fun, and frantic gameplay, plus a variable depth of gameplay intensity -it’s a great offer.
Yet it’s in its positioning that Smash Ultimate really shines! When you strip away all the bells and whistles, it’s an evergreen fighting tournament that can be extended indefinitely through a constant flow of DLC.
Nintendo has created a compelling upsell offer in the form of DLC, i.e. the “Challenger Packs” that introduce new fighter, levels, and other goodies. This makes the core offer, i.e. the game, more valuable and keeps players engaged!
Also, the Fight Pass offer allows players to ensure they get every upcoming DLC but also locks them into the game -increasing commitment to the game.
Furthermore, the Fight Pass has created a pre-paid subscription service that helps to hype up the game and keeps it in the players mind. And, I’m guessing, it underwrite the DLC development costs.
Another thing to consider is how Smash Ultimate acts as a subtle lead magnet.
By leveraging in-built game mechanics, Nintendo can use Smash Ultimate as a platform that can be used to create awareness and interest in upcoming game releases.
Nintendo has to avoid hard selling here (which their target market hates), but they are doing a good job of using indirect sales to promote new titles using Smash Ultimate.
Through tapping into the right market with the right offer, Nintendo has created a marketing system that keeps on selling -all using one game at it’s core.
Yet none of this would be possible without a great offer! One that delivers a high ROI, has a compelling message and is believed and trusted by the target audience.
Which just goes to show you that the right offer is everything and forms the foundation of all successful online (and offline) marketing.
Want a rough and ready critique of your offer?
Get me on…