Growth.Design Case Study #014

6 Ways Mario Kart Tour Triggers You Into Gambling Your Money

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Like many of you, I've been a huge fan of Mario Kart over the years....

...Until I played, for the last 3 weeks, with their new mobile release: Mario Kart Tour.

There were a lot of... surprises!

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Right from the beginning, I was a bit confused by the crowded visuals...

But to understand, we have to look at the core of the game; the rankings...

...the BREAKING NEWS banner, the different currencies, the crowd behind, the points, the races...

There's a lot happening...

 However, those visuals aren't random.

It is very much "directed" to induce as much noise as possible to serve one purpose, and you'll see why soon...


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Now, you might think 4th isn't bad, but I have played and re-played those 3 races way too many times...

That's why I started to dig for reasons as to why I was WAY out of the top 3... 4,000 points away!

Stories = Retention

When building a product or a game, users need to understand the purpose of what they do.

Games have become really good at immersing players into a story, to increase retention and engagement.1

However, here, it's hard to understand what the user fights against. 

1Roi Ben-Yehuda , How Stories increase attention, retention, and engagement. (2018)

I didn't need to dig too far to see obvious problems and questionable decisions on Nintendo's end.

As you can see from the rankings, everything is point-based. How fast you go does not matter...

And who are these "opponents"? AJM? Doomstix24?

Are they real people? Is it a world-ranking?

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Which brings us to the first problem,

 ❌ Nudge #1:

You need high-end characters, karts and gliders to win tours.

So how can I get those items?

Maybe if I go shopping? {TAP}

Starting with the races...

...And I don't have the best kart and glider either...

Therefore, my odds of being "successfull", even if I win the race is basically none.

Hmm, I'm missing Peach here... that means no super FRENZY combos... i.e. less points...

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Funny because, I'm actually close to have 45 rubies and fire 10 shots from the pipe!...

Let's see if I can get 2 more... {TAP}

Ooophh those rubies are pricey!

But, if I pay, what will I get? 

Details?... {TAP} 

Again, a lot going on here...

NEW! MARIO IS HERE! 1 day left! FIRE 10! 9 hr. left... That looks a lot like—


Humans place a higher value on a scarce object and a lower value on those that are in abundance.1

Here, the scarce comes from the limited time "Tour" and the shop with its daily selections.

It is clearly used to add value to items that don't necessarily have any.

1Wikipedia, Scarcity (2019)

Which unveils the 2nd issue,

❌ Nudge #2:

Tours are limited in time and require different key drivers to get maximum points.

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And they made sure that I got used to firing the pipe, during the onboarding!


The plot thickens...

In order to have 100% chance of getting Peach, I'd have to spend more than ~$3,400...

(complex math probabilities)

Which brings us to,

❌ Nudge #3:

Educating players that firing the pipe is a "good" thing.


Shaping is the process of reinforcing behaviors that are closer to the target behavior.1

In this case, this is a very scammy approach to encourage gambling behaviors, by making users familiar with the action of "firing the pipe" during the onboarding.

1PsychStudy, What is shaping a behavior? (2017)

Loot Boxes: Engineered Addiction

Loot boxes are virtual rewards that you can pay for to have a chance at getting a virtual item.

They are now widely spread because they generate more than 25% of all gaming revenues by creating gambling addictions.1

The government is starting to pay attention and recommends to control them under gambling laws.2

1Alex Huntly , The Moral Issue with Gaming Loot Boxes (2018)
2Alice O'Connor , Regulate loot boxes under gambling law (2019)

Maybe I can use coins to get the missing items instead of trying the lottery?

Little did I know, that's exactly what they want you to think... 



Interesting, they actually show the odds!


Ouch... Less than 1 out of 400 chances to get Peach (Kimono) for my race!

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Which brings us to

❌ Nudge #4:

Using a secondary fictitious game currency to buy items.

Dark Pattern - hiding the real value of money

Game designers have found ways to create complex game economics to dissociate money from the game with multiple game currencies.1 One of the drawbacks is users getting confused and spending large sums of money.

In this case, how much is a coin? After a few approximations 1000 coins = ~8$

Why not make it clear in the game?

1Mobile Mavens, Is the proliferation of in-game currencies confusing players? (2014)

It even gets sketchier than this...

Hmm... 3000 coins for Toad? I'm only missing 2,000... 

Let's see if I can win more? {TAP}

Coin Rush! There you go!

Hmm... Wait, I need to spend rubies to get more coins... 

...How much is that?

Naive, I was!!

After going back and forth... Toad's real cost ~ $24.00

Going back to the shop... I saw some daily selections?

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Faking Real players?

Why lie and do as if players were real?1

Some might say, it's to prepare their multiplayer launch. But why "prepare" it. Why not be clear that you're racing against bots. It'll make that multiplayer launch that much more exciting!

As of now, it serves an arguable purpose of increasing your desire to gamble to get those items.

1NintendoBlackCrisis, Why is Nintendo "Faking" MULTIPLAYER in Mario Kart Tour? (2019)

Showing that real people are joining the race! Exciting...

One possible reason...

❌ Nudge #5:

Creating social proof by showcasing new characters, new karts and badges I don't have.

This one took me a while to figure out....

Except that... After some research and seeing some weird stuff, I found that you only race against bots...

So why do that?

Finishing up this one race...

So before each race start, I get this "entering race" screen...

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That gives us, 

 ❌ Nudge #6:

Limiting progress and currencies you can win per day.

The only way left to earn more characters, karts and gliders... is to get more rubies.

Providing Exit Points

Usually, inviting users to leave your platform after a particular milestone is a very healthy practice. It can even potentially increase retention.1

However, here, it doesn't gracefully invite you to come back tomorrow, it just stops rewarding you for your efforts. 

1Growth.Design, Duolingo: User Retention Case Study (2019)

Wait what? There's a cap on daily coins!?

So even if you wanted... you couldn't grind your way out of this pay-to-win model...

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In short, every two weeks the game is engineered to make you buy rubies to play the lottery since it's the only way to compete in Tours...

...And there's no way around it.

Knowing all of this, do you think Mario Kart Tour still qualifies as a friendly "family game"?


Children actually play this game... 😰

Psych Level

Customer Journey

Rediscovering the fun gameplay of Mario Kart!

A bit confused by this limited time "Tour" thing with all the cups. I don't really understand how I compete against others!?...

Also confused by my opponents in the game... Are they real?


Plus, there's a daily coin quota, capped at 300...

Slowly realizing that I need to gamble a LOT of money to get special characters...

Just to finally realize that it's a Pay-To-Win game with engineered addiction to gambling. 

One last thing for you! 

So here's Mario Kart's user journey of the last 3 weeks...



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You completed Growth.Design's Case Study #014:
"Mario Kart Tour's Revenue Model"