Mario Kart

Nintendo's progressive PR firm, Golin Harris, suggested a social app to support the launch of Mario Kart for the 3DS. With a blank canvas and a four-week timeline, they came to us to make it happen.

Peach Racing

The Brief

One of Golin Harris’ producers, Michelle Fang, had worked with Philosophie while at another large agency and she invited us onto this project. Nintendo did not want the app to be perceived as a "game," so we invented a conceptual version of Mario Kart that was designed to go viral. We called it the Mario Kart Challenge.

We had four weeks to design, develop and deploy this app to Nintendo fans. In order to meet the quick turnaround, the game design, interaction design, and visual design were developed in tandem.

Game Design

Leo Maros, our resident super-gamer with a knack for game design, researched Mario Kart’s game mechanics and assigned a carefully-balanced point value to map each power-up and weapon in the real game to the Facebook game. The algorithm consisted of the following parameters:

Item Box
A base line for game balancing
Green Turtle Shells
The likelihood of hitting someone when you used a weapon
Fire Flower
The damage a weapon would cause a friend it “hit”
Super Mushroom
And the bonus points a power-up would give you when used

The famous Mario Kart item boxes were central to our game. Every time a user visited the app they were encouraged to click on one of four item boxes. Clicking on an item box triggered an animation that would reveal an item from the game. The game rewarded users based on their leaderboard standing. Items included boosters, like Mushrooms or the Star, that you could use to power yourself up the leaderboard and weapons, like the green or red Turtle Shells, Lightning or Bullet. Upon receiving a weapon, users were asked to target a Facebook friend.

Item Boxes Divider

We also built in mechanics to increase sharing, rewarding bonus points if people invited friends to the game and encouraging people to post to their friend’s wall with the item they used against them:

Results from the Fire Flower

Interaction and Visual Design

Jordan started work on a design that would include Nintendo and Mario Kart visual elements. We wanted to drive users into an engagement that felt playful and familiar.

Nintendo Characters
Nintendo wanted the game to work with the marketing site, so the designs were heavily based on the existing Mario Kart site. I also used the main Nintendo site as a source of inspiration.

Jordan Keating


In short order, our wireframes took on an unmistakingly Nintendo style:


Users connected via the Facebook Graph API, which allowed us to pull in their friends to form leaderboards as well as track their performance on the application.

The leaderboard was based on points. People accumulated points by using items that they received from the Item Boxes. Users could also lose points if they were hit by an item from their friend. The items were mapped to point values, both positive and negative. Users could also gain additional points by inviting their friends to play, (using Facebook Graph API’s Request feature).

Mario Kart Facebook App Leaderboard

To increase engagement, we created "circuits" — mini grouped leaderboards between Facebook friends. Smaller leaderboards mitigated the hopelessness of being at the bottom of a global leaderboard. We also hoped that grouping users with their friends would incite some friendly competition and keep people coming back.

Speaking of Coming Back...

Originally we had designed the game to allow users to come back every day for new item boxes. We quickly saw that people wanted to engage more and the daily limit was holding them back. We reduced the time between visits to three hours, then one hour and finally thirty minutes. We didn’t want this time period to be so short that users with more time on their hands to use Facebook could dominate their friends who were less able to spend such significant amounts of time on Facebook. People couldn’t get enough and we wanted to reward these super Mario Kart fans.

Countdown timer between games


The Mario Kart Challenge was extremely successful. We blew all of our KPIs out of the water over the four weeks the campaign was live. There were zero marketing dollars spent on the project and no PR. It was a test app promoted exclusively through posts on the Nintendo 3DS Facebook fan page. We had over 6,500 players who invited 13,500 of their friends to participate. Users fired nearly 12,000 items and targeted 30,705 people total.


week-over-week increase in users


people targetted by items in 30 days


players in 30 days


number of friends invited to participate


items fired

The Takeaway

We had a blast working on this project. We had the opportunity to iterate on an exciting game play that ended up really working. Leo Maros sums it up best:

With any game, the best part is watching people having fun playing the game. So for me, having people actively play for its duration means that it was fun and exciting for people to spend their time playing it.

Leo Maros


The Team

  • Jordan Keating, Designer
    UI Designer
  • Leo Maros, Game Consultant
    Game Consultant
  • Nick Giancola, Software Engineer
    Software Engineer

Philosophie holds no ownership over all character and game art on this page. Art belongs to and is © 2015 by Nintendo.