I read a recent review of premium space trading sim Star Traders Elite on the Google Play Store which made me think. The reviewer loves the game, but dropped the review score – the star rating – considerably, because of the introduction of a Ship Designer as an IAP, some four years and 300 free updates after its initial release. The argument was, having paid for Elite, the Ship Designer should be free.
The mobile games market has had a considerable effect on our gaming experiences. In fact, it has had a considerable effect on video games as a whole. Yes, you can still sit at your TV with a games console, or you can enjoy über-specced titles on your home PC or tricked-out laptop. You can still go to a physical store in your local town and pay £39.99 ($59.99 USD) for a latest release. If you like you can wait a few years for the prices to drop, and pick up that same game for half the price. Another year and it’s yours for a quarter of the original asking price.
If you wish to take the latter route, you’re likely buying pre-owned software for which the original developers – the men and women who put months, often years, of their lives into bringing you the best experience they could make – receive nothing. In almost every instance, a preowned game sale is profit for the store you bought it from, full stop. I digress, however; this is a discussion for another day.
Like it or not, over the last few years the video game market has changed considerably. As I said, you can still do all the stuff outlined above, but the shift towards mobile and “casual” platforms has been dramatic. As with everything, there are good sides and bad sides to this.
Now, anyone with the time and inclination to learn can be a developer. While working for Valve, Bethesda or Rockstar may still be an unattainable dream, you and your friend, brother or significant other can sit down and pump all your free time into creating that game which you always wanted to play. You can spend years of your life, your entire spare time, creating your dream game and then actually get it into a digital store that HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people access. It’s utterly incredible, and goes above and beyond the ‘hey-day’ of bedroom coding on your Commodore 64.
You’re elated. You’ve done it! It’s out there, instantly accessible to millions of people in dozens of countries. You’ve released worldwide simultaneously after a quick review and the push of a button. Your game is waiting for everyone, under a little ‘store’ icon on the home screen of every single person on the planet who operates a device on your chosen platform.
Herein lies the other side of the coin: What’s your price point?
People on mobile phones already pay every month just to own and use it. Whether by top-up or contract, they have a certain amount that they’re willing to part with on a regular basis for their wonderful Smart Device. Most people will not even consider paying a single penny for something, even if they like the look of it. Why should they? They may already pay £35, twelve times a year, just to run their phone!
“Yeah, your game looks great, but seriously I’d rather go and have a few beers with my mates, so no thanks”.
The first slew of apps and games were very simple. So simple, they released for pennies: 65p (99c). Many people started to release stuff for free. They used it as experience, a step-up to developing on the platform. It’s a way to get their name out there. Unfortunately this price structure, while great for getting huge download figures and advertising yourself, has stuck. This has created a precedent for what we see as ‘reasonable pricing’ for a mobile app, regardless of the time and effort put into it. Only wanting to pay pennies for a mobile app is something we can all be guilty of.
An example in point: I would happily go out today and pay £15 for Broken Sword 1 & 2 on a collector’s disc on PC. The original, unedited games. But when I see them on the Google Play store at £3.99 each, for the director’s cut updated editions, I refrain. “Four quid for a game on my phone? I’ll wait until it’s on sale at 65p”. Yet I am one of those aforementioned people who will go out and pay £39.99 for a console game.
Yes, it’s hypocritical. No, it’s not logical and it doesn’t make sense. But it’s the way the market has developed, and it’s how it’s presented to us. Because mobile games still cost mere pennies, that’s what we’re willing to pay – to millions of people, it’s ‘just a game on a phone’ regardless of the time and effort put into its development.
Many developers have now set a new standard in the mobile market: Free to play! You release your game for free. There isn’t a charge to download it, and their isn’t a charge to play it. So what’s the catch?
Maybe it’s advertising. Fill your game with ads. Ads on the splash screen, ads on the title, popup ads when you start, ads on the pause screen, videos after every five minutes of play. Ever played Angry Birds? Make your game like that. A vehicle for advertisement revenue that keeps you afloat and allows you to make more ad-supported games. Heck, include an option to remove them permanently for a one-off fee – which often costs more than the average price point for a paid app in the first place. Either way, cha-ching! It’s money in your pocket.
Don’t like the sound of that? Well then, put a few ads in for your own apps and make this game limited. Want extra play time? Extra in-game currency? Extra continues, lives, moves? Drop a little pocket money our way, and we’ll get you on yours! One developer reportedly makes half a million dollars a day just from a simple Match-3 game. They have several titles available that follow the same format.
So, what choice do developers face? They can defy convention and release their game for a lot of money and hope it sells a couple of thousand copies. They can release it release it as free to play, and face a huge backlash of people who are constantly bugged, nagged and nickle-and-dimed. The people who have to call their mobile provider to find out why their bill has come in at four figures, after they left a child playing a simple candy-matching game on their tablet; a game that was ‘free’. Alternatively, they can take a third path.
A developer can balance the average price of the marketplace with their time invested in creating the game, and release their product at a fair price point. They can continually update, bug fix and improve the experience over the coming months – years even – free of charge to anyone that’s already purchased the game. They can provide excellent support for their game, and work openly and honestly on a permission-free, fantastic gaming experience without any ulterior motives for collecting data, selling you advertisements or making you pay extra to keep on playing.
They can then develop completely new parts to your game. Add-ons. DLC.
Stuff that’s brand new, stuff that was not part of the original gaming experience you paid for.
Like the huge ‘Episodes’ in Trese Brothers’ fantasy RPG epic Heroes of Steel.
Like the Ship Designer in Star Traders Elite.
That game you love playing needs to be supported. People have poured hours every day into creating something great, something they’ve worked on because the people who play their games will love it.
This is not the same as buying super powers for OmNom in Cut the Rope. It’s not the same as buying Red Eagle in Angry Birds. This is stuff that’s designed to make your gaming experience better, not easier. It’s designed to maximise your enjoyment, not monetisation.
It’s not a profit hunt, a pocket-filling technique, a way to nickle-and-dime you. The developers don’t need to make this stuff. They do it because they want to bring you the best experience possible.
I am happy to buy the Ship Designer. I am happy to hand over my 65 pence. I do it for the same reason I do not buy pre-owned console games:
I want the developers of the games that I love to keep making the games that I love.
We all should.
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