Candy Crush and Dungeon Keeper are only one half of the problem
February 26, 2014
I was never a fan of "free 2 play" games that offer a "pay to win" option or try everything to trick you into spending as much money as your credit card allows, either by slowing down gameplay or making the game unplayable if you do not buy yet another crystal pack or the next power up. But game developers that obviously can look into a mirror and not care less what they see are only half of the problem.
Let us not focus on the fact that game makers are trying to trademark ordinary words. Sometimes this is pretty important for them, especially if they have to sue the game they ripped off out of business to increase their market dominance and trick more 12 year olds into spending their parents money for digital crap. Ramen profitable is not cool, jet profitable is and that is the way to it for them.
We also should not discuss how taking a classic game - loved by many people, that brought joy and was the reason to waste more time in front of a screen than studying for school or walking the dog - and making it unplayable unless you pay nearly $2000 to build the same rooms and chambers in around an hour as you did in the original game. This is a move that can only be made by people who think as much of themselves as patent "lawyers".
How could the game industry start with this ridiculous practice? If you think it is only the mobile game industry you obviously did not play any recent EA title, did you? But while EA just saw that gamers are willing to put up with DLCs and broken games you have to pay for to be able to buy the rest of the game after you installed your base package, there was obviously a reason for mobile games to start with this practice.
If it is not cheap it does not sell
If you go through the AppStores you see free and $0.99 applications and games that provide nearly no functionality or are broken to an extend that you cannot use them if you do not use the in app purchase option to unlock features. This is not the fault of developers. Customers decided that they want to be the product and not a customer when they choose a webservice - the same way they decided that free is still to expensive and $2.99 is a ridiculous price tag.
Many indie developers without a strong brand had exactly two options: Keep the price realistic and hope that the fewer sales will be compensated by the higher price - or figure out something else. The "figure out something else" turned into massive usage of in app goods. And initially it was kind of working till people noticed that once the app is installed people stop thinking and start buying.
I am sure there is an Internet law that goes something like "if people figure out a way to rip off other people they will exploit it - even if they have to turn a trading card website into something like a bank" - and if it does not exist yet we should make sure it does.
Right now there seems to be no way to change it anymore. If you publish an app with a price around $10 you will never see as many downloads or sales as if it would be $0.99. But fewer downloads and being ranked below the top ten decreases your chance for sales further to the point that you will drastically sell less than 1/10th of the $0.99 sales and you start losing money. So you have two options: Figure out an alternative model to finance your application or not publish it at all if you are looking for a way to make money.
Some people complain that there should be demos - honestly? This is a great idea, especially for games where it is dead simple. But show me any publisher that still ships a demo instead of showing some in game footage on YouTube for a big title, even for indie titles demos are rare. As much as I enjoyed the days when waiting for the new PC Games with the demo CDs was exciting, they are gone. And judging from the standard reviews you see in an AppStore people would believe the demo is the full game and complain that it is too short - but AppStore ratings is material for another rant.
This is not the chicken egg problem
We need developers to start selling their games for a price that makes it worth spending time and money developing it and we also need customers that finally start buying games for a sane price.
The solution is pretty easy: start publishing games for a price that works. Of course this is a big gamble for the developer. If the game is priced so high no one starts playing it there will be no media coverage, there will be no additional sales and there will only be poverty, suffering and cheap alcohol. But if more developers start with a sane pricing there is a small, a really small, chance - and I do not dare to calculate the possibility to prevent us from becoming frustrated - that people finally understand that game development costs money and that developers, even those publishing for a mobile platform, need to make a living.
The other option, the one that is more likely, everything stays as it is. Mobile gaming is dominated by soulless leeches trying to get enough money to buy hell from Satan to increase their possibilities to take out competitors and no sane indie developer without a kickstarter - or whatever the new crowdfunding hotness will be - to bake the game will start developing a game that has the depth, fun and addiction factor of a console or PC game.
Square Enix started publishing old Final Fantasy titles. For me, as a fan of the franchise, this is great. $7 - $13 is an acceptable price for me. The games are old, lack modern graphic, I played all of them but having a way to play them again without booting an emulator is worth every cent. And those games show that you can actually make great games for a mobile platform. It is possible. Of course they have a brand that is well known which makes it easier for them to sell those games. But as history proved, if a big player can do it, a small one can do it, too. This does not mean I would complain if we would see the next Final Fantasy series released for mobile the same time it is released for the Playstation and Xbox... - hey, one can dream!
There are not many options to save mobile gaming - gaming as in: sane, great triple-A and indie titles with am acutal story line, long time motivation and challenges, not "click click, ohhhhh shiny stuff, hurr durr, buy moar" - and the chances that things are turning around are not big, but I still hope that it will happen somehow.