Do gamers have short arms and deep pockets?

   19/01/2010 at 14:02       Phil May       7 COMMENTS.
 - Game pricing, Independent Developers, Publishers, game sales figures, iTunes App Store
Do gamers have short arms and deep pockets?

In the current economic climate, it's understandable that the first to fall victim to the recession and the global retail slowdown are first to take up arms when consumers start penny pinching.

Over the past few weeks, various publishers and independent game developers have bemoaned the fact that in general, gamers want something for nothing - or more accurately moan like hell if they have to stump up a large amount of cash to feed their addiction. The hottest debate seems to be raging amongst iPhone / iPod Touch developers, consistently blaming a "stingy mindset for the average app shopper, expecting everything to be 99c (59p) at launch".

It's fair to say that the iTunes Apps store is a pretty unique case, and is probably one of the most successful and fastest growing games marketplaces in the world today, but looking beyond the idea that effort requires reward, there are more factors at play here than you'd think.

Firstly, let's not forget that despite its powerful hardware and sophistication, the iPhone (we'll eschew adding / ipod touch for the purpose of this article) is a mobile phone, and mobile phone games carry with them the stigma of a lack of sophistication or long-term appeal. It's fully acceptable for gamers to equate the amount of time they spend with a particular iPhone game to be an indication of what it's worth.

Take recent industry favourite Canabalt, for instance. Canabalt developers Semi Secret Software have grumbled extensively about the price "fixing" that occurs on the iTunes store, and have made it clear that they believe Canabalt is worth more than the $2.99 they're "forced" to charge for it. Fair enough, the game is a slickly produced slice of old-skool gaming - but it's also the first app I've actually tried to wring a refund out of the Apps store for. It's simple, but unless you're seriously interested in competing in a global high score pissing contest, it has limited long term appeal. It's not a game that you could call a technical showcase of the kit, and obviously it's purely my opinion - not a game that should be used as a shining example of a title that should cost more.

On the flip side, Rockstar has recently released Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. A full pint squeezed into a shot glass, featuring the entire liberty city map and mission structure from the DS and PSP versions. It's a technical feat of wizardry to cram that much gaming onto such a "low-end" platform, but they seem to have managed it - and not just managed it but put together one of the best portable GTAs yet. The game currently retails on the iTunes apps store for the high-end price of $9.99 (£5.99) and though that price will automatically cross it off the list of quite a large section of the iPhone gaming community, it's 25 quid cheaper than the PSN Download price and probably a few quid cheaper than a boxed DS version would cost you.


The iPhone game market really shouldn't be used as a measuring stick for how games should be priced, and how independent developers should adjust their forecasted revenue streams. It's the wild wild west of gaming, with a sheriff in charge that often falls asleep at the switch, allowing nefarious boob-juggling and baby-shaking apps to slip through the quality control net from time to time.

Keeping that in mind, developers should always approach it with caution and if they really want top dollar for their games, they're probably better off writing stuff for the Xbox Live Arcade or PSN Store instead, where prices are often ridiculously high for games that don't justify high prices.

That said, the golden rules apply to iPhone games just as they do with any other platform. Make something good and people will buy it, more often than not. Spread the word and get your game out to reviewers and offer up a demo version if you really feel confident that you're offering something special. Don't sit in a concrete bunker shaking your fist at iTunes customer reviews or sales figures, because in a climate where people haven't got gigantic amounts of disposable cash to throw at you, it's probably a good idea to be thankful you're selling anything at all.
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