Cry Wolf – Mobile Gaming and Pricing

In a world of cheap apps and bedroom programmers making it big, it has shocked some to find Square-Enix charging £19.99 for a game on the iOS iPad store. This is, of course, a bundle option and they say as much. But is it too much – or are we just expecting something completely unrealistic here?

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“We are aware that the market in North America is accustomed to the lower priced or free to play games.”

So started Square-Enix in its justification in charging £19.99 for Final Fantasy Dimensions. Of course, the complaints didn’t really point out that this was the package deal – that individual chapters were available to buy seperately, cheaply, and this was the discounted “bundle” deal. But let’s just take the idea for the moment that the real problem here is people not willing to pay much money for iOS games.

The debate is one I’ve covered before but let’s just skip over the bullet points here, American Dad style. For the developer;

  • It depends on the budget for the game, which dictates sale price.
  • It depends on the content and quality of the content.
  • The market decides what it wants to pay for it, and they listen accordingly.
Whilst the consumer thinks of it like this;
  • I want things as cheap as possible.
  • I want things to be as easy as possible.
  • I am always right, even when you can prove me wrong.

There is always a major issue when it comes to pricing of games, and it is one the consumer invariably loses at because the consumer can only dictate a small portion of the overall equation. Games cost money to make; wages, software, hardware, overhead costs like electricity and water and gas and rent, not to mention subsidiary costs like licencing costs and secondary and tertiary hidden costs; patching costs and workforce help like cleaners and cooks and so forth respectively. Peel away the layers and you get to the nub of the issue; the games industry is a business, and it’s a business that has been struggling in recent years against a consumer base that has become increasingly demanding.

The consumer end has to pay for some of these overheads; also, in the EU at least, we have to understand retailers also take a cut. As do publishers, who don’t do it out of the goodness of their own hearts either – they’re interested in making sure things sell, and sell well, because they can make a profit as well. Capitalism ladies and gentlemen. You may think the product you are buying is a direct A to B line, but it isn’t, and the net result is this; the game you pay £3o or $50 for is actually still not enough to cover the costs of an increasingly large number of games. You want things cheaper and so do retailers to make more money, but the push to get that cheaper means less and less money for the developer in the end, in a world where their own costs are rising exponentially. The drive to get things cheaper is actually killing developers. We are sucking them dry. They cannot survive if they can’t at least pay their way and make a little profit for future projects.

That is the basics of where I’ve been with this subject before. It’s dangerous to take on only one aspect without taking responsibility ourselves. No one raindrop feels responsible for a flood, after all.

When it comes to mobile gaming, the costs have always been relatively cheap but the smartphone/tablet world is fast becoming more and more powerful as technology giants see to push more and more raw processing grunt into their products. For some, this means they can work and do great things on it but to some – yes, it will become another little gaming system. As technology rushes onwards, so too does the things they can do and the things they can run. This costs money, and now we’re back in the old territory again.

You see, I’ve played many “cheap apps”, and they’re nice but you often get what you pay for. Some of us aren’t interested in that and are happy to pay a slice of money for something which lasts a lot, lot longer. I’ve already addressed this as well: I’ve broken down how I value games into a cost per hour system. Examples;

I can get 100 hours from Dark Souls for £30. So that’s £30 divided by 100 hours. Result? 30p an hour of entertainment.
Similarly, I got a Zombieville game for £1.49. I enjoyed it for about 30 minutes.  £1.49 divided by .5 (half of an hour) is £2.98 per hour of entertainment.

It’s a crude representation of value for money but it’s one that I have yet to better. It’s quite easy sometimes to see the frontal value of something before understanding the overall value of something. A half-decent microwave now costs £60 and I use it to cook pre-prepared rice (the one packaged product I will applaud is the invention of micro-rice!), but that’s twice a week. Arguably, you’d say that isn’t really worth paying money for when you have a stove which can do it too. But it’s a convenience I pay for, and it does pay for itself in the end. You see, the price tag (No Jessie J joke here. Sorry! Move along, nothing to see here…) is never the issue. If we make it an issue, we’re fundamentally asking why you’d pay for it. Some people know why these things cost what they do – and the prices are set accordingly. No-one just slaps a value on something because they feel it’s worth that much, they assign it a value based on what it cost to make overall.

All that said, there is one final element which just renders what I said a bit of a pointless rant; “If players did not want to invest the time and energy into completing the game, they were able to make that decision at no cost. However, if they wanted to experience the full game, they could either purchase the chapters individually as they progressed or as a bulk download at a reduced cost.”

In other words, people have been complaining about the overall package price when they can buy them all separately.

And this is something we have to be careful of as well; because we’ve got some power as consumers to shape things to our advantage, but we must be actively aware at all times as to whether or not the issue we’re trying to change is actually beneficial to us at all in the long run. If we complain about the cost of a bundle/complete package for a chapter-based mobile app series, then they may not be likely to offer it again, and when it is more value for money to buy the complete package than the individual components, this is a point where we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face. We’re complaining about the price of something which is in itself a bundle option, something for people to have IF they want it. There’s a free demo, and you can buy individually as you go, or you can buy in one fell swoop. You are being given a choice. An option. Complain about it, and your options become more limited, and when that happens most companies can start doing whatever they like. And charging whatever they like as well, because hey, we didn’t want a choice, did we?

I don’t particularly like to talk about mobile gaming because it’s something that people always go “ooh, the 3DS will die because of the iPhone!” and I always end up retorting with a line like, “That’s such balls, people will pay if they think they’re getting their moneys worth. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t buy it.” The 3DS sales have picked up tremendously with games people want to play; the Vita doesn’t sell because it has less games people want to play. It doesn’t take a Stephen Hawking to see a correlation between those two universes.

But if we MUST complain about things, can we at least make sure we’re firing at the right target? The industry does listen to us and when it gets loud over an issue like this, it’s likely to pay attention. Therefore we need to make sure for our own self-interest that when we do raise our tone in unison, it is for the right reasons. They will react and we must be sure we’re raising the right concerns. When it comes to this whole debate… it’s still a non-issue. We know the industry has money issues. We know the economy is hard on us all. We now know to be aware to take care to distinguish between package deals and the individual parts sold separately.

Be very careful what you wish for. Because it might be fun to join in, and it might be fun to scream alongside them – but make sure the cause is worth it. Cry wolf too many times and the industry may not be quite as receptive in the future, or take away your right to cry wolf at all…

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