How much is too much for mobile games?

By , Jun 19, 2013

XCOM Enemy Unknown (Windows screenshot 002)

I was going to write this post when everything was raw, soon after the news had developed and the internet was awash with people seemingly frothing at the mouth. Frothing, apparently, for one of two reasons.

Firstly, we had the people frothing because “ZOMG, 20 dollars for an iPad game!!!!.” Apparently anything the wrong side of free is just about the developers trying to squeeze money out of their hard work. Because, well, it’s their living.

Then secondly, there were the polar opposites. People screaming back, apparently oblivious to the fact they were wasting their time, claiming that developers deserve to be paid and that free to play games have ruined the App Store, caused world hunger and possibly even kicked a kitten once.

The truth though, as is so often the case, is somewhere in-between…

So assuming you bothered to click the little ‘Read More’ button, I’ve still got your attention. Right now the chances are you’re either sharpening your pitchfork or genuinely confused at the rather meandering narrative of this opinion piece. Either works for me, so let’s continue.

First, a little back story.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was originally a PC game way back in the 90s, back when Apple sucked and Google didn’t even exist. Then, last year, the game got what all time honored classics get: re-imagined.

Now according to popular belief, unlike most re-imaginings, this one was actually pretty good. Xbox 360, PS3 and PC releases later and we now stand on the verge of a new platform for the title to branch onto. Apple’s iOS, be it iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

The title itself remains largely unchanged from its big brothers, which is worth remembering for later on. It’s had touch-based fanciness added here and there, but it’s the same game you’d play on a PC. It’s even the same game I’ve got sat on a shelf in a brand new Xbox 360 box. I’ve never gotten around to playing it. But I digress.

Back story all fleshed out, the 20th of this month sees that aforementioned title reach iOS. Its price? $20, or £14 if you use proper money or all kinds of denominations if you’re from one of the other umpteen App Store territories. Regardless, it’ll be a lot.

Or will it?

Let’s get back to that first group of people I told you about earlier. The ZOMG crew, let’s call them. The band of miseries took to their Twitter accounts, Facebook feeds and blog comment sections to denounce publisher 2K for having the audacity to charge so much for a mobile game. $20 when the App Store is literally littered with a myriad of free games. At a push, people will pay a couple of dollars. Maybe $5 if it’s got EA plastered on it somewhere. More than that? You’ve got to be kidding!?

Well, no, not really.

The reason for the ‘high’ price tag, as I alluded to earlier, is that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a direct port of the console and PC game. It’s, for want of a better phrase, a proper game. It’s not watered down, it’s not been bastardized to work on a tablet or smartphone beyond having the touch-based magic sprinkled on top.

It’s also $40 currently via Amazon should you want to play the same game on PC. Or $33 on Xbox 360 or PS3. That’s double, or at best over 50% more than the iOS version, depending on your platform of choice.

So, it’s at this point that this almost indecipherable rant would have ended, probably with a line telling everyone to stop being so damn cheap and to cough up $20 for what by all accounts is a pretty fine title.

But this is 48 hours later, and I’ve slept since then. I’ve had time to think about about it since then, and I’ve contemplated my own buying decision given the fact that I’m actually rather excited about the game. I’d likely actually get around to playing it on iOS, especially thanks to 2K’s cloud save functionality that keeps your game in sync no matter which device you are using. But there’s a problem.

I find myself straddling the two groups of people we spoke about at the beginning of this growing collection of words. I’m fully apologetic of the price, and agree that it’s no doubt entirely worth $20 of anybody’s money. But I won’t be buying it.

I just can’t bring myself to do it, and I don’t know why. There’s a mental block of some sort. It feels like it should be cheaper, even if it shouldn’t. It’s the curse of the App Store and its incessant race to the bottom. In a bid to make cheaper and cheaper games, developers have conditioned us to expect them, regardless of quality. XCOM: Enemy Unknown can be the best game ever to grace an iPad. It can be the game we’ve all been waiting for. But are we ready for it?

Perhaps the real question is this: is Apple’s own App Store standing in the way of iOS becoming a real gaming platform to rival the likes of Nintendo and Sony? And if so what does Apple do about it?

What can it do about it?

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  • milksop held

    Expecting or trying to get people to spend over $20 (including iaps and original purchase price)

  • Dan

    I agree that it might be worth paying 20$ due to the effort the developers put into it. Although I find myself on the ‘I can’t justify paying 20$’ side of the fence. I think its because, fun as gaming on a tablet may be, I don’t consider it ‘real’ gaming. It’s hard to put into words, but playing on a PC/Mac or a console has a quality that tablets haven’t captured yet imo.

    • Ian Jackson

      Good point. Like I’ve found myself coming back to playing Fallout: New Vegas. A game that I’ve clocked over 80 hours just going through trying out stuff and just exploring. I can’t imagine playing that on a tablet. It would feel very awkward and simply “not right”. PCs and Macs have a corner on gaming that Tablets as they stand can’t touch.

    • David Villamizar

      I don’t think a console game should cost more than 25 dollars, they justify this price tag with piracy, but if games were a little cheaper, people wouldn’t go pirate at all. Most games get you less than 15 hours of gameplay, and I think that’s too little for 60 bucks(since I already paid for the console). I think the App Store makes the prices right, but for titles that are more expensive than $20, there should be a try first option or demo.

      • Dan

        I agree with the demo part, but when it comes down to price, some games have huge budgets. They need to make a profit somehow. Take Dead Space 3 for example, I read somewhere that it cost more than 200 million to produce.

      • David Villamizar

        I understand the high budget, but you know a movie has a similar budget, and yet the price is lower to watch it in a theater? Even thought you don’t have to own the equipment to display it, you pay for the content, the chair, the projector, and the room, and all that seems really cheap for a product that needs more on the producer side in terms of money, and that is of course more widespread than games. I just say that if games are as widespread as they are right now, we should be able to get some similar lowered price. I mean, it takes nothing to make an extra copy, it’s just to fulfill the original budget and earn profit, wouldn’t it be great if twice the people buy the game for a lower price?

      • Dan

        Yeah I understand what you’re trying to say and I agree, but what can we do? I would love to be able to buy new high budget games for 20$. Sadly, there are more movie goers than gamers so that probably explains the reason for the price being what it is.

      • Singed

        I suppose you are high on crack. Alright, comparing the cinema to video games is absolutely BS, simply because the cinema is a one time experience. If you want to compare these two genres, let us take DVDs and video games and compare. A new movie DVD costs what, 15 to twenty bucks. A new game costs 40 to 60 dollars. For a movie DVD you get a movie, lets say two hours or so and bonus content, like commentary, so it’s about three hours of entertainment. For a video game, you get from nine (a spunkgargleweewee type of game, like COD) to hundreds of hours (say, Skyrim) of INTERACTIVE and REPLAYABLE entertainment. And I’m not even talking about multiplayer. You can get ten-twenty even hundred times more hours of entertainment for twice-three times the value, not including replayability. So your argument that games are too expensive is absolutely invalid.

      • David Villamizar

        OMG! Singed replied my comment!! (You are the one throwing hallucinogenic gas on people -.- )

      • Singed

        I also like to fling yordles. Don’t forget those tiny bastards.

      • David Villamizar

        :D

  • Zorvage

    5 dollars or more is too much for an app

    • Killian Bell

      No it’s not.

    • Karl Kurtz

      If you had even the slightest clue as to how much time/work goes into making a good game you’d realize how wrong you are.

    • Chuck Finley

      I’m going to bet you’re 12 years old and mummy and daddy bought you your iPhone?

    • XboxOne

      iOS Games more than $6.99 are too much.

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    Mobile games are just not the real deal. For real gaming, we have PCs and Counsoles…Paying over $3 for a watered down (due to lack of physical controllers, soon to be fixed) – and nowadays, in-app infected – game on my iPhone is just not logical when I can get a much more feature packed PS1 game on my PSP for a similar, yet flat, price.

  • Tamer Zengin

    Very interesting post and i think you really got the point!

  • Lagax

    The Thing is: I love playing games on my iOS devices, even if games are better on PCs(no, not on consoles, I just feel worse playing on them, never understood, why we need them or, better, somebody even uses them). However, the point is: I don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for two games! And iOS has this possibility! And EA, for example, makes great, fantastic games for iOS! Why do these developers only want to make money(I’m also a developer, but I’d never charge as much!). I mean: I use Whatsapp every day and I spend 0,89 € on it!!! And I play this game 4 weeks and pay 20? That is in no relation! In no!

  • Sigurd Boe

    I was looking forward to KOTOR for the iPad, but the price was so steep (I felt since I already bought the game back in the days) that I am putting it off till its cheaper. The port is not very impressive either, they updated some librarys to get better compression, and very minor UI changes. The core of the game was already mostly ready when it was ported to Mac.

  • Dani Hayes

    Simply put; do not buy the game and let the developers lower the price. I will not spend more than $9.99 on a game. KOTOR was the most expensive game I have purchased from the AppStore. Mobile gaming is not the same as a console game.

  • Tyler

    If I think the game is worth said price then I will pay said price. I’m not just gonna make a blanketed statement and say all apps aren’t worth such and such amount. It’s pretty simple

  • Mallouk Malek

    Most people, even me are saying here that we wont buy a 20$ App, regardless of how good or bad it is. We just can’t….
    But we ALL would install real racing for “FREE” and spend 100000$ “IAP”

    what is happening to come in sense? i don’t know, it seems we all lost it somewhere with the haste of technology.

    • Dan

      I don’t spend a dime on in app purchases, never have and never will

    • YzMENTALzY

      You have to realise people pay inapp when they have the moeny to do so whereas this is $20 in one go which some cant

      • Singed

        You mean to suggest that people can and gladly do pay thousands of dollars for an Apple product, but can’t afford twenty dollars in one go? You can spend more money in a cafe!

      • YzMENTALzY

        How do u know maybe people saved for ages to buy that apple product? Also maybe they are suffering financial difficulties which they monitor how much income comes in and how much they spend such as you buy a app n then few months down the line they spend in doses (in app purchasing)

  • Nathan Eastwood

    I don’t mind paying a little extra if it’s a direct port. My gripe is that if I wanted to play it across multiple devices using the cloud, it’s not just £14, it’s the extra £30-40 for a PS3/Xbox/PC/Mac version as well…

  • Chindavon

    Any mobile app game over $9.99 is too much. That’s got to be the ceiling.

  • Matt Ashcraft

    First off, good article.

    Comparison:

    Consider this, Mobile Gaming, in consideration to regular gaming, sitting at a PC, or infront of a TV screen, isn’t much different from. Our iPads, and some of the newer Android tablets (Even Windows based tablets), are pushing the limits of possibilities for games. This can be seen on some of the more popular ones like Infinity Blade series, and Asphalt series. Why shouldn’t Mobile Gaming be up there with the rest?

    Price Tag:

    Mobile Gaming is a huge market. Mainly because everyone and their mother own some kind of ‘Smart’-Device. So it’s easy to cater to everyone’s needs, and likes. Which means, if you’re a Racing kinda gamer, there are hundreds of those on the Apps Store and Google Play. Just like PC and Console. Some with just as much quality as the PC/Console. Some, more of the line of our older PC/PSX style games. So considering price, when a PC/PSX game came out, they were averaging $24.99 or more. Most of the ‘good’ mobile games are nearly 1/6 of that; with the same quality or better, than our past gen consoles. So why wouldn’t the Developers charge for it? It was considered normal back then to pay that much.

    In-App Purchase, you say?

    I see In-App purchases as the same as the Playstation Store and XBOX Live. EVERY game released now on the Consoles and PC have some kind of expansion and upgrades and coins and-so-on, to buy. The only difference in the two, if that Sony and Microsoft have their own dedicated stores on their own systems. Apple, does not. The only way Mobile game developers can do this, is to use an In-App purchase. Some, like Gameloft, use a server-style purchasing system, which goes along the lines of the Console/PCs, but it’s still an In-App purchase.

    Who’s winning?

    Mobile Game Developers are raking in money like it grew on trees. Reason? Most games are Free, and have In-App purchases. Wouldn’t you be willing to spend .99 on 500 coins? Well, so would 50,000 other people. We are talking $49,000, before Apple’s 30% cut. And that’s just off one purchase price. The Console Developers are looking closer into this option of cheaper games, and more In-Store Purchases. The only problem is, Console Developers have nearly 900% more staff than most of the Mobile-Developers. And that’s the Mid-Range teams. Condole/PC developers need to make their revenue within’ a deadline. Mobile Games do too, though it’s not as strict.

    My Thinking:

    Apple will eventually catch on to the possibilities of Mobile Gaming and it’s future. Possibly become a power-house in it. Who knows. 30% cut of every single purchase. That’s a lot of dough.

    Mobile Gaming will almost be no different than Console/PC gaming within the next couple of years. They will be forced into an more standardized ESRB ratings. Mature content. And, controller gaming. It’s going to be great.

    • Rudy

      i agree

    • Hyr3m

      The 30% is precisely why Apple wont become a power-house in gaming. They’re too greedy and people know better. Apple is actually encouraging “jailbreaking for the sole purpose of installing ‘cracked’ apps” with their strategy…
      Too much greed kills greed – unless you can brainwash people into defending your immoral methods and into siding for gravel over lube (and over “fair”).

      • Matt Ashcraft

        Apple is already a power-house, weather it be the AppStore or it’s Product line. Everyone wants to put their apps/games on it because they know it’ll sell (if its good enough, of course).

        You say people only Jailbreak to get cracked apps? That’s a load of malarkey. People who jailbreak for free cracked apps are the greedy ones. And the developers lose out. Even on apps that are .99. Apple does not force anyone to do anything. People force themselves.

      • Hyr3m

        I never said that… I said Apple is actually encouraging this portion of people (which already exists).

        Also, I said “wont become a power-house in gaming”, not “wont become a power-house”.

        With everything you twist and try to put into my mouth you must either have a “gift” for “journalism” or you’re in the Freudian oral stage…

        Apple has (almost) always been good at marketing but it doesn’t mean what they’re doing is morally right.

      • Matt Ashcraft

        I don’t know about encouraging. If a 30% cut is nudging people to lean toward Cracked apps; then Microsoft should be losing out on sales. Being they will only sign a game if it comes out on the XBox first. And their new Game Trade-in/Gift policy on used games should also ‘encourage’ people to.. well, unfortunately there is little people can do. Home-brewing systems is very limited and can’t snag you any ‘cracked’ content.

        Regardless on either front, neither company is losing traction in the gaming industry. In-fact, we are seeing some of the fastest growth since systems refined the ability to become more ‘social’. Or for lack of a better term; Multiplayer-able. lol

        Sony and Microsoft are already pushing the boundary of the possibility of completely removing the Disc.We can’t crack games we purchase on the online stores with Sony and Microsoft. Authentication codes to and from the server prevent a multitude of attacks on this. Gameloft is one of the first who implement this in their games to prevent games becoming cracked. But as I’ve seen, it’s not good enough.

        Though, I see what you are trying to say.

        As long as there is evil in this world, there will always be good! ;)

      • Hyr3m

        Yeah… well… consoles suck balls anyways ^^… and people find ways of getting paid content for free, one way or another.

        Btw Microsoft is losing out on a lot of sales and Sony is soon going to cash in on M$’s mistakes.

        Steam is pushing the “physical disc” boundary, Sony and M$ are just trying to maximize profits while spitting in people’s faces.

        PC is always going to be better game-wise. If anything, playing an FPS on anything else than keyboard+mouse is just pathetic.

        I’ve never agreed with the notion that “there can be no good without evil” (I know it’s not what you said but I believe it’s the notion you were referring to). It’s like saying there can be no happiness without the existence of sadness… A child might not remember being sad but still enjoy the happiest days of his life… Maybe we wouldn’t know the value of “good” if we didn’t know about “evil”, but why dafuq should it matter how we value it if it’s the only thing there is? Everyone being unknowingly happy sounds fine by me…

  • felixtaf

    20$ will be Ok if u have multiple iOS devices with same apple ID. But still I wont be pleased to spend 20$ on a Game. The highest I paid is for an office suite 9.99. 20$ game must be something different from a PC/console game. I kno tablet games cant match the quality of a PC/Console game. But, if they give some classic games that are not available now in PC/consoles, I will pay that 20$ (Since I have multiple iDevices with same ID at home).

    Also, Its ridiculous to see a 5$ game has in-app purchases.

  • wadjj

    Payment upfront without proper trial is a gamble; payment afterwards with confidence and appreciation is joy.

    With physical purchase you can try (sometimes) in game store, and if you happen to not like it (although it’s great for many), you can always gift it to friends or resell it. In digital world, if you pay 20 bucks and don’t like the game, that’s 20 bucks down the drain.

    I know there is some over-exploitment of IAP, but I see that as a normal cluster of speculative actions during a paradigm shift in business models.

    All in all, I can’t care less about the notion that people are fundamentally vulnerable to manipulation, and I believe the sentiment is way over the top.

    • Hyr3m

      I agree with you on everything but the last sentence…

      Predictable irrationality is a very interesting subject. Creating a cash-cow out of it falls into immorality, especially at this scale.

      Our civilization as a whole is threatened by this method. Using people’s inherent “stupidity” as a business model, when you have the means to impact government policy making, will “corrupt” your mind into desiring people to stay stupid and into acting upon this desire because you have the power to do so.
      It’s actually precisely what is happening right now and it’s a very sad thing!

  • Joshua Serna

    It may be a living, but if itll sell 5X as much as a 5 dollar app, than its just bad marketing stratedgy to play a game that you dont absolutely have to have in your collection for 20 dollars. The only apps i can think of that i thought paying more than 5 dollars for, was Pages (its productive and cant be beat in a few days).

  • Reverb

    Depends how good the game is. I paid I think £15 ($25 approx) for the Walking Dead on iOS and have no regrets.

  • rishith

    Millions buying it for 1$ is more profitable than thousands buying if for 20$ !!!

    • Hyr3m

      It depends on the “millions” and “thousands” though…

      500’000 x20 > 5’000’000 x1

  • Guest

    Lol you guys are just a bunch of cheap asses

    • Gorgonphone

      lol

  • Toni

    12 is the highest thing i would pay for an outstanding console quality 40 hours of gamplay and high replay value game. Would have spent 12 bucks for RR3 but unfortunately it is freemium and sucks big time compared to RR2.

  • Gorgonphone

    anything over $10 is to much

  • Chris Wagers

    To much money when there are tons of other games in App Store. If all App Store games were around 20
    Dollars when the App Store first started I’m sure some people would have bought it. But there’s just to many other entertaining games for .99 or 1.99 to spend that much in my opinion.

    • Gorgonphone

      i agree only high production value games that look like PS games should be over $5

  • Gorgonphone

    PS and xbox games are severely over priced

  • Karl Kurtz

    I’m not a developer but I have created 3D models and assets for games. The problem is that the vast majority of people (99% or more) have no idea how difficult and time consuming it is to develop a game. When I see a good looking game selling for $5 or less I cringe, just thinking about how many hours and months it took the devs and designers to make it.

  • Tsavo Walker

    OVER 9000!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ChristopherMay

    Apple is working on third party game pad support. This along with Air Play to an AppleTv could make iOS a console competitor. Does this change the conversation at all for anyone? imagine playing an iOS game with a Xbox 360 controller or PS3 like controller on your television via AppleTv. Seems like gaming for iOS will change drastically in the next year or two.

  • http://WorldstarHipHop.com/ Joshua Jones Makaveli

    Lol I spend my money on PS4 and Xbox one when it comes out!

  • StarViruZ

    It’s like Final fantasy III, IV and V; costs $16 each one…
    Or Payback 2: Free with IAP or Pro for $50 without IAP…

    If we talk about classic games I like Wolfenstein because has over 80 levels and all for only 2 bucks.

  • Chuck Finley

    No, no it shouldn’t be cheaper.

    There’s been a lot of talk about how iOS and mobile gaming in general is now an actual competitor to the, for want of a better word, real gaming platforms. Everyone goes on and on about how iOS is overtaking the Vita and the DS which is a good thing, it means that iOS as a gaming platform is being taken more seriously.

    If you want the platform to take off then this is where we need to go. We need full, premium games that cost $20 otherwise people need to shut the hell up about iOS being a serious gaming platform if they’re unwilling to pay premium prices for premium games. Apple devices are more than powerful enough to play games that have amazing graphics and the like, instead of the waves and waves of absolute shit free casual crap that’s plagued with IAP.

    • Hyr3m

      This has got to be one of the worst arguments on this subject I’ve read all day…

      • Chuck Finley

        And you’re clearly a complete idiot.

      • Hyr3m

        5 answers (one of which to the wrong comment) basically saying the same thing… and I’m the complete idiot? I have no other choice but to completely agree with you on that one :D

        Read 3 comments down if you want to read my take on it; I didn’t want to spam the comments with the same thing over and over… (unlike you, apparently xD)

      • Chuck Finley

        “HURR DURR I’M NOT GOING TO REFUTE ANYTHING OR OFFER ANY COUNTER POINTS, JUST SAY “OMG THAT’S SUCH A BAD ARGUMENT”.

        You’re an idiot.

      • Chuck Finley

        “HURR DURR I’M NOT GOING TO REFUTE ANYTHING OR OFFER ANY COUNTER POINTS, JUST SAY “OMG THAT’S SUCH A BAD ARGUMENT”.

      • Chuck Finley

        “Hurr durrr I’m not going to actually offer any counterpoints or reasons as to why it’s a bad argument, I’m just going to say it’s a bad argument.”

    • Chuck Finley

      @Hyr3m:disqus “Hurr durrr I’m not going to actually offer any counterpoints or reasons as to why it’s a bad argument, I’m just going to say it’s a bad argument.”

  • XboxOne

    $20 too much for a smartphone/tablet game. I rather buy a used PS3 game with $20.

  • Hyr3m

    Nice article !

    *Faith in iDB restored* (Just kidding… as long as there’s no “Christian” at the top it’s usually always an at least half-way decent blog entry ^^)

    I see some very interesting arguments in the comments but I feel like adding my two cents (and trying to keep it simple and short).

    Why we feel it’s too much ?

    – Because it IS too much ! The game devs have made their calculations and they don’t need all this money… What they need is 70% of it… because Apple is stealing 30% off of them. (Imagine if Microsoft stole 30% of the revenue of every PC software creator… scandalous – wouldn’t it be ? Well it’s exactly that but for your cell phones, and you have to pay more because of it.)

    – Because it’s virtual. Remember Game Boy cartridges? (or any other platform, just picked this one because of the mobile aspect) You had to pay the physical aspect of the game and you could actually own it (hold it in your hands vs apple “lending” it to you until they feel otherwise). This meant a portion of what you paid went to pay the rent of the shop you bought it in and the salaries of its employees.

    So you’ll say “yeah but you’re contradicting yourself !” – No, I’m not. The cost of making 10 billion copies of an iOS game is second to none… What about distribution you say? You’re paying for your own internet connection and apple’s “upload” costs won’t increase proportionally because it’s a stepped variable cost and trust me, Apple doesn’t need all this money.

    Yeah… true; the cost of transport and storage of Game Boy cartridges is also stepped but on similar scales of distribution it becomes relatively proportional… and the physical cashier can only handle one buyer at a time.

    I’m glad to see that people are starting to feel somewhat revolted when they are being offered gravel instead of lube… even if sometimes they don’t know why and still feel like they should shut up and spread their butt cheeks.

    (Sorry… I failed at “simple and short”)

  • Singed

    But nobody is screaming jack shit when a complete Zynga trash keeps asking hundreds of dollars for some bullshit farm game or a crappy version of MOBA.