I am probably about to say something that is going to piss off a lot of people, but here is goes… I agree with Nintendo and their opinions about the direction of the gaming industry, disposable video games are hurting our image. It seems that some developers took offense to Mr. Iwata’s statements about games on mobile devices and how low price points are creating a perception that video games are only worth $1. I don’t see what is wrong with this assessment. If the postal services across the board suddenly released a statement that said, “we’ve been under charging you all these years; the free ride is over,” and raised their rates to $5 per stamp people would lose their heads. There were nearly riots in the streets when stamps were raised by 5 cents, because the perception of a stamp and it’s value has lasted for so long. How long do we honestly believe that we can continue to sell disposable games without repercussion against higher quality titles?
In my opinion, a game like Angry Birds was far under-priced at $1 but only reached it’s level of success because of it’s disposable price point. The problem with this approach is that it sets an expectation that all games must now look and feel as polished as an Angry Birds to garner the attention of the buying public, even for a $1 price. With time, the bar of quality will continue to rise and developers will continue to work in excess just to keep up; all the while, their price can not move from it’s $1 spot. In future generations of phones, we could be looking at a level of graphics and sound fidelity that is comparable to home consoles. Do we continue to price our games for $1 just because we know the other guy will? Do we staff up to 10+ people to match the graphical quality of everyone else and expect to turn a profit? This business can not survive, not if people expect to make a living and raise families.
There will always be the script kiddie or college student out there who can duct tape some gameplay together and put it on the market for $1, but higher quality games need to start pricing themselves accordingly or else we could be looking at a very scary and near future. What made the mobile market interesting is that it was low risk for medium return, a win-win situation for garage developers. As this pressure mounts we are starting to see it mirror the home console market of high risk for high return, using full development teams. We are seeing a handful of 1M unit sellers, but no one talks about the thousands of games that were crushed in it’s wake, many of which took on some high financial risks.
Yes, yes it’s a cyclical problem of chicken and the egg. You can’t price your game accordingly because no one will buy it, even if it’s worth every penny. You can’t do that because there is some other guy, coding in his basement, who made a cheap knock-off with solid block graphics, but put it up for $1 and is somehow beating you out in sales and downloads. I get it, but this is exactly my point. I am not saying that there is an easy answer, but I know that it can’t stay this way forever.
Stop for a moment to look at what the $1 market has already done to the budget PC scene. It used to be that you could jump on your PC, head over to some budget game portal, and pick up some casual entertainment for $19.99. Something at that price would include a good 5-10 hours of gameplay and some bonus content; much like buying a DVD at your local retail store. Now, the portals that have managed to survive the crash are pedaling their goods for $6 or less. The quality of those games has increased over time and yet the prices have fallen by 70%. That is not a small number, no matter how you look at it. In the end, the developer suffers; taking smaller shares for more work. We can hope that they are selling a larger volume to offset this fall in prices but the risks are much higher. For products with high visibility (console hardware, popular game franchises), we often see a direct correlation to price drops. Dropping the price by a fixed percentage often results in an increase of the same amount in sales, which eventually tappers back down over time. This may not be the case for products with low visibility, like an Xbox Live Indie Games, Playstation Network, Mobile, or budget PC title. Price reductions may result in no change at all for these products.
I know that it sounds ridiculous to say this, but I am hoping for the death of disposable games. I want to see the $1 game go a way completely. I’d rather see quality titles on mobile and home devices for a more appropriate price point. I want to see a market that can support it’s indie developers as a business model instead of exploit their ravenous attempts to remain a part of this community.