The rift in pricing between iPhone games and blockbuster retail releases is pretty expansive. The price for the average video game on the App Store is 99 cents. The price for an average retail release is around $59.99 USD. If your development studio dedicates most of its resources to making retail games, how do you compete against the pull of games that are not only cheap, but very convenient to purchase?
Epic Games’ president, Mike Capps, recently admitted to IndustryGamers that he’s had a sleepless night or two over the games industry’s recent “race to the bottom:”
“We have not been this uncertain about what’s coming next in the games industry since Epic’s been around for 20 years,” he said. “It used to be, ‘Well, of course PlayStation 3 will be successful because PS2 was amazingly successful.’ But can you say for sure that you know everyone’s going to jump to the next generation? I sure hope so – I’m going to try to make some great tech that will make everyone want to. But it’s scary.”
It is indeed a very unsettling time for people who make games, and even for the people who play them. When we drop money on a game system, we want some kind of assurance that the system will be well-supported for years to come. Can a studio that’s focused on retail releases do anything to protect its profits against the tidal wave of cheap, downloadable games?
It’s a difficult situation. It’s not as if competitive pricing would do much: A studio that has spent millions of dollars on a blockbuster title can’t simply drop their own game to 99 cents and hope to survive. Even cutting the price of a big title to $30 or $40 might not impress an audience that’s used to paying a dollar for a game, especially in the face of big studios that can afford to release cheap iPhone adaptations of their biggest hits.
There is no easy solution, other than to cling on and weather the storm. The introduction of Nintendo’s Wii successor, Project Cafe, will be a telling moment for the future of game consoles. Where is the company going with options like downloadable games? Nintendo has never been up-to-the-minute with its consoles’ online features, but now there are rumours that the company’s new console supports streaming (aka cloud) games, which costs far less than buying a game at retail. Microsoft and Sony say they have no immediate plans for their own new consoles, but no doubt they’ll be watching Nintendo and acting accordingly.
And while it’s understandably difficult for Capps to do so, he should relax a little and put his trust in gamers. Despite the release of some higher-end games, there is still a significant difference between the gameplay experience you derive from a 99 cent iPhone game, and the gameplay experience you derive from a big-budget console or PC title. Most of us know this, and separate our games accordingly: Mobile games for our commute to and from work, and big-budget games for when it’s time to crash on the couch at home. There is room in our lives for both styles of gaming.
If support for 99 cent games seems overwhelming at times, it’s important to remember that literally everyone has a cell phone and is fond of cheap, quick distractions. Console and PC gamers are a little more dedicated and willing to dish out for systems, games, and (in the case of the PC gamer) hardware upgrades.
Otherwise, aside from flinging out game sales whenever possible (Amazon has been hosting quite a few as of late, as has Steam), the industry can only wait things out. Given time and one more console generation, it might be able to acquire some solid footing again, and we can all just sit back and game.