A Cup of Coffee Vs. An iPhone App: The New Pricing Model of Console Games [Game By Design]
I always make the joke that people are so price-sensitive on iPhone games, that they think 2.99 is UBER expensive for a game, yet they buy cups of coffee for 6 dollars. Since I first started making that joke, we developers have been empowered with much better ways to make money, like in-app purchases. And in-app purchases have taken off. In fact, at the time of writing this, they comprise more money on the app store than actual game purchases!
The app store has gotten to the point where volume sales, free to play, and ads have allowed developers to make money while the consumer doesn’t feel cheated. So how is all this innovation going to affect your old pal, the console game, otherwise known as “the stalwart of the 60 dollar price point.”
Play-through time on games is always a focus at a game studio during the production process. Obviously it varies between genres, but for something like a First Person Shooter, the standard acceptable length is around 10 hours (at least in the last few years). For something mission-based, where areas of the game are reused over and over, like Borderlands, Grand Theft Auto, or Red Dead Redemption, it can be 30 hours to beat the game, and that’s not counting all the little bonus missions that they usually include. From an industry standpoint, it really comes down to art. There are a limited amount of locales the artists can create during the production time, so that’s why FPS games can tend to be shorter; the player generally runs through scenes quickly and doesn’t revisit the same locations.
I like games of all shapes and sizes, but I really like short games. This is a personal preference thing. Even when I have a lot of free time, I like to play every damn game that comes out so I learn something as a designer from all of them. Even if I wasn’t in the biz, I would still do that just because I like new experiences. Most of my gamer friends disagree with me. They like to beat every console game from start to finish.
So I’d say, though I’ve been playing games all my life, I share the same time preferences with casual gamers; I like to take smaller bites of many games.
That being said, one of the cool things about the advent of the app store and its low pricing and micro-transactions, is that its spreading to console games. I personally have always felt that 60 dollars is way too expensive for one game. When I was a kid, I only really got games on my birthday and Christmas. And like a lot of people, I went straight from being too young to afford a 60 dollar game, to having a job and being able to afford it but too busy (or worried about paying bills) to justify the expense.
For both groups, young kids and busy adults, it makes sense for console games to have a 20-30 dollar “core version” that has around 3-4 hours of gameplay. For kids, they can afford to get the first chunk and play the crap out of it, and maybe get “gifted” some new chunks in form of cards as presents from people. For adults who want to play a lot of games, they can get two or three games for the price of one, and then decide which one they may want to play in-depth.
To me, the 60 dollar price model, when compared to where mobile game pricing, is very archaic. It’s hard to say that a flashy console game is worth 60 bucks when you can get 60 well-produced iPhone games for the same price and basically fill your phone with awesome games. Keep in mind that a few of those 99 cent iPhone games are built to earn over 20 dollars from you in a period of months, even years. So the 99 cent game could net a larger amount of your money over time than the 60 dollar game!
So I get excited as a developer to think that we could make more money overall by actually charging less for the Core game, and then supplying the fans with a long string of affordable updates. Just like the Xbox and PS3 have found ways to extend console life cycles, we need to start thinking more about extending game life cycles. I mean, how long has the original Angry Birds been out?