What is a mobile video game worth? Quite a lot, say Square Enix, who are stubbornly sticking to their gunblades on mobile game pricing strategy. Their iOS port of PS2 JRPG Dragon Quest VIII launched back in May at the price of $20 — it’s on sale this weekend for the very first time at $15, still a vertigo-inducing price tag by App Store standards. It’s tempting to look at Squeenix and see a doddery old man complaining that kids these days listen to their music too loud and expect their games to cost a dollar.
Cas Prince of PC game developers Puppygames recently wrote that game prices are dropping so precipitously that the rich and diverse ecosystem of game creators we’ve come to enjoy is in danger. That long post includes apparently self-immolating statements like “[customers] are worthless to us[.]” But hear him out.
“Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s or so, games would sell for about $20 or so. Some developers did really well at that price point -– I mean really well. Most of us didn’t do that well, and made beer money, but we carried on making games anyway because that’s what we liked to do, even if nobody wanted them. When we got a customer we were able to treat them like royalty.”
“Then came the Humble Bundle and all its little imitators. It was another cataclysmically disruptive event… You’ve sold 40,000 games! But you’ve only made enough money to survive full-time for two weeks because you’re selling them for 10 cents each.”
Obviously, Prince is talking about one- and two-man indie studios here, not publishing behemoths like Squeenix. And casting Squeenix as the defender of the “premium”-priced game is problematic when the other fork of their mobile games strategy is pushing free-to-play bilge. But at least Square Enix have resisted the temptation to rip out Dragon Quest’s spine and turn it into a freemium cyborg like Namco did with Tales of Phantasia.
I wonder sometimes about publishing this (mostly) weekly price drops post. Am I aiding the forces pushing game prices down? I love getting a game for a dollar as much as the next guy, but many of the games I love can’t be sold profitably at a price point that low. I don’t know. I’ll keep doing it out of inertia for now, but I’m open to the notion that there’s something better to be doing on Saturdays.
Once a month, the PT staff gather around the Official Pocket Tactics Ouija Board and Comcast Customer Service Help Line and (after making the traditional offerings of ASL chits and Vimto) commune with the animistic spirits of the App Store to divine their favourite games of that lunar cycle. This past August, the rituals were particularly draining: not only were there a slew of important releases to choose from, but the App Store spirits kept erroneously rejecting our submission.
After the jump, Pocket Tactics‘ favourite games of August.
A few weeks ago we heard from Luca Redwood about his next project, an iOS game-slash-experiment called Smarter Than You. This is going to be a multiplayer-only game about duelling and bluffing whose only monetisation will come from “tipping” your opponent as a salute for a well-played duel. At the pub the other night, Redwood told me that he didn’t think it was going to make any money. I agreed.
But there’s more here than just a game — Redwood is also working on an AI called M.E.T.I.S. that he says will be able to out-decieve and defeat any human in Smarter Than You. M.E.T.I.S., it appears, has a rather healthy sense of digital self-worth. She’s got a Twitter account that she uses to remind us of her superiority. And this evening, she’s sent me a slightly intimidating email that included an image I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I tried pinging Redwood himself but I haven’t heard back. I’m sure he’s fine though! Rogue AI sending vague threats around the world from his house. He’s OK.
After the jump, a cryptic image that M.E.T.I.S. has invited all of us to decipher.
Tonight was meant to be the night for Inkle’s around-the-world interactive fiction opus 80 Days to drop — but alas, it is not to be. Inkle’s Jon Ingold emailed me a couple of days back. “We’ve been asked by Apple to move the release day back to next Thursday, the 31st,” he said. “So we are of course doing it.”
This could only mean one of two things. The first possibility: upon reviewing the app for release, Apple has discovered Inkle’s dastardly plot to use the game to Manchurian Candidate the world’s population, preparing the ground for a reptilian takeover of Earth. Or second, Apple want to feature the game next week in a prominent slot on the App Store’s front page.
It’s almost certainly the former (alert David Icke, please) but either way the result is the same: 80 Days will be here next Wednesday night. You can read my hands-on 80 Days preview if you want to see what we’re in for next week.
There are other releases tonight, of course. Let’s have a look after the jump.
Despite what the pastel color scheme might have you believe — things are about to get cut-throat.
A couple of weeks back, when I told you about how impressed I was with the elegance and simplicity of Paul Vauvrey’s abstract strategy game Kingdoms, what I really, really wanted was a video to show you the game in action. Kingdoms is so simple that once you’ve seen it in motion for twenty seconds, you feel silly for having spent five minutes trying to communicate the rules with words.
Lo and behold, Vauvrey just sent across that much-needed video. It’s terribly short, but it has a pull-quote from yours truly in it. Not like a funny one or anything. But watch it, and I promise you’ll know definitively within 30 seconds whether or not Kingdoms is going to be your cup of tea.
Kingdoms will be out for iPad late August/early September and will feature online and local multiplayer, plus AI for single-player. Watch the video below, and follow Vauvrey’s studio Space Bears on Twitter and Facebook.
Canabalt creator Adam Saltsman dropped me a line over the weekend to tell me that his new publishing ashram Finji has published a new mobile title. Eliss Infinity is a puzzler newly available on Android — it’s been out on iOS for a little while now, and it’s an updated version of one of the first big iPhone games. The original Eliss blew everyone’s mind with its innovative use of multi-touch controls back in 2009 — and no one’s managed to do anything really amazing with multi-touch since, sadly.
It’s hard to explain Eliss Infinity. You solve puzzles by moving objects around a 2D plane on your screen, which makes it sound like indie favourite Hundreds, but that doesn’t quite pip it. Hundreds takes place in a world in balance — if you never messed with the puzzles, they’d keep moving forever. Eliss Infinity takes place in a universe on the edge of failure — everything is going to fall apart if you don’t intervene fast. It’s wonderfully chaotic.
But that failure didn’t stop designer Das Joost and his comrades at Dutch studio Firebrush, who successfully funded the project in a second go in the autumn. We should be glad for that perseverance, because Ortus is a clever game that a lot of you are going to love when it arrives on Android and iOS later this year.
From the “I didn’t think it needed a sequel” department comes Chess 2: The Sequel, which just so happens to be a sequel to, you’ll never guess, Chess. While you’re scratching your head, let me tell you that this chess variant was created by one David Sirlin who has designed some other prominent titles such as Yomi and Puzzle Strike. Have I piqued your interest yet?
Chess 2 gives players the choice between 6 different armies (instead of the usual boring one that’s been around since 1500) that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. One might favor pawns, while another favors the pointy hat things or the horsey men. Also, checkmating your opponent’s king isn’t necessary to win, just get your king over the midline and it’s game over.
Seriously, as much as I’m making fun here, the game does sound pretty interesting. I’m a sucker for chess variants (can someone make a digital version of Knightmare Chess please?) and this one not only sounds interesting with a proven designer behind it, but, graphically, it looks incredible. It was released for Ouya last year and is now coming soon to Steam and iOS. How soon? “Very near future” is the best we can give you.
Take a look at the Ouya release trailer after the break to get an idea of what you can expect.