Square Enix, a Japanese game studio best known for the “Final Fantasy” series, has released an iOS port of “The World Ends with You”, a game set in Tokyo’s Shibuya district that was previously released for the Nintendo DS. Fans of the game have been alternately excited and ambivalent about the port, but one thing has been made clear: its $20 price tag isn’t going to fly.
The company, which has released several games in the App Store, is no stranger to pricing complaints. Its re-release of “Final Fantasy Tactics“, a game that debuted on the original PlayStation console, costs $17.99 on the iPad. Other games, such as “Final Fantasy III“, cost $16.99. All three of these games are outside of the App Store’s typical prices of $0, $4.99, and $9.99, and Square Enix’s other games often fall outside of or just within that pricing structure.
For Square Enix, even a re-release of a game used to mean $30 or $40, easily. Porting a game to a new platform and charging less than $30 would have been considered crazy just a few years ago. Likewise, that people wouldn’t be happy to pay such a small amount for a critically acclaimed game on a new platform would have been akin to blasphemy.
Early responses to the game have been overwhelmingly positive, and it has an average of 5-stars from 31 reviews in the App Store. There have been mutterings in some corners of the Web about the fact that Square Enix had to change the game to work on iOS devices, but there are always going to be gaming “purists” that insist that an older version is better than the latest iteration. The World Ends with You for the iPad is considered, by most, every bit as compelling as the award-winning handheld game that it’s based on.
Back when “mobile gaming” was still called “handheld gaming,” the GameBoy and its various iterations reigned supreme. Now, though, the iPhone and iPad have quickly become our core mobile gaming (and everything else) devices. The graphics and gameplay haven’t always been as polished as console offerings, but both issues are being addressed by the proliferation of Retina Displays and a better understanding of how touchscreen gaming should work. Unfortunately, if the iOS platform is going to hold a candle to the gaming platforms of the past, the idea that a game should always be $4.99 or free needs to be put out to pasture.
Consider the top grossing games in the App Store. Every single one, with the notable exceptions of Minecraft and Angry Birds, is free to download. These games, like Zynga‘s on the Web, make most of their profits from in-app purchases and addictive gameplay. The question that game developers should be asking themselves is this: Is Zynga really the company you want to emulate right now? The company’s stocks have tanked since its IPO last December, and things don’t appear to be getting any better.
Square Enix is the gaming company that small developers should be trying to learn from. Hell, some of the other gaming juggernauts could probably stand to take a page from the playbook and start charging reasonable prices for their iOS games. That’s the thing about averages, and customer perception – pump enough games into the higher end of the price (and quality) spectrum and, eventually, $20 won’t seem quite so unreasonable.
Zynga’s no-cost download scheme seemed to be working for some time, but the company’s current state paints an entirely different picture. Square Enix and the gaming industry that it represents have been around for decades. Games have left the living room in favor of the front pocket, but that doesn’t mean that the traditional “you pay upfront” model isn’t a viable option for the mobile market.
[Image courtesy wikimedia]