Recently the developers behind the popular mobile game Monument Valley were faced with a PR nightmare. Following the release of their paid expansion to the game, the title was hit by negative reviews from people calling the developers greedy.
As of this time we still haven’t seen the full fallout and what this means for the title. But this is a showcase of some of the big issues that have developed in the mobile market.
Mobile vs. PC:
To talk about the problems with the mobile market, we need to briefly talk about some of the major differences and similarities with it and the PC Indie market.
Both the PC and Mobile market have benefited from the ease of development that software like Unity has brought to the Game Industry. Where before, game development was restricted to experts and companies, today it’s very easy for a few people to use toolsets to create titles.
And digital stores have made it easy to get your game published and in front of consumers. The big difference is that for the mobile market, the vetting process is different compared to the PC digital market.
With PC, either Valve will have to examine your title or base it on your background, or you’ll have to get enough consumer awareness to use Greenlight. While on the mobile market, you need to send your app to the store and have it examined for following the store’s guidelines. The problems the mobile market is facing stem from the very practices that made it popular for consumers and developers.
Bottom Dollar Games:
Video games over the years have gone down in price thanks to sales and rising competition and that can be seen at its extreme on the mobile market. Thanks to the ease of development, the platform has been flooded by developers releasing apps on it. Because of that, the price of mobile games is severely less compared to the PC market.
F2P titles with IAPs are the popular option and many consumers don’t want to spend money upfront on a title, much less spend anywhere near the amount that PC and console gamers are spending regardless of the value. The low price points of the mobile market are too low for certain niche genres to stand a chance like strategy or titles with a lot of time and money put into them that are priced higher.
Because of this, the most popular option is to release smaller titles built around quick engagement in order to make your profit with microtransactions as opposed to large initial purchases. However this has created a lot of copycat games or clones that continues to make it harder to stand out.
Due to the ease of mobile development and the shorter development cycles to get a mobile game out has created an issue of cloning. Whenever a mobile game achieves some level of popularity, you can be sure that other developers will copy it in order to ride the wave of success.
Case in point would be the success of Flappy Bird leading to developers copying it. See also Farmville, Angry Birds and any other major hit on the mobile platform. The problem is that there are no real rules regarding cloning and is an issue we’re going to look at more in an upcoming post.
What makes cloning bad for the mobile market is that it further drives down the price of games, making it harder to sell them at a profit. As it doesn’t matter how much money you spent on developing your hit, when someone can just copy what you did and make it cheaper and quicker.
When you combine a market where developers are copying games at such a high frequency along with the low price points, this leads us to the biggest problem with the mobile market — Discover-ability.
A Self Fulfilling Prophecy:
Anyone who has made a video game regardless of the platform can tell you that getting your game in front of the consumer is one of the hardest parts of the industry. It’s why AAA developers spend millions of dollars on advertising and why YouTube personalities like Total Biscuit who showcase games on their channel have become a big deal.
If people don’t know that your game exists, it doesn’t matter how good it is as no one will be able to find it and buy it. The problem with the app store is that it only shows two types of games on it — The most popular and the newest.
As we talked about, it’s very easy to quickly put together a mobile game especially if someone clones a popular title. Because of that, the app store is overwhelmed with new games being released on a daily basis, which in turn pushes older titles off the front page. While the most popular titles like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga are so popular that they remain on the front page as best sellers where more people can see them and in turn buy them.
This creates a market where only a few games that achieve popularity quickly enough, will remain in front of the consumer base to be noticed. The rest of the games have a day to two days tops before no one will ever hear of them again. Now if you were creating a massive title on par with some of the bigger Indie games on the PC for the mobile market, imagine if you just put all that work into it to have your game be gone after 24 hours of being put up on the store.
It’s important to mention that the problem of discover-ability is also present on the PC with the Indie market and at the moment there is no perfect solution. But it’s far more severe on the mobile platform and makes it very risky for new developers.
Can the Market be fixed?
The problems of devaluing and discover-ability are affecting all areas of the Game Industry, but they are at their worse on the mobile market. At this rate the only ways to fix things would be a major shift towards quality and higher prices. But that’s not going to be an easy process as the market has become so used to sales that it would take something big to start shifting things.
And whether or not that’s possible remains to be seen as the rest of the Industry is also facing these issues and who knows where the solution will come from.