Apple Arcade Brings Game Pricing Concerns Back to the Forefront

Apple Arcade Brings Game Pricing Concerns Back to the Forefront

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Will successful subscription services turn into their own walled gardens?

This Week in Business is a collection of stats and quotes from our sister site GamesIndustry.biz that sheds light on console sales, new trends, and more. Check back every Friday for a new entry!

To say it was a big week in game releases would be an understatement. The launch of the Nintendo Switch Lite, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and the Genesis Mini would have qualified as a busy week just going by retail new releases. Throw in a convergence of eagerly awaited indie games like Untitled Goose Game, Overland, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Jenny LeClue, Mutazione and it's packed. Then launch Apple Arcade and its assortment of new games like Frogger in Toy Town, ChuChu Rocket Universe, Exit the Gungeon, Rayman Mini, Pac-Man: Party Royale, Lego Brawls and more, and it just becomes absurd.

No one has enough time to play all these games. Whether they have enough money to play the ones they have time for is also an issue, although subscription services like Apple Arcade can help on that front. But how do they affect developers? The individual developers signing up to be part of Apple Arcade no doubt get some guaranteed compensation and marketing benefit from joining the program, but there are plenty more creators on the outside looking in. If selling their premium mobile game for $5 yesterday was difficult, doing it today when their audience could get a selection of top-quality premium mobile titles for the same price is likely even harder.

This pricing discussion has been kicking around the industry for years now, but it seems to get a new twist every time it makes the rounds. The first time I remember it flaring up was about the App Store selling games for $0.99 and how that devalued the medium. Then it was about bundle promotions and key resellers. Then it was just an indiepocalypse mess. Then streaming and subscription services in general.

This time it's Apple Arcade and how Apple's effort to create a viable business model for premium mobile games may be making it worse for anyone not on board with its proprietary service. You can argue whether or not that was always the intent, but it's a pretty safe bet Apple doesn't care.

There was one other relevant piece of news on the subject this week that didn't lend itself to a quote or stat, and that was a French court's ruling that Steam needed to create a mechanism to allow users to re-sell their games to other users. Valve is appealing and won't make changes until that appeal is heard, but it adds an interesting wrinkle here. I think, ideally, people should be able to re-sell their digital games, just as they can their physical ones. But for the last 15 years, we've pretty much built this industry around tightly controlled digital distribution.

Users having officially supported and above-board ways to sell their games to each other is essentially incompatible with things like bundle promotions and many of the deep discounts people are offered on downloadable games. And I don't doubt this would decimate any kind of long tail for indie developers, the relative handful of months- and years-later sales for games that big publishers might not miss terribly, but teams of two or three people could scrape by on. Just as the last few times this discussion came around, I don't even have the beginning of a solution to it. But maybe some of the people closer to the issue can shed a little light on it.

Assemble With Care is an Apple Arcade exclusive from the makers of Monument Valley. | Ustwo Games

QUOTE | "People are going to come and play Assemble With Care, they're going to have an amazing two hours... You might pick up Assemble With Care and decide it's not for you, but you won't feel like you've wasted any money." - Ustwo Games' chief creative officer Dan Gray says a good thing about subscription services like Apple Arcade is that people don't think about whether any individual game they play on it was worth the money.

QUOTE | "Ultimately, if the cost of distribution is zero, there are no walls of any consequence around the garden, and major market players are starting to push a $0 price tag, consumers' value perceptions will naturally undergo a major shift—making it an economic inevitability that up-front pricing will drop to zero and new revenue streams will have to be found." - GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey expresses concern about a familiar death spiral for indie game pricing.

QUOTE | "We worked very hard for the past four years on Sayonara Wild Hearts, and had no idea about the Apple Arcade beta-stuff that is currently happening, so please do us a favour and don't spoil the game for people who can't play it yet." - Developer Simogo, on its Twitter account, suggests Apple could have done a better job communicating with the studios who signed mobile exclusive deals to be on Apple Arcade.

QUOTE | "The days of the sine curve waxing and waning in the interactive entertainment business around hardware cycles... those are long gone. The transition from last gen to current gen was not taxing for us, or for the industry. It's really the first time the industry's gone through one of these transitions without someone going bankrupt." - Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick says next year's transition to next-gen consoles won't spike development costs.

QUOTE | "We thought the goose was our joke. It felt like an in-joke, then we very quickly realized how many people, particularly in the northern hemisphere, have strong feelings about geese." - House House's Jacob Strasser talks about how Untitled Goose Game went from inane Slack channel chatter to half-serious trailer to actual commercial product.

QUOTE | "Queuetainment" - The ESA's word for new direct marketing opportunities aimed at E3 attendees waiting in line, one part of a proposed plan to revamp the show and make it more appealing for publishers and ESA member companies.

QUOTE | "Is it time to retire virtual currency?" - Me, in an editorial looking at whether the industry should move away from one of its standard monetization techniques. (I don't want to spoil anything, but the answer is an emphatic "yes.")

QUOTE | "Is there a bubble? That's the big question... I don't think it's going to pop, much like everyone is afraid of. There will be a market correction for sure." - Daniel Mite, CEO of esports investment firm New Wave Esports lays out his strategy for picking winners in a challenging (but growing) competitive gaming market.

QUOTE | "It sounds really silly, but when people get banned they still don't really know why. They say, 'I don't get it. I didn't do anything wrong.' So they just do it again. So I think there has to be something, either before they start playing the game, or [after a ban] in order to educate players about what is/isn't acceptable behaviour. Ideally before." - Jenny McBean from market intelligence firm Bryter talks about online bullying in games and how the industry can address it.

QUOTE | "No more landfill requirements. Way less plastic. It still looks great. It's still solid. The disc is still secure. But it has less environmental impact in many different ways. So we'd be stupid not to do it, and if anyone from other games or entertainment companies is reading this, you'd be stupid not to do it too." - Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson explains why Football Manager 2020 will ship with completely recyclable packaging rather than a standard DVD case.

QUOTE | "It's zany Tex Avery stuff more than it is shish kebabing somebody's eyeball on the end of a stake... It's cartoonish gore and violence, so I think that makes it less disturbing to play and to create for the artist." - Doom Eternal creative director Hugo Martin explains why he doesn't expect any of his team's artists to get post-traumatic stress disorder from working on the game's violence, the way a Mortal Kombat artist reportedly did.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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