XCOM for iOS Costs $20, and That's Not a Bad Thing

XCOM for iOS Costs $20, and That's Not a Bad Thing

At $20, the long-awaited iOS version of the new XCOM is expensive for a mobile app. But it's worth your support.

Before we get into a discussion, here are the facts that you undoubtedly clicked into this story to read: XCOM Enemy Unknown is out for iOS devices on Thursday June 20. No, there's no Android version as yet, before That Guy shows up and starts saying nothing but "Android?" in the comments. (If you are That Guy, please... just don't. For once. Please?) It will cost $19.99 and will run on iPad 2+, iPhone 4S+ and fifth generation iPod touch devices.

Yes, you read that correctly: XCOM for iOS will cost a cent under $20, which is "a lot for a mobile game," as the saying goes. However, I'd argue that this is not a bad thing at all, and that if you are interested in playing XCOM on the go, you shouldn't hesitate to pick up the game at this price.

Why? Because, frankly, the mobile gaming sector could do with a kick up the backside to get it out of the race to the bottom it's been locked into ever since in-app purchases reared their ugly heads. Also, $20 is literally half what the game costs on PC and console platforms at full price, and this is the full XCOM experience, not some watered-down free-to-play social version.

Let me qualify what I said above, and hopefully you'll see what I mean.

A huge proportion of apps -- particularly games -- on the iOS App Store (and Google Play, for that matter) are released for "free." And yet these "free" games are somehow regularly among the Top Grossing games in the App Store charts. Not just in isolated instances, either -- free-to-play games like Supercell's Clash of Clans and King's Candy Crush Saga have both been riding high in the Top Grossing charts for months now, with no signs of letting up, and they're far from the only examples. People are, apparently, willing to pay potentially unlimited amounts of money for games that, frankly, aren't very good.

Compare and contrast with XCOM. $20 gets you the whole game, with the exception of head-to-head multiplayer, which is reportedly coming in a later free update. You know before you even download XCOM that it is going to cost you $20, and that it is probably going to provide you a significant number of hours of entertainment. Assuming you don't hate it, obviously -- we could, of course, get into a discussion about the merits of free demos here, but let's leave that to one side for now, as it's a slightly different issue.

Screenshot from the PC version.

Fact is, XCOM is being honest with you. It is asking you for a one-off $20 price of admission on the understanding that it's not going to keep charging you once you start playing. There may be occasional expansion packs or DLC as there have been for PC, but these are permanent, optional upgrades to your game, not consumables you need to keep paying for like energy, lives or boosters. (Hopefully, anyway. Please don't do that, Firaxis.)

Compare and contrast with, say, Clash of Clans, which you can throw money at in order to make time-consuming activities go faster, and in order to buy yourself a significant advantage over other players. Or Candy Crush Saga, where you either need to spam your friends with invites or pay $0.99 every so often to keep playing. Candy Crush Saga is also a game with a single powerup costing $40 that doesn't really explain what it does before you hand over the money. Gross, right?

These games are inherently dishonest. These games are not being up front with you about how much it is going to cost to play them for the long haul. They lure you in with the prospect of being a "free" download, get you addicted to the Skinner Box-style game mechanics -- Level up! You win! Daily bonus! -- then start hitting you with bills if you want to remain competitive, or to play for more than two minutes at a time. There is no limit to how much you can spend on these games; so long as you keep spending, they'll keep providing you with stuff to spend that money on.

The trouble now is that as a result of titles like Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga and numerous other similar titles, mobile game players are so conditioned to see anything costing more than $0.99 as "expensive" that premium-quality, premium-priced games like XCOM are put in a difficult position. Square-Enix has frequently found itself running afoul of this problem, too, hitting severe resistance when it released the 50+ hour Final Fantasy Tactics for $17.99 on iPad. (Granted, in that case, the equivalent PSP version is quite a bit cheaper, but the iPad version has since been updated with cloud saves and hi-res graphics for those with fancy Retina display devices, making it an arguably superior experience.)

Ultimately, by refusing to pay premium prices for premium-quality experiences, all we do is prove to developers and publishers that it's not worth putting these games out on mobile platforms, and what we end up with is the sea of crap you have to wade through every time you tap that "App Store" icon on your phone or tablet now. Titles such as XCOM should be supported at their premium price point to encourage diversity in the mobile game marketplace, because at present there's an overwhelming trend towards free-to-play and/or in-app purchase-heavy experiences that put a stronger focus on the "business" side of things than the more important "game" part. And that's not good for anyone except slimy executives who use words like "monetizing" and "whales."

This isn't to say that there isn't a place for free-to-play or games designed around an in-app purchase-heavy business model; it'd just be nice to have a certain degree of choice in the matter rather than sucking it up and dealing with it because it's the only option. And you can help with that by supporting the games you want to see more of while shunning stuff you don't like. They say money talks; there are few places where that's more true than the games industry.

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