Quote of the Day – The Problem is You Not Buying My Stuff

You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.

Aksel Junkilla, The mobile games market is an absolute mess, thanks to you

There is an almost physical sense of irony in reading a post in which the author complains about the entitlement of his audience and yet fails to notice his own sense thereof.  If we want good mobile games, we need to pay for them… starting with his game.

We’ve been down this path before here.  And as amusing as I find The Oatmeal on occasion, if you find you are borrowing an argument from a four year old web comic, maybe you should take a deeper look at your idea.

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

The comedic exaggeration of the concept

However, that is not his sole target.  The author, once he is done taking his potential customers to task turns on his fellow developers, calling on them to unite against the socio-economic menace that is Free to Play.  Only when that has been defeated will people be willing to pay what his game is actually worth.  He then points at the wondrous joy consumers used to feel parting with $40 for a Pokemon game and so on and so forth.

What a load of shit.

I actually expected him to go full Marx and declare that work has inherent value.  But he didn’t quite go that far.

And he certainly didn’t go after his real problem, which is low barrier to entry.  Nintendo can charge $40 for a Pokemon game because they invested in creating an ecosystem where not only do you have to pay that much for Pokemon, but you also have to spend $150 on hardware to play it as well.  To get in the App Store you just need to development kit, meet some basic criteria, and be ready to give Apple their cut.

I love when people… and developers especially… bitch and moan about Apple creating a walled garden with the App Store, and then go back to playing games on pretty much any console ever.

And a particularly sweet dumpling in this rich soup of irony is that this walled garden has pretty much failed to weed out crap.  It is, rather, a complete mess, with page after page of half-assed knock-offs and derivative shit.  And even when you aren’t mired knee-deep in crap, there are often still many options.

The other night my wife wanted a video poker app as a warm up for EVE Vegas.  Go to the App Store and search on video poker and tell me how many results you get, and how many nearly identical apps you find in the results.  And most of them were free.  So yeah, we didn’t buy a $4.99 app because it was not different in any discernible way (at least before purchase) from a number of free options.  So now my wife has a perfectly serviceable video poke app on her iPhone that looks just like the real thing in Vegas.  She only gets a limited amount of money to start with, and has to buy more if she runs out… that is the in-game purchase option… but she hasn’t run out yet.

There are things that certainly need to be fixed with the mobile market… problems that have been around since the App Store showed up, if the author had done his market research… but the fixing customers should be nothing more than afterthought on any list you can create if you want to live in the real world.

Complaining about customers isn’t a path to success.  As in any market with low barriers to entry, you have to stand out from the crowd, distinguish yourself from the pack, make some effort to prove to potential customers that you’re worth the price.  Plenty of mobile games out there have made money, and not just the free to play ones.  If yours wasn’t one… well, you can blame whoever you like and declare life isn’t fair while you’re at it.  But that won’t change reality.

(Hat tip to: What If…)

Addendum: Tim Cushing at TechDirt takes on this story and tears it apart.

15 thoughts on “Quote of the Day – The Problem is You Not Buying My Stuff

  1. bhagpuss

    I agree with every word of that except that I don’t think you went at the idiocy of the quote quite hard enough! That comparison he makes is really beyond parody. He’s holding up the purchase of a drink that he takes to exemplify willful, thoughtless self-indulgence, not to highlight how that money could be put to better use in some context that he might argue is more meaningful socially or politically but to suggest the money would be better spent on a game to be played on a mobile phone. If you google “lack of perspective” this quote is what you’ll get. Well, it should be.

    Has it occurred to him that people playing games on mobile phones don’t feel their time, energy or emotional investment justifies, or is ever likely to justify, spending more than a pittance on them? For the most part it’s the entertainment equivalent of reading the label on the back of a sauce bottle, isn’t it? People used to read freesheets on the bus or do wordsearches. Now they play match three games on their phones. They’re going to pay $40 for that?

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Well yes, one can go after the absolute absurdity of questions presented in the format of “why would you spend money on X when Y is a thing?” and turn it right back on him. Why would I spend money on a video game when there are people in the world going hungry?

    And the pumpkin spice latte… ever the favored target these days… at least reliably provides a stimulant that often helps people get through the day. Plunking down 99 cents, or five dollars, or 40 dollars, or however much on a game does not guarantee any level of enjoyment whatsoever. I offer my Steam library as exhibit A in the regard. Lots of games in there with less than an hour of play on them.

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  3. anon

    I actually had to check I was reading TAGN, this seems to have strung a few chords with you, since you swore more than usual (y’know, hardly any).

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @anon – My theory is that if I save them up for when I really need them, expletives have more impact.

    Of course, my writing self should probably share that idea with my speaking self, as my speaking self seems to drop them at rather trivial events.

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  5. rcurrie

    @anon – I did exactly the same thing. Had to double check I was on the right feed.

    Totally agree, absurd is an understatement.

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  6. Ben Kennedy

    I agree that berating your customers for not buying your product is tacky. However, I do think there is something psychological going on with mobile games. Somehow, I actually feel somewhat ashamed to spend money (all of about $40 over my life). It could be because I don’t want to identify as part of the “pay to win” system, so I’d rather stubbornly pay nothing. But I know I’m not afraid to spend money on games, as I played WoW for a long time and I’m happy to plunk down money for a Diablo expansion. So I do think there is a riddle here that needs explaining

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  7. Helistar

    Well another source of the problem is the F2P/pay comparison. As TAGN correctly mentions, if you search on the app store you find a ton of apps matching your search. When in doubt, you check the free one, which is probably shit…. a badly designed buggy paywalled piece of crap. Logical conclusion? They all are like this, except for the other one I’ll find out AFTER I paid money. Final result: 1) goodbye 2) if you really want the app, stick to the free one, shit for shit at least this is FREE shit!
    Ah, of course the paid one is probably an excellently designed bug-free piece of code…. but you’ll never find out….

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  8. ibaien

    buying a full-priced game allows you to psychologically associate yourself with a community of ‘sophisticated gamers’, whereas buying a shitty app associates you with the kind of ‘losers’ who play shitty apps.

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  9. SynCaine

    Fully agree on the statements around the quote, especially the part about Nintendo and Pokemon. This dev can get back to me when he creates something as entertaining and mass-market as Pokemon.

    My biggest issue is he calls his game niche, but despite his ‘niche’ game getting prime time exposure from Apple/Google, and the reviews being good, he still didn’t make money. That’s 100% on you. If you make a niche product, your business plan can’t be “Make CoC money or die”. I mean seriously, his studio spent 4 years working on a niche mobile game? What did you think was going to happen, short of a .01% chance of being the next Minecraft? You never gave yourself a chance for success, regardless of what you actually created.

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – I actually went and looked at the game, Battlestation: Harbinger, in the App Store. The reviews, based on stars alone, are good. But when you read the reviews, you run across a lot of “good game, but…” four star reviews.

    The description of the game also emphasizes its “premium” value and the fact that it is yours to keep and play forever once you buy it, without any in-game purchases required, hearkening back to his complaint about people preferring the transitory experience of a coffee over his premium game. He seems to seriously believe that this is the game’s selling point.

    The App Store already tells me elsewhere if an app has in-app purchases, so why is he wasting his limited initial description space going on about a business model? Talk of business model is a red flag to a lot of people, and even if it isn’t, that isn’t what we want to know about, that isn’t why we buy games. By the time it actually starts on the game itself, it gets cut off. It is a space opera something that is like FTL. Reading that reminded me that FTL is also in the App Store, so I went and bought it instead.

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  11. SynCaine

    I almost bought it just to see if the game itself was actually good, because I suspect its not that great. As tough as finding things in the app store can be, more often than not truly great games do get noticed and get the attention they should.

    I also think constantly talking about his game vs a cup of coffee is a bit off. SquareEnix mobile games are priced at $15, because those games are ‘premium’ games. Your $5 game doesn’t scream premium to me.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – I am actually a bit miffed at Polygon for even posting this. Not only is it a big whine about how customers, competitors, and the market have caused his problems (wasn’t him surely) but it is also pretty much a beg/shill for his Kickstarter to port his not-selling-very-well game to Mac/Windows. It feels like it should have a banner above it declaring “Advertisement” or some such, like those fake news articles in Time magazine or the newspaper or those other archaic mediums that still linger about my house.

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  13. Fenjay

    Replying only because one of the comments reminded me of a conundrum I have with F2P games. Each time I play one that I genuinely enjoy (Hearthstone, Clash of Clans) I intend to buy some token amount of stuff so that I can show my support to a developer that deserves it. Yet, to my discredit, I have never actually followed through on it.

    At the same time, if these “whales” (as he calls them in the article) actually exist that spend thousands of dollars on F2P games, that makes me supremely uncomfortable too. Even hundreds, or the high tens, smacks of addiction. The idea that a whole ecosystem of gaming rests on milking certain addicts for cash so the rest of us can waste time on the bus seems very problematic.

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  14. Tasserski

    I can sort of understand arguing about whether or not its a good thing the guy sort of blames his customers, but he’s right you know. We all would like there to be a market for quality games on the mobile, and that all that existed for the platform would not be casual games with the very few exceptions (such as CoC) from big companies that already had the cash to get them to the top of the list.
    Do you know how much Supercell pours into internet online ads alone per day? Over one and a half million, which can be multiple times the budget of a small company. Currently, it is nearly impossible to get into the mobile market as a new, small company.
    The issue is partly psychological. First off, there’s the top lists, which people mainly look at, and getting to the top requires massive amounts of either money or LUCK (going viral, being there at the right time, etc.) Second, when people make comparisons of games, trying to decide which one to buy, they will not compare the price tag to their income, but in relation to the other games displayed on the same page. A one dollar game by a big company is usually going to win over a 3 dollar game by a small company. But then, when already playing a game, the player may well be ready to put a those 3 dollars into an in-game boost or something of the like because there’s nothing to compare that 3 dollar price tag to inside the game’s own shop.
    So sure, the guy may seem a little arrogant, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t really angry towards customers – he’s just being provocative. The thing is, he is totally right, the mobile market is nearly impossible to get into as a small developer right now unless you strike it really, really lucky, and that’s no matter how good your game is. Not that I’d know how good his game is, though.

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  15. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tasserski – He has some valid points, but no, he is not right. His argument is that he has failed (laying people off) and that the market needs to adapt to suit him rather than the other way around.

    Yes, the mobile market is a mess. I have complained about that myself. But, as I said in my post, that is what you get when there is low barrier to entry in a market. That was obvious a few years back when he got into this game and nothing he said in his entire post is going to change that.

    Basically his post was a big bitch fest about the world not treating him like he thinks he deserves without any sort of solution that didn’t involve somebody else fixing his problem for him. And you know why? Because there is no solution. Or no solution that won’t just cut out indie devs. (Because unfortunately “indie” is often synonymous with “crap.”) There is no market where a small game dev can be secure in making the money they think they should. History is full of examples of video game genres that were popular and lucrative and which subsequently were overrun by cheap copies and finally dominated by a few big money players that could afford to differentiate via technical advancement and brand loyalty. Shooters. MMOs. Facebook games. Steam.

    The only places where prices are supported is on consoles where the hardware manufacturer rigidly controls who gets on their system, and then takes a big cut of the money. Devs are already annoyed that the App Store is a walled garden (and therefore not as big a mess as the Android store), do you think Apple being even more selective would make anybody happy? Because Apple isn’t going to cut out EA or King or any of the players with big advertising budgets.

    I’m not unsympathetic, but arguing that game devs deserve a market that allows them to make money is unrealistic. And devs who start shaking their fist at their potential customers aren’t being provocative, they’re just proving they are in the wrong line of business.

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