Stoic: Apple is frustrated with App Store pricing

The Banner Saga dev claims that Apple shares concern about the dominance of free games

The Banner Saga developer Stoic has claimed that Apple is as frustrated as the development community with the race-to-zero mentality that pervades the mobile app economy.

Speaking to Polygon, Stoic co-founder John Watson described the difficulty of setting a reasonable price-point for the forthcoming iPad version of The Banner Saga - a game that was designed from the beginning with touch interfaces in mind.

"Apple is frustrated, along with everybody else, about the mentality that's gone rampant in mobile app markets, where people don't want to pay anything," he said.

"They think that four dollars is an exorbitant amount to pay for a game, which is very illogical considering most people's lifestyles. They'll spend $600 on an iPad, and $4 on a coffee, drop $20 on lunch, but when it comes to spending four or five dollars on a game, it's this life-altering decision. I'm frustrated with that too."

Fellow co-founder Arnie Jorgensen said that the launch of the iPad Air, and the sort of performance it offers, has prompted Apple to combat the trend by encouraging developers to, "push it."

"So they're telling us to go higher-end with our game," Jorgensen said. "We're still making those decisions."

Stoic released The Banner Saga: Factions for iOS earlier this year. It was multiplayer only and free-to-play, but it was intended as an early look at the full game's combat mechanics ahead of its full release. According to Jorgensen, the limited monetisation options Stoic included received scant interest from players.

"I've often said, and I really believe this, we could have made as much, if not more, if we had put a tip jar on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen."

More stories

“We set out to make this trilogy. We can't leave the story unfinished”

Stoic co-founder John Watson on the dangers of taking your community for granted, and regrouping after The Banner Saga 2's underwhelming launch

By Matthew Handrahan

Banner Saga 2 delayed to 2016

Release date moves from 2015, "will update everyone on its launch date when the timing is right"

By Rachel Weber

Latest comments (18)

Rolf Klischewski Founder & CEO, gameslocalization.com7 years ago
Apple is frustrated, along with everybody else, about the mentality that's gone rampant in mobile app markets, where people don't want to pay anything
So, how much did Stoic pay for their localizations then?
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop7 years ago
"Apple", a public traded multi-national company, isn't frustrated or concerned. Some number of Apple employees might be.

If they really wanted to affect a change, they easily could, with some simple changes to App Store layouts and what charts they promoted to people and pick as editor's choices & other featured slots. How many features have Clash / Candy Crush had, when they release new content? The last three editor choices on ipad in the UK have been f2p.

Ultimately Apple makes a tiny fraction of its income from App Store revenue (seem to remember it's around 1%), the purpose of the App Store is to give people reasons to buy their hardware, which means giving people what they want. And what they want is often free.
20Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media7 years ago
@Rolf - Yay for double standards!
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (18)
Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 7 years ago
this is what the F2P model has made people into, people that dont want to pay anything for gaming.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop7 years ago
You've got your cause & effect back to front there, Aleksi.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief7 years ago
I also think that the quote above is about something else. You should either be free or expensive. Low priced (particularly 99c) is the worst of all possible worlds. It means you don't believe enough in your game to make it free (where you only earn money if people stick around and enjoy it) or to charge a high price for it (a signal in a crowded marketplace that you believe your product is valuable).

So I think the feedback here is "go free or go expensive", and I fully endorse that recommendation.
11Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 7 years ago
So I think the feedback here is "go free or go expensive", and I fully endorse that recommendation.
Are there any titles that are both? That is, giving the consumer a choice of free but with IAP or expensive but with no IAP? Or is that an impossible situation from a design/mechanics perspective?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Rolf Klischewski Founder & CEO, gameslocalization.com7 years ago
Well, you often have the option to remove in-app ads via an IAP.

As far as I know, higher priced iOS games such as the Final Fantasy ports, XCOM or Civ Rev 2 do rather well. Keep in mind that we're catering to a highly heterogenic group of consumers here. Some people will never ever spend money on a mobile game (or any game, mind you), some people have a fixed threshold of maybe 2 quid and some people will spend 10 quid or more on games they fancy.

And then, of course, there are people who fork out a lot of money IAP's. And for each of them, that particular business model works, so devs have to make them work on their side, too.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Caspar Field Consultant, Talk Management7 years ago
Hi Morville. I think Infinity Blade was in that kind or space for a while (or maybe the second one was, at least), where it was, like $6-7, and totally playable like that, but also had IAP if you wanted them. My impression is that it did really well; but also impossible to disentangle that 'doing really well' from the impact of its visuals (at the time) on its profile and sales.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mark Jessup Creative Director, TinkerHouse Games7 years ago
I think you're already seeing this shake out in the industry but over time it will be even more clear: indie studios will put out fixed-price games and go back to making entire play experiences for that fixed price point. And that price will be, to Nicholas' point above, greater than .99 - 4.99.

Meanwhile, the huge AAA and other well-established studios that can afford to gamble on F2P will continue to do so.

The two strata (to oversimplify) will be fixed-price, indie productions with deeper, more self-contained gameplay presented with varying degrees of polish, alongside high-end productions with relatively shallow gameplay monetized with IAP.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad outcome. The consumer can pick their experience and comfort level of pay, but as developers we can decide what to pursue *and* have a reasonable chance of getting compensated if we make a good game.

I will freely admit to being terrible at designing F2P games even though I don't view them with the same animosity some do. What I did hate was having no choice. Like you were a fool for even thinking of charging upfront in the mobile space. If it's not F2P you were just wasting your time.

It's coming back around. Thank God.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Anthony Chan7 years ago
Hate to sound like I am bashing on the Indies, but Rolf does have a point in the sense big names can charge for their games and still do well. Mind you there are paid Indie games that also do quite well, Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, and Fruit Ninja do come to mind . However, without the intrinsic value of an IP (like Call of Duty), its hard to persuade buyers to take a risk and pay for a game that is really just for passing time while in commute or sitting on the toilet, when there are so many forgettable games that are available for free.

It would be noted though, most "whales" who spend and spend in a F2P game because they don't view it as a simple time-waster, would wish their games were just one time pay for like 50 bucks, but I guess, we can't have it both ways.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 7 years ago
I think it might be worthwhile to have a look at why some PC games appear to work very well and profitably as FTP, and what makes the mobile world different. Depth of play, perhaps?

In the past couple of years I've put something like $1200 in to World of Tanks, which is pretty dramatic. (For reference, my yearly gaming budget is about $2000, including all hardware and software.) From one point of view that seems ridiculous to me, but on the other hand, it's also given me well over half my time spent gaming in the last two years, so, logically at least, I can't say I didn't get good value from it.

(Oh, and this isn't any kind of insane "whale" spending, either; I would still be a 95th-percentile or so player even on a free account. I put over 300 hours in to a second free account to prove just that to myself.)
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Julian Toseland games podcaster/website 7 years ago
The F2P mechanic on the App store, is, and has in someway, killed the App store for me, and changed the way I completely use it now.
Back in the day, few "free" games were there, and I spent a bit checking out, and playing some of the priced games, and had fun and enjoyment.
Then came the "bane of all evil" in my opinion, and that is "In App Purchases", it has single handily ruined the whole experience of the app store, so much so from checking the store just about daily, I couldn't tell you when I last browsed.

Judging by my mailbag on our podcast, a lot more core gamers out there feel the same to, its killing it, week after week were hearing stories of kids spending stupid amounts of cash on these IAP's, and were promised stiffer penalties and warnings are supposed to be in there.

And yet its the same drivel that's churned out, and for me, this is were the problem lies, and this story beggars belief for me, how on earth can "Apple" them selves be upset...?, do something about it then, its your store for gods sake, stop letting rubbish through...that's whats killed it for me.

TBH, it doesn't bother me now anyway, because I just don't use it, but its been allowed to take over, and I think now will be very hard to cure anyway...
One good thing could come out of this, the great developers may start to shift back to the console store, and charge a few dollars for there games, that maybe a far better option for them now days, as both big consoles are offering Indie developers some good opportunities.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christopher Ingram Editor-at-Large, Digitally Downloaded7 years ago
I've always wondered why F2P games don't have a "tip jar" included within them. I've played quite a few 'freeware' indie games on iOS that I'd easily have dropped a few bucks towards the developer, had it included the option to do so.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd7 years ago
We've heard similar things from other developers, that Apple is trying to seed some higher price categories (see the recent featuring of Civ Rev 2 and Monster Hunter at $14.99 USD).

The comparison to a cup of coffee is still faulty logic though. Apple are serving an audience who are in the main not committed games hobbyists. $5 is a risk to them because they need absolute assurance that they will be entertained. They are oversupplied by games that meet their needs (to fill idle time) at prices between $0 - $5.

Fighting against this is self-defeating. Threes, VVVVVV, Monument Valley, Ridiculous Fishing and The Room listened to their potential customers, priced fairly, and have been rewarded many times over. Games that have bucked the trend (with extremely few exceptions - e.g. Minecraft or Monster Hunter which have vast existing fanbases and guarantee experiences many times deeper than the average) have fizzled. Apple may want to get people paying $20 for mobile games regularly, but they have no more power to make this happen than anyone else.

"You want it to be one way, but it's the other way."
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Stephen Richards Game Deisgner 7 years ago
I can only imagine the people in Apple who are frustrated are not the people in charge of the app store. I could list so many ways Apple could improve visibility for higher priced games.

I'm not talking anything special here. A couple of obvious examples:

- When searching by keyword you can filter to free-only but not paid only. (Never mind within a higher price range!)
- There is a top grossing chart but not a top grossing paid chart.

And then as people have noted, Apple likes to promote lots of free titles on its featured pages while making natural discoverability very difficult.

The fact that app revenue accounts for a small percentage of Apple's profits does not itself incline them to any particular price tier. It means they want the best and most popular software on their devices and there's no reason Apple couldn't promote more expensive titles to show off their hardware, as they do with infinity blade. They needn't be worried about how much consumers spend, but quality still matters.

If only Google, Amazon or Microsoft realised this, we could have a market competing for the highest quality rather than the lowest price.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Christian B Senior Product Lead, Aeria Games Europe7 years ago
Well.. I believe Apple is precautious regarding governmental restrictions. However, mobile app gaming seems to be a quick fix for many and the better developers get their audience hooked the more revenues these apps will make in the long run, given they manage to get millions of players. Letīs state some facts:
- ppl. are not willing to pay before they know what they get, back in the days there were demo versions of games, if I liked the free demo, Iīd buy the game (and if necessary new hardware along)
- on the other hand, ppl. are willing to support alphas, kickstarters, you name it, as long as they feel as if they were part of the development process
How come these behaviours are so paradox? The second one is a true experience that goes beyond the quick fix and it makes ppl. feel as if they were part of something bigger a community, An experience that truly provides a benefit to their day to day lives. Itīs the community, the social experience, the prospect of an application being more than just a game that can make a difference. At least thatīs what I believe.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Christian B on 29th July 2014 9:13am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd7 years ago
And then as people have noted, Apple likes to promote lots of free titles on its featured pages while making natural discoverability very difficult.
Apple promotes more premium games than free.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.