09

Feb

0

How Games Publishers Can Capitalize on iPhone Versions

by Alex Van Lepp

Or 
“How Capcom Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Mobile Games”


The title of this entry is taken from Capcom’s DS and iOS game, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. It is a creative puzzle game that leads players on an “interactive mystery” to catch their murderer, allowing them to manipulate inanimate objects to find clues and change the fate of other people involved in the killing. GTPD, with its unique gameplay and storytelling techniques, was released for the DS in January 2011 to critical accolades and uninspired sales.

Wait, uninspired sales? 

Yep. Through some cruel twist of video game industry fate, the DS version fell quickly on hard times, despite a Metacritic rating of 83 and praise-filled reviews from major online publications, including 1Up, GameSpot and IGN. It even won GameSpot’s award for “Best Game No One Played.” Although I can’t back up this claim, my gut (and experience) tells me that other titles suffering from the all-too-familiar fate of being overlooked would be canned and forgotten 99 percent of the time. Capcom, however, had other plans.

What Capcom did was spend time and resources in turning GTPD into a solid iOS title. Released just last week, the iOS version of the game is already eclipsing the original, with a current rating of 87 on Metacritic and more than 800 five-star user reviews on iTunes. But what was really innovative was the fact that Capcom learned that “freemium” is not a four-letter-word. They offered the first two chapters of the game for free, with the rest of the game available in three installments for $5 each, or a discounted $10 for the bundle.

I played the free chapters, and at the conclusion of what essentially was a lengthy demo, the next thought I had was “shut up and take my money.” And while the gameplay largely justified the purchase, I was positively flabbergasted by Capcom’s forward-thinking move to offer the game on the freemium model.

In general, it seems the major publishers are still trying to figure out how to deal with smart devices. There’s definitely a vast spectrum, with Electronic Arts on the left, shelling out three quarters of a billion-with-a-b dollars for Popcap games to capitalize on Facebook and mobile games, in contrast to Activision on the right, which is too focused on console products to bother with dedicated mobile development. There’s certainly no evident right or wrong at the moment, but discovering mobile business models that work is clearly unlocking successes for developers.

Look at the contrast between GTPD and Namco Bandai’s release of Soul Calibur for iOS. The only way to purchase Soul Calibur for an iOS device is by shelling out $12 – that’s 1200 percent higher than the current average game price and 590 percent higher than the overall average app price. There’s no demo, no lite version, no way to find out if a gamer will like it before spending the full $12. GTPD and other freemium games give limited access to an app, but at the end of it, they give the user the chance to determine whether they want to spend money or not. Also of note, GTPD has more five-star ratings than Soul Calibur has total ratings, despite Soul Calibur’s extra month on the iTunes store. I’d be willing to bet the correlation is due to which game is offered for a free trial.

Capcom is by no means blazing new territory with the mobile version of GTPD, but what they did do was get an overwhelming amount of elements right:

  • It’s not a port for port’s sake. A lot of developers are guilty of this, including Capcom. Their release of Mega Man X for iDevices just wasn’t suited for a smart device that didn’t have a D-pad. GTPD and its mechanics are perfectly suited for iOS touch screens.
  • It has content. A lot of it. I feel one of the most cardinal sins of free-to-play or freemium games is lack of content. GTPD is literally the full DS game, with 17 chapters of puzzles and storylines.
  • The demo forces people to take action. The majority of freemium games take payments for either short cuts in the form of boosters or in-game currency or vanity content. GTPD cuts off the action right before the conclusion of the first act. Gamers are left on a cliffhanger with the option of paying to continue. I feel that the mobile games marketplace is oversaturated with games that you don’t need to pay for, which, while it’s a solid for gamers, doesn’t help a company’s bottom line.

It’s great to see that major publishers are finally starting to catch on to the fact that mobile games are profitable. GTPD is a shining gem of how to take IP and honor it properly on mobile devices, and I sincerely hope we see more attention to detail from publishers who are looking to capitalize on mobile development.

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