Tête-à-tête: Are $15 mobile games worth the investment?

Daniel Bader

January 20, 2014 5:31 pm

Welcome to Tête-à-tête, a new series where two of our writers remark on interesting topics in the mobile landscape — through chat. This week, we take a look at two recently-released $15 mobile games and ask ourselves, are they worth the investment?

Douglas Soltys: Baldur’s Gate 2 is available for iPad and Final Fantasy VI is now available on Android. Both games are retailing for around $15, well above the average game price for each app store. As a 30 year old male, and thus a gamer old enough to have played both games the first time, I am conflicted about this development for many reasons.

I can still remember the exact moment I first watched FFVI’s opening scene, and now have the ability to play the game for about 1/4 its original cost (cartridges were expensive!) essentially wherever I want. But I am reticent to pay multiple times for games I already own, and $15 is about $15 more than anything I’ve paid for on a mobile app store.

Daniel Bader: Right, $15 is a lot of money for a mobile game, mainly because we’ve been trained to believe that there is a huge gulf between console and mobile platforms. Companies like Square Enix are using iOS and Android to reinvigorate beloved aging franchises to not only introduce novice gamers to the content for the first time but to make it far easier to carry on a game wherever you are.

Over the holidays, I bought XCOM: Enemy Unknown for iOS, a $19.99 (on sale for $9.99 at the time, but still) game that attempts (and succeeds) to offer an identical experience to its console equivalents. With the increasing prevalence of insidious in-app purchase models, I’d rather pay $20 for a full game, knowing that the developers won’t lock away half the game before I pony up dollars for some proprietary currency. It’s a matter of confidence and consistency, two aspects of mobile gaming I no longer believe in.

Douglas: In-app purchases and free-to-play games are a non-starter for me, because they generally lead to empty calorie gaming experiences, and as such, are doomed to be interim blip until a new payment model emerges. Until that happens, developers are caught between a rock and a hard place, because gamers are weary of paying $15+ for a traditional gaming experience, or paying anything for a casual game experience.

I don’t begrudge you paying $20 for XCOM on iOS – it’s a great game, and one that works as a mobile experience. But I’ve already paid for XCOM (and its expansion) on my XBOX 360, and I’m unwilling to pay again just to have it with me on the go, even though I recognize the extra effort Firaxis put into getting it on iOS.

Here’s an interesting question: why are we even paying for games per device at all? I’m now on record as being very excited for PlayStation Now, but even if it fails, I think a Netflix-subscription model is preferable in a world where every device is now a game machine. Let Sony negotiate the content deal with Firaxis, and let me either subscribe to the service or single titles (or publishers) individually. I just want to pay once, knowing XCOM will be ready to go on whatever screen I have in front of me.

Daniel: I like the term empty calorie gaming, but all freemium games are not devoid of substance; a great developer knows how to balance the core gameplay, which should always be free, and the bonuses, which can cost money. Need vs. want.

When great games that cost good money get ruined by the insidious form of free-to-play — think EA’s disastrous reboot of Dungeon Keeper, or most of EA’s oeuvre for that matter — it makes the industry look bad. But I’ve been addicted to Betawork’s Dots for months without paying a cent, and would probably be happy to throw the developer a few bucks for their trouble.

Just as we’ve seen this week, all game developers — even the formerly-infallible ones like Nintendo — need to own up to the fact that smartphones and tablets are eating them for breakfast. I’d be happy to pay $20 for a great Mario or Super Smash Bros experience on the iPad, for example. Square Enix and Sega have already made the transformation, and while console still comprise a good portion of their sales, mobile is the next frontier for them.

The Netflix for games model won’t work so long as the platforms themselves — the Xboxes, PlayStations, iOSes and Androids — yield the distribution power. Apple reportedly pays developers for exclusives, or works with studios to make development easier, and both Sony and Microsoft do the same for their systems. Google would be the obvious choice to work with game developers on a monthly game subscription model, but the great high-quality games would need to be there from the start.

It’s early days, too, in the mobile world: smartphones and tablets are just now approaching the processing capabilities of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so the landscape for high-quality mobile games could be very different a year or two from now.

Either way, I want to see the poison leeched from the mobile gaming landscape, with punitive free-to-play being the first to go. Unfortunately, with over 90% of developer revenue coming from in-app purchases, that isn’t like to happy anytime soon. The great titles we do have selling for $15 — mostly remakes, or ports of console games — are the ones I’m going to buy, both to support the developers, and to ensure I have great content that isn’t going to nag me to buy tokens halfway through a level.

  • J-Ro

    I love gaming and wouldn’t mind doing it remotely but I find the phone and tablet awkward. I bought GTA Vice City (which I regret) for tablet and could hardly enjoy it like I did on the console. This lead me to re-purchase it on my ps3 and enjoy it at home. I know they will come out with many gaming devices for mobile to get rid of this experience but I can’t imagine myself on the bus with a kick stand and a bluetooth controller playing the latest FF installment.

    I think mobile gaming is great for those that have never played the games for console originally and aren’t in a position to own a console. Otherwise, there is nothing like the old school console and TV combo.

    • Laer

      I think you’d change your position possibly if you had good controller support?

      I go everywhere with my ps3 controller, it’s part of the Standard load out.

      What is lacking is a lack of quality games with controller support. I’m absolutely willing to play a game like bard’s tale, essentially IAP free, and I’m willing to pay standard white label game pricing. So maybe up to 10-15 bucks.

      Game companies like Nintendo could do very well running Netflix subscription like service. I think retro gaming could really sky rocket with the right model and light handed monetization.

    • J-Ro

      That’s the problem for me. I don’t want so many devices on hand when I travel. I am the type of person that doesn’t like to carry change because it’s too cumbersome. A PS3 control and/or a tablet for better viewing would annoy the heck out of me.

      Like I said in my original post. I think mobile gaming is great but only great as an alternative to someone that doesn’t own any consoles for any specific reason.

  • Ceribaen

    Honestly, I’d be more willing to give the Squenix games a go at their 10-15 price points if it wasn’t for the fact that you never know if/when they’ve tossed in an online only requirement (ie no playing it in airplane mode) or a root check/disable (which they’ve also done in the past), or any of the other nuisances they’ve been known to add which make it difficult to play whenever and wherever you want on Android.

    • Laer

      In addition to that, Google needs to go back to the 24hr refund system, or let devs choose.

      You can’t install these games and download the huge data packs and test for an hour. The refund window is long long gone.

  • Daniel Szilagyi

    you also have to remember the whole point of a mobile game, it’s not about playing an hour long epic quest, sure there is the games out there for that but most of the time I just want something that is quick, fun and you can put down and resume later.

    some great examples are Kingdom Rush ( because you can do the fast or longer rounds ) Dropchord, Dots, Sonic Dash etc

    If I’m paying for a game and it costs more then $10 it better well be worth my money on mobile then, either in game play, content or re-play value

    • Deddyman

      Not all Mobile gaming needs to be done on a smartphone. The majority of my Android games are played on my tablet, on the couch, in the bathroom, on a bus or plane, etc.

      I’m more than willing to shell out good money for a full sized gaming experience, even if it is a port of an older console game.

    • Daniel Szilagyi

      Well phone or tablet the point is it’s still mobile and are meant to be played well your on the move.
      Doesn’t mean the game can’t be feature rich and full though

      If you want a full experience then I might say why not a DS? PSP Vita? or even a Xbox or PS? the reason I play mobile games on my phone or tablet is because I’m passing time on the bus or train, if I want a fuller and more rich experience I’ll buy a console version of that game or at least a handheld

    • Deddyman

      I do have a 3DS, and an Xbox One and a gaming PC. Different games/systems for different situations and what type of game I feel like playing.

      My phone games are played while standing in line for something or when I only have a few minutes. If I know I’m going to be sitting down or waiting for 30 minutes+ then I will bring my tablet or 3DS, but they have very different games on them with very different game play and sometimes I prefer one over the other.

    • kroms

      EXACTLY. Well said. I agree. AND you don’t kill your phones battery.

    • J-Ro

      That’s my point. If I really wanted to play an good game, I would get a handheld that’s sole purposes in to play games. I have tried playing console type games on the phone and tablet and the experience was horrible for me.

      This new mobile gaming craze just seems like a new way for developers to get money from old ports. I am seeing games upwards of 10 to 15 dollars. When the same games cost $10 or less on the psn.

    • kroms

      When Im home I never use my tablet to play a game , thing about it. Are you THAT bored that you play a game on your TABLET at home ?
      Any game played on your Tablet will never compare to playing it on your PC , LAPTOP , Ps3/4 , XBox , Wii, …. I mean come one.
      Games on Mobile Devices are just Time killers. Like when your out and have to wait for something , like at the Doctors office waiting to be called.
      Thats it.

    • Deddyman

      If that is your opinion of Android games all I can say is that maybe you haven’t tried playing the right ones. Most (not all) of the games I play on my tablet are not just mindless time wasters like Bubble Blast or Bejeweled.

      Some of the games I play are full digital versions of awesome board games (Small World 2, Ticket to Ride), some are touch version of games I could otherwise play on my PC (Bloons TD 5, Warlight, World of Goo). The list goes on really, some games are better or more “fully featured” than others, but they are all fantastic as a touch screen game, which is the reason I play them on my tablet. Interface is just as important as content when it comes to enjoying a game.

    • Laer

      Often I plug into a large monitor with mhl or sometimes the TV and big stereo. That really takes more serious gaming up a notch. A phone, cable, controller are hyper portable. A TV in any hotel room, or any campus library monitor is now your console. Lol be prepared for jealous and highly irate people regarding the library thing!

  • gommer strike

    Not a chance, $15 mobile games(those meant to be played on your phone) is majorly expensive. And plus – shelling out $15 for a game from the 1990′s, that we all played and finished as teenagers? Nope. Mobile phone gaming is meant to be a fast snack, a fire and forget experience to kill time whilst you’re waiting in line for your coffee or at the doctor’s office.

    You might say “well come you you’d pay $30 for a PS Vita game and you
    wouldn’t do the same for phone game, hyprocrite” – well actually it’s
    not hypocritical. A Nintendo DS, PS Vita, and other mini-consoles are
    dedicated hand-held gaming devices which were specifically designed to
    do only one thing, and one thing very well. With actual controls designed for games, versus an imprecise touch screen(and let’s not even get into the horrible 3rd party controllers for iPhone. They’re really bad).

    • Nachotech

      Completely disagree. You realize virtually every teenager has a cell phone these days right? For teens (or those in their early twenties for that matter) who have never played these games before, 15 bucks is pretty reasonable for titles like Final Fantasy that they could easily get 50+ hours of game time out of. And it’s a lot cheaper than consoles, half the price of portable games like the 3DS, and since they have a phone, anyways, they don’t have to carry around an extra device .

      All you have to do is look at Nintendo’s cratering sales numbers to realize casual gamers are quickly migrating to gaming on their phones, so it’s no surprise we’re going to see more AAA titles that are ported to Android or iOS. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to play these games on a tiny 4″ iPhone screen either, but on a 5″ phone or larger (which is quickly becoming the norm) these games become much more playable and enjoyable

    • gommer strike

      We were all teens once. And like many other teens, my spending income was extremely limited. So what did I do? I pirated games. Every single PC game I played was pirated…from Battle Chess to Wolfenstein 3D, to Ultima 7 – The Black Gate(remember that one?).

      You can download every single SNES ROM, along with a ROM-emulator for mobile phones – free. Talk to any teenager around you who enjoys classic SNES titles, and ask him/her how they play them, and get ready for an ear-to-ear grin.

      No one’s arguing that mobile games aren’t huge. We all know they are. The difference here is, playing a classic title from the 1990′s and shelling out $15 for it, when you can play PvZ 2 for free. And before you say “how dare you compare FFVI, one of the greatest JRPG’s of all time, if not *the* greatest, to PvZ” – the sole thing that these two have in common, and nothing more, is that both are available on mobile phones.

      And of these is free(barring microtransactions, but the game can be completed from beginning to end without spending a single dime).

  • Handheld Addict

    This is a great format, keep it up. Daniel Bader mentions “EA’s disastrous reboot of Dungeon Keeper” but this is the first time I’ve heard about it. Sites like Mobile Syrup need to publicly shame the companies that try to pull schemes like broken games/apps and freemium one click in-app purchases. We’ve seen what bad publicity did to Xbox One, but mobile apps are getting a free pass and have been able to bilk many users out of lots of money. Mobile/tech sites need to out them more readily, not just in passing like they do now.

  • Handheld Addict

    This is the beginning of a scary trend where publishers are seeing if mobile users will be willing to pay “console pricing”. If someone has had a phone for over a year without paying for a single app like what Douglas Soltys is implying, then chances are there is no price low enough for them to commit to. But for those of us who have paid real $$$ for an app (or 3), that’s who these pubs are going after. I don’t like the idea of paying more than $5.00 for a mobile app, maybe because the market has conditioned me this way. I don’t know if I could go so far as $15.00, but if I could get the same deal as Daniel did for XCOM and on Android, maybe I would ;)

  • Mythos88

    I started out buying a lot of mobile games but I’ve gone back to primarily PC gaming. The screen size and the controls just suck in mobile and while a tablet has it all over a phone, I still prefer a PC or console by a wide margin.

  • Mayoo

    They are not

    Chrono isn’t working anymore since 4.3
    FFVI crashes mid-way through the game

    Never had a problem with Asphalt 8, or Reptide GP 2. Ironman 3 had a problem but was fixed. All of these were with 1$ or free and are way more complicated to code.

  • alphs22

    Are they worth it? Not to me but maybe to others.

    Like everything else, it depends on who’s buying.

  • VGA Fred

    I think it depends a lot on the game type, and whether it’s truly suited to a mobile device. I would definitely pay money for something like Civ, Caesar, Roller Coaster Tycoon – provided they did a really good job of designing it for mobile. Especially because they have unlimited playability for the most part. And they would all be great games to get sucked into on a long plane ride. I almost paid $5.99 for Transport Tycoon recently, but a lot of the reviews said that the controls were awkward.

  • ken

    I paid for final fantasy tactics (On sale but still around $10) and am disappointed in the control structure. I find it awkward on my iphone. I am ready to pull out my psp and play it on there upset at the waste of money. Until controls are not so awkward I am not spending that much money on a game for the phone. However, if the controls are great and I am going to get hours and hours of gameplay, its not a bad deal if they promise to support it thru upcoming software upgrades and not disappear after OS 8 for example. Otherwise its physical copies of games for me.

  • kroms

    Waste of Time.

    Anyone who has attempted to use there PHONE and TABLET to play games or use it as a serious gaming Device will eventually learn that it is a waste of money and time.
    Not to mention that I noticed it quickly DRAINED the phones battery and if your OUT and about and need your phone the last thing you want is to find out it died out on your because you played a game.

  • HelloCDN

    I like gaming, but as it happens to all of us, I can hardly find time for it since graduating university and diving into my career development. Therefore, when I do find it, I most certainly would want to spend it on the highest quality gaming, which for me will always be PC.
    Game I have on my smartphone are mostly time killers that cost $3 at the most – the games I would play in the long line-up or waiting to meet someone.

  • someguy

    SNES emulator ???

  • Tom

    I don’t bother with ports of games that play better with physical controls. I’ve bought a few games for Android via humble bundles and only those that are actually developed with a touch screen in mind from the start feel comfortable to play. I remember trying GTA vice city on a friend’s phone – the controls just didn’t feel right at all, versus using a gamepad or keyboard/mouse. And having my thumbs obscure parts of the HUD also spoiled the experience.

    Plus, when I’m on my phone, I prefer to play games that let me feel like I’ve “done something” in 5 minutes or less (e.g. Osmos, Cogs, Angry Birds), rather than a game where I can play for a whole hour and not feel like I’ve “done something” (e.g. almost all the AAA titles in my Steam library and on my x360). Especially when I need to divert my attention from the game often (e.g. waiting at a clinic or bus stop).

    Comparing mobile gaming to PC/console gaming is stupid. Neither is threatening the other. They’re separate markets with separate demographics, and it just happens that quite a few people (including me) can be in both demographics at once.

  • JM

    Steam is a great start for playing PC games anywhere, with steamboxes for the tv, and with windows 8 tablets now every game is payable everywhere.