Race to the Bottom

An interesting article on TTH-Respawn about the Death of Mobile Gaming got me thinking.  Always a dangerous thing, I know.  In the continuing race to the bottom, markets get saturated, value gets inflated, the bubble bursts and then there’s a crash, followed by a renaissance.  It’s a cycle, seen a few times but usually takes a LONG time to come about.  Today’s hyper consuming market is changing that.

To point, mobile games are still relatively young.  A true Android capable platform is only 2-3 years old, iOS about 5.  The original mobile games were exploratory in terms of controls and limited screen real estate.  There was innovation, it was new and with so little competition, it was “easy” to find the gems in the pile.  And today we have (had) Flappy Bird and the literally hundreds of clones.  Now, I don’t have issue with Flappy Bird itself – it was a simple game with no aspirations. I have issue with the market around Flappy Bird.  Issues with Temple Run.  Issues with Clash of Clans.  There is so much garbage in the mobile space today that it’s next to impossible to make money and quality.  Games that were offered for free on PC through Flash now dominate the Paid App Store.  99c for a game doesn’t speak much to value.

This delves into the MMO space too, where the largest glut was a few years ago, the days of Allods Online.  Everyone took WoW, took out the stuff that made it good and sold it for cheaper.  The actual dev cycle for an MMO is measured in years, so it must have been quite the ride to see all these games fail, and fail spectacularly, while you haven’t even released yet.  I won’t go too far into the F2P debate but clearly, the line at which people associate value with product is at a completely different place today than it was even 3 years ago. Quality aside, TESO and Wildstar’s single largest hurdle is public perception of value.

Consoles… I don’t even know where to begin.  Hats off to Call of Duty, FIFA and the NFL for making so much money on the exact same recycled product year after year I guess.  The market for games is so astoundingly atrocious that I can’t name a single XBONE exclusive title that isn’t a rehash.  PS games at least had Naughty Dog.  It’s just so bad that I can’t even bother to pay attention anymore.

That leaves us with the last refuge of the damned – PCs and indies.  Every couple weeks, another game seems to pop up.  Jewel and Murf have been posting/tweeting about Banished lately.  A game that likely never would have heard of if not for the blogging circle.  And it’s not a game that’s free, or one that is so cheaply priced you don’t even think about it.  In fact, the average Steam game tends to be between $10-$15.  The perceived value for that dollar is so drastically different on PCs than other media that it makes you wonder if it’s a completely different target audience.  There’s Free and then there’s Free.

The seemingly unending cycle to pump out crap to be consumed (pushed by large and small groups) is not sustainable.  There’s no money left in mobile outside of IAP – and even there, whales dominates (something like 1.5% of the population pays > 50%).  F2P MMOs aren’t a whole lot different, depending on their model.  Expectations are at a point where the large majority is expecting everything for no cost.  How does that make sense?

In the quest for the last penny, or for all the pennies, it’s remarkable how many developers have lost sight of the true value of games.   Here’s hoping that bottom is found soon.

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