Is the App Store a digital McDonalds?

The App Store vs McDonalds

There has been a lot of discussion over the price of iPhone games in the App Store recently, both online and offline. Recently I was reading a forum post over on TouchArcade titled ‘The App Store is McDonalds’. It centered around very interesting topic in that much like fast food, mobile games too, are cheap and fast.

Does the App Store serve fast food?

Is this good? Well from a consumers point of view, yeah you can get cheap or even free iPhone games. But from a mobile game developers point of view, not so much. Some developers don’t mind and only do this as a hobby, some developers have the backing of big publishers and make up for profits by selling millions of copies. But for a growing number (myself included) of mobile game developers are doing this full time, and not selling millions of copies we can’t live like this forever.

How do we create quality games again and again that don’t pay the bills? We can either cut corners and make lower quality smaller games (not really an option imho) or find a better solution.

What can you buy for $0.99?

I can buy heaps a McDonalds you say! Sure, but if you ate that cheap fast food day in and day out, how well would you feel? So perhaps I should ask, what can you eat for $0.99 that you would eat everyday? Probably not much, I should think that a bit of variety would be good.

Variety doesn’t always come as the same cost, and we currently have an expectation for it to be that way for mobile games. Take a look at other online game delivery services for consoles or desktop computers, Steam for instance. They have a number of cheap categories, which start at $5 and go up from there. People understand that cheaper games are just that, while the more expensive titles generally give you more content and this is an accepted practise. But if you try this on the mobile app stores, you’d be ripping people off in the consumers eyes.

So what good is there in free iPhone games?

Ok sure, it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe I am being a little pessimistic. The cheap / free iPhone games have done a lot for the gaming industry as a whole. Go to a populated place, like an airport terminal for instance. How many people are playing games on their iPhones? How many of those people would you have pegged as gamers in another setting, like an office board room? Exactly…

Apple’s App Store and the iPhone platform has brought gaming to the masses, selling more devices faster than even the Nintendo DS. This has allowed a lot of people who may not otherwise play computer games at all to get gaming! So there is good in that we have a much larger market in the casual gamer here.

Where the problem lays here is in the expectation of cheap or free mobile games, it not only makes it hard for developers to earn. But by people thinking that mobile games should be like this, they feel like they are not getting their moneys worth if they are more expensive. This can lead to lower sales, bad rep and in some cases piracy. C’mon guys, what’s a few dollars for a decent game?

The gaming industry needs to address this in order to grow. And in some ways this is already occurring with things like the freemium model and in app purchases, though new to consumers and not always accepted, it seems to be more favorable to $5 or even $10 games. So this could well be an area that changes developers and consumers expectations alike.

Are free games for iPhone the future?

Ok, so let me turn this on it’s head. Perhaps it is the game developers who have got this wrong. After all iPhones or even mobile phones in general are a utilitarian device and a fashion accessory as a close second (for most people). What I mean by this is that it’s all about the cheap call plan with free things thrown in like car kits and other cheapies. So should it really come as a surprise that people want the same from the software on their iPhones?

What was that rule about business? The customer is always right? We certainly can’t force people to pay for what we think are better games. We are the providers but we don’t call the shots on how much people will pay, just what we ask for our games. Any product is only worth what some one is willing to pay for it after all.

I think this is what the freemium model is attempting to address. It does after all allow people to download free games, try them out and choose if they want to spend some money or not. I also think this is a much better solution to the free (lite) / paid versions of games we are seeing a lot of.

Why? Well first of all for the developer you only need to support one code base, for the customers it means only a single download as this model can be replicated with the freemium one. But further to that, depending on the implementation of the freemium model people don’t have to pay to get the whole game if they dont want to. They can earn it or buy it. It’s a win, win because some people will never buy your game but they will download it for free.

After all, isn’t developing games about making your customers happy? So the greater reach the better!


Don’t get me wrong, I think there definitely is a place for the free iPhone games as well as paid $0.99+ iPhone games. The app store has created a whole new genre of casual games, which is still in it’s infancy and it’s going through growing pains right now. Both developers and consumers need to find a level playing field, and they are beginning to do so.

Want to read more? The check out these posts that inspired me to rant a little ‘The App Store is McDonalds‘ and ‘Indie Game pricing pressures‘.

It just seems as though we all need to find the right solution, wethers it’s freemium or higher price categories or both I am not sure. But I am looking forward to finding out :-)


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