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The Dollar Dilemma – iPhone Games, How Much Is Too Much?


As I grow up and inevitably spend more and more time commuting to and from responsibilities like work, social events and dog pedicures – the games I spend most of my time playing also change. While in my youth (he says at the tender old age of 23) I focused mainly on console games or sitting entranced at my PC for hours on end, due to availability and a lack of a decent handheld gaming device (I refuse to pay for a PS Vita just so I can play Gravity Rush) I have slowly gravitated towards playing games on my phone more and more.

Sure, quality may suffer (although not always, Infinity Blade as an exception to the rule) but these bite-sized gaming sessions help make me through a long day and get back home where I can jump into something a bit more fully-fledged. And deciding which minute-by-minute diversion will be taking up these gaming sessions is a complicated process.

When I'm buying a game for console or PC, I generally am operating off months of prior knowledge. If you are looking for it, you really can't miss the signs of a big game coming in this day and age, and you generally know what you want before you can get it and get it as soon as you possibly can. Those decisions are easy.

Deciding whether or not to pay 8$ so I can play Chaos Rings on my iPhone? That's a bit more complex.

As iOS games have developed into an actual market, it's been interesting watching the way the prices have changed. While initially virtually everything was $2 or $3 with a “lite” version available, around the time of Angry Birds there was a marked shift in game pricing. Almost over night every “popular” game like Plants Vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, Cut the Rope and others became $1 titles – which went on to sell millions and assumedly make their developers very happy people.

Then a couple years later microtransactions became the hot topic, and games like Smurf Village suddenly were the top of the “highest grossing” list in the app store. Whether this was because people prefer to spend their money in tiny pieces which stack up overtime or because games like that are inherently deceptive in the way they urge you to spend – so much so that you end up spending money accidently – I'll leave for you to decide.

So the state of iPhone games as it is, is an interesting one. You have the “dinosaurs” who existed way back before this “modern pricing” mumbo jumbo, a score of highly successful one dollar titles and then a veritable orgy of microtransactions waiting just around the corner. Keeping all of this in mind, it can be complicated to answer the simple questions “how much should I be spending?”

Unfortunately, there is no consistent rule for this as things are. As with any title, I end up spending a lot of time researching before I spend my money – even if it's only a choice between $1 and $2.

Obviously big titles like the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City remake or Infinity Blade and it's sequel are worth shelling out extra for – and this is a mixture between quality and quantity. But if this is a smaller title by a developer I likely haven't heard of, like the critically acclaimed endless-sword-runner God of Blades, it can really be tough to make the jump from a “safe” price of $1 to a less convential $2.99.

And for games which seem to ignore the pricing system things are even worse. I remember reviewing Luxor 2 a few years back when given a review copy, and despite the quality of the title I had to bring up the fact that nobody is going to pay $4 for an egyptian, high-def reskin of Bubble Bobble.

Where does this leave us? Well as I said a few paragraphs back, there isn't really a way to fix this. The iPhone (and I assume, Android) market is so fluid, with such a wide variety of people contributing ideas and such a wide variety of people consuming them, that it's virtually impossible to decide exactly where you are going to get your moneys worth.

The only advice I can really give is the obvious: check screenshots to see how much was spent on development, if it looks like a console game it probably costs about $10 and can be tricky to know if its worth the investment; read the reviews, wade past the paid ones which say things like “great game, I love it! 5 stars) and find out what people don't like about it – this is always very telling; and google any names you don't recognise and find out exactly what “the word on the street” is about what you are buying.

Hopefully we will get to a point where games price stabilize on the mobile platform and we can actually get an idea of what we are buying based on the pricetag, but as things are all we can do is play it by ear.

… but I would stay clear of microtransactions. That's how you end up with an $800 phone bill for buying too many Smurf Berries.

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