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 Banner Saga  dev says Apple is frustrated with race to the bottom
Banner Saga dev says Apple is frustrated with race to the bottom
July 24, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

July 24, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing

"Apple is frustrated, along with everybody else, about the mentality that's gone rampant in mobile app markets, where people don't want to pay anything."
- The Banner Saga developer John Watson

In a new interview with Polygon, Stoic Studio co-founder John Watson tells the site that Apple has been advising the company on its pricing plans for its upcoming iPad port of indie PC hit The Banner Saga.

Surprisingly, it sounds like Apple may be advising the studio to go with premium pricing.

Watson suggests that the tablet maker is frustrated with players who expect to pay little or nothing at all for games. He thinks the company hopes that, at least on tablets, games with "higher-end" production values may resurge at premium prices: "... I think they're hoping developers are going to be using that on iPad Air, because it can push it now. So they're telling us to go higher-end with our game."

One thing is clear, though: The Banner Saga on iOS will not be free, Watson tells Polygon.

However, research by Distimo and Chartboost earlier this year has confirmed that iOS users (across both phones and tablets) have embraced free-to-play: 81 percent of all revenue generated on the App Store comes from in-app purchases. Meanwhile, on Android, App Annie says that freemium apps account for 98 percent of global revenue on Android's Google Play store.

Just last year, however, another high-caliber strategy game found iOS success with premium pricing: XCOM: Enemy Unknown hit the top-grossing charts at launch.

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Jeff Leigh
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If I want to buy some candy, do I need a store the size of a Home Depot? Rows upon rows reaching up toward the ceiling full of candy-buying options?

That is exactly what app stores are right now - *millions* of apps in a world where we don't need 99.999% of them. And the only help customers get sorting this mess out is 'hot' lists and consumer star ratings that.. who knows.

I consider a good store one that has done some of its own homework in identifying the major product lines that customers want and narrowing down their choice for them to best products. A home depot that wasted your time with long aisles featuring 300 different suppliers of 3/4" PVC tubing would be ridiculous. Do I need 300 options when choosing pvc tubing? Do I need 300 options when choosing a tower defense game?

Modern app stores are just ridiculous. Help the customer find the quality products that they actually want, and filter out the noise. That is what a *good store does*.

If Apple (or any other store owners) would be willing to help customers do that - I would applaud them. Steam used to be great for that very reason. Then they started letting in mediocre unfinished stuff.

tony oakden
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spot on! The trouble is of course that curating a store costs a lot of money and creates it's own problems. But if Apple want to see better products on their store, and get more revenue from them (which is obviously what this is about), then they need to put a lot more effort in. I liked it better when Steam was curated. Now that it isn't it's just another free for all.

I recently released one of my games, Tilt And Swipe, for the windows phone and was very disappointed to find that the windows store contains all the same games as the IOS and Android with exactly the same discover-ability problems as the other stores. Seems like Microsoft missed a great opportunity to do something different from the others and instead did the lazy thing e.g. exactly what the others did.

Robert Green
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"The trouble is of course that curating a store costs a lot of money"

Apple made $7.7bn in profit last quarter - I think they've got that part covered.

A couple of other simple steps that might help:
Make the free category what it was supposed to be - actually free apps. A new category for F2P games (which google might be trying soon in Europe) could make a big difference.
Make the top-grossing chart what it was supposed to be - by creating a chart to list the top paid apps by revenue, separate from the top grossing F2P chart.

Adam Bishop
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So you believe Amazon is a bad book store then? They let anyone who wants publish books, and unlike Apple they don't even charge a fee.

Ujn Hunter
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I think that sounds great... the "Free" and "F2P" categories being separate. The problem with this, and the App store in general, is that there is no control over Apps being patched. I've bought Apps that later patched in Ads... or F2P bullshit after the fact... that should be illegal.

Edit: Also, buying an App that works with iOS6 and then they patch it to require iOS7 is crap too. This is why I'm done with Apple when I purchase my next phone.

Mike Lee
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And a curated store would most likely have rejected apps like Flappy and Kim Kardashian, both of are so big they are becoming cultural phenomenons not just games.

The idea that execs at a high level know what is going to be big and will greenlight said apps is the console business model. And that model has delivered us a stale industry where 90% of the revenue comes from sequels like COD and Madden .

The open nature of the app store is the heart of its success, where Disruptive games rise to the top.

I think this would be obvious but games, movies, music, and books are NOT PVC tubing. I've read sci-fi & fantasy my entire life and I do not need an entity like Apple telling me the only sci-fi I need to buy is Divergent.

Andrew Brozek
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But there are problem with both store models. It was only a few years ago that most video game ecosystems were super closed off and only allowed established publishers to release games AT ALL. Nowadays you can see indies and AAA hand in hand on the Xbox/playstation store. But last generation indies had to sell their souls to publishers or be granted special access through something like summer of arcade to get their game out there.

I definitely don't want to go back to the days when only the elite few could release games. Would I make the cut? Would you? What about the burgeoning game scenes in non western countries? It will take time for them to grow, I don't want to nip them in the bud because they can't immediately make the jump to high quality products.

Sure, its kind of crazy right now, but at least its the market making the choices and not the privileged gatekeepers.

Michael Joseph
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Instead of having to rely on one mega store to sort every conceivable product that is available for purchase, you allow many virtual stores to operate in their own niches. Valve's concept of virtual storefronts addresses this.

Nathan Mates
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I wish it was more than just a concept.

Kai Boernert
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Yes I think if they don't introduce it fairly soon, they might loose a good amount of customers.
Cause buying random stuff can be done outside steam just as well (aand often on the developer site its a few percent cheaper as the steam fee is excluded)

Sebastien Vakerics
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Kai the profits for the developer are probably better on their site too for people who care about that.

Sebastien Vakerics
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The Banner Saga is by all accounts a good game, so to ask a premium (actual) price as XCom did seems like a safe bet. However, what does Apple have to lose really by having it sell at that price? If it doesn't sell well (which I would be surprised if it didn't) then Apple will cry into their massive pile of app store money. If The Banner Saga does well, there will be a another example of a well-received premium app that helps erode the image of the app store as a bargain bin, "race to the bottom" ecosystem, if ever so slightly. Apple also makes a percentage of every game on their service, so it's to their advantage to have more expensive games on the app store. Now repeat this process two more times considering Banner Saga is planned as a trilogy, not just one game.

I don't think it's surprising that Apple wants more premium games on their service.

John Flush
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I like a lot of the suggestions mentioned in this discussion. They should have a Free, Ads, F2P, and Paid. But on top of that they should find a way to make 'Premium' look more appealing. They have game collections that help quite a bit and organize by genre. I would love to see something like "Paid" and "Premium" separated out and then the curate the hell out of the "Premium" section. Containing only games that were worth $10+ dollars or something. (and yes I do realize that is subjective to who is paying, but sometimes it is easy to tell - "these games did well on PC at a premium, lets keep them premium when they port over")

I also love the idea of making devs declare their model (from a customer perspective) and if they change their model they have to release a new game and get it approved. I know that is a resurgence of the "lite" and "full" game concept, but I preferred that as a consumer. "lite" = try it out; "paid" = I'm not an a-hole consumer and support the devs. Where "F2P" becomes the consumers choice, but has heavy connotations with it seeming F2P usually requires gameplay / design changes anyhow.

I'm surprised to see Apple even take a stance on this to be honest though. I think they realize their image is slipping and "premium" is how they have always done it. Maybe they have realized that the price of the hardware isn't enough to keep the image they want...

Will Hendrickson
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Okay, this sounds nice. But, we need results, and one of the biggest problems with the App Store is the format, we all know this. Discovery is broken because the App Store is too consolidated.

What players need is an organic and social way of discovering games, without favoring huge companies with gigantic advertising budgets. Otherwise, we will just end up in one of two places: A digital version of Game Stop (very few titles, all by big companies, all basically the same), or the freemium nightmare that is iOS.

Not a short order, I know, but hey we are talking about Apple. I bet can pull it off.