We Need to Tweak How We Evaluate the Price of Games

Maybe mobile games can be worth more than 99 cents.


Gamers all share a rough idea of how we evaluate the monetary worth of a game. There are rules about pricing that all of us go by. Games should never be over $60s for a standard edition, things like that. It’s an arbitrary judgment system that’s stayed the same for years but the gaming industry has undergone drastic shifts since we’ve last evaluated this system. As it goes on, it becomes harder and harder for companies to maintain profitability. Something has to change.

Credit: The Gentlebros

Cat Quest is a game that came from a small indie studio called, The Gentlebros. The game released on Steam, iOS, and Android recently with a cost disparity of almost $10 between the mobile and Steam editions. This is the exact same game, with the exact same content and the gameplay is quite suited for mobile platforms so, there’d be no real basis for the lowered price on mobile platforms due to ease of use.

Credit: Square Enix

At the very same time, it would have been incredibly difficult to sell Cat Quest on mobile platforms priced any higher than it already was. As it is the game is doing very well on Google Play with reviews saying, it’s “well worth the price.” Probably because on Steam priced at $12.99 people are saying the same thing. Objectively speaking, Cat Quest is probably a game worth more than $5.99. But people don’t pay 12.99 for a mobile game. Even games like The World Ends With You, with a decent port to mobile devices suffers from tens of reviews rating the game poorly because of its price tag when the retail price was originally around $40 and the game had been remastered for the mobile release. Thinking about it one way, $17.99 was a good price.

For a community that routinely shells out $60 for games, it’s strange to think of how price adverse gamers are about mobile games. Not for the piddling mini-games being sold at inflated prices but, about the substantial releases that come out on mobile devices. It has nothing to do with the place mobile gaming is now and everything to do with the place it came from. Though I’ve always loved mobile gaming, there’s no question that in 2008, and for years after, mobile gaming really sucked. Development was shorter and cheaper, the capability of the devices was lower, and developers had to learn to create games that played well without physical controls. There was a steep learning curve that set the tone for pricing in the mobile market. 99 cents is the standard but, things have changed and in order to nurture the improving mobile development industry, we need to support a more sustainable model.

This awkward mode of evaluation extends beyond mobile games into how we evaluate games that come from the AAA industry vs indie developers as well. For the most part, I believe, I’ve had themost meaningful gaming experiences in the golden age of indie development, with indie games and yet they are priced far lower than AAA games. In the past, this was chalked up to the disparity between budgets, overhead, and the size and scale of the projects AAA devs could take on vs indie studios but, does that still apply?

Credit: Chucklefish

Stardew Valley was a game created by one man in five years on a massive scale. It exceeds anything any AAA farming or life simulator has ever achieved, arguably, getting people to invest hundreds and hundreds of hours into the game in just one year yet, it’s priced lower than any of its primary influences based upon its coming from an indie developer. On the basis of simple time played and reception, Stardew Valley sits in an echelon of its own within its genre, most would agree. But we value it lower than something else based upon its origin. That makes little sense to me and as indies become more exciting, it might be time to reevaluate how we judge their worth.

This incredibly capitalistic analysis is to say, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how we assess the values of the games we play. We are pretty much required to assess value in our games according to cost in many cases, and maybe it’s time we as gamers expand our definitions of what makes a game worthwhile while the industry does the same.