The major studios will almost certainly never adopt a “mobile first” strategy for RPG development. The genre is notoriously expensive to work with as it requires lengthy development cycles, high production values, and lengthy narratives that require an order of magnitude more work around level design, voice acting and art than your standard 4-hour FPS.
The genre is one that is nearly tailor-designed for the premium $60 price point because it’s impossible to get away with cutting corners in the development process and fool consumers. They expect an exchange of $60 for a deep, varied quest of 50 hours in length or longer. Just look at what happened to Dragon Age II when EA and BioWare tried to get away with a short development cycle on it.
Given that no major studio would be crazy enough to release an iOS game at $60, consoles and the PC will remain the first platform for major studio RPGs into the future. The iOS ports, should they ever come, will only be after the developer has sold as many $60 copies as possible. It seems inevitable that premium RPGs will start to land on iOS, and we’ve seen this delayed release model work before; XCOM enjoyed a second lease of life for $20 on iOS after a solid run at $60 on console and PC. But mobile will never be the lead platform for “blockbuster” RPGs.
The threat – if threat is the right word – that people who like to play RPGs on their consoles and PCs face is the potential for independent developers to migrate to mobile development. Independent developers are not in the same boat as the premium RPG developers. Independent developers are only looking to sell their games for $10 or $20, and while their RPGs won’t have the same length or production values of a console game, it is games like The Legend of Grimrock or Spiderweb Software’s games that sustain RPG fans through to their next blockbuster. Would these people need to invest in an iPad as these games start appearing on mobile first? There are games emerging that use iOS as a lead platform; late last year The Shadow Sun really wowed us, and before that games like Ravensword caused a stir. These games are mobile-first productions, if not exclusives.
“There is no denying that the mobile market is growing in leaps and bounds,” Ossian Studios CEO, Alan Miranda, and the developer of The Shadow Sun, said. Though he was very happy with the sales and response that his game has seen on the app store, Miranda added that mobile development won’t be a path to easy money, so it might be premature to assume that all developers are going to look at is as the place to stick their RPGs. Rather, it will simply be seen as a legitimate alternative to console or PC development for some. “Just like the evolution of PC games, the quality of mobile titles is increasing to keep pace with the better hardware” Miranda said. “But that also means that the mobile platform will be a tougher place to compete in, so it’s not a promised land for easy sales.”
Analyst firm, Gartner, also released some startling expectations for the app market recently. According to Gartner, less that 0.01 per cent of apps will be considered a financial success by their creators by the end of 2018.
To arrive at this number, Gartner took a look at the download figures for apps. Of paid applications, 90 per cent or thereabouts are downloaded less than 500 times per day, and earn less than $1,250 per day. These sales figures are not exactly going to lead to a stable business model.
“Our analysis shows that most mobile applications are not generating profits and that many mobile apps are not designed to generate revenue, but rather are used to build brand recognition and product awareness or are just for fun,” Gartner analyst, Ken Dulaney, said in a statement.
This, too, is not encouraging for RPG developers, who actually do need to earn revenue from their apps. Gartner’s prediction is that 94.5 per cent of all apps will be free downloads by 2016 – a business model that doesn’t suit RPG development, and this in turn will create unreasonable expectations from consumers in paid apps. When even $0.99 is seen as “expensive”, it’s going to be a tough ask for premium $10 or $20 games indeed.
Despite this, it does look like the app store will be an opportunity for some RPG developers. It’ll be a marketing challenge, but one that Miranda thinks some developers will overcome. “I’ve seen so many posts from fans saying that they had never heard of TSS before but were so thrilled they had come across it because it was the kind of great RPG they were looking for on iOS. The challenge at this point is to reach all of those gamers,” Miranda said.
“I believe we made the right decision. We aimed to deliver a quality RPG game on a platform that had a very small selection of made-for-iOS Western RPGs, and it still does!”
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld