While eating lunch today, I stumbled across an article on MSNBC called “Will the people pay for quality iPhone games?” It was an interesting question, and one I often wonder about both for myself and for the gaming public as a whole. We have heard Andrew say a few times on the podcast that he simply cannot imagine spending “that kind” (any kind?) of money for games on that type of platform. Meanwhile, Jeff and I tap away at things like wurdle.

In the article, Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development for PopCap, says:

We need to be cognizant of some of the competitive pressures, but at the same time our games offer huge value to the consumer. We’re not interested in devaluing the brand by pricing it at 99 cents. It is a premium experience. We do invest a lot in our products. We take the time and do it right.

I can somewhat get behind and understand the logic of that kind of statement. It can be incredibly tough from a development standpoint to put any type of time and energy into a product and then be “forced” to “devalue” the product just to “compete” (though one could argue that any of those words and their possible negative connotations could be replaced with ones with positive connotations such as “given the opportunity” to “undercut” the competition so they can “showcase their talent and gain a leadership foothold”). While plenty of terrible games are made, I would not imagine trying to take anything away from a genuine product with geniune effort. I understand the balancing act that needs to happen, and it seems like PopCap does, as well.

However, then we get a quote from Steve Palley, who MSNBC lists as “founder of iDevice game-review site SlideToPlay.com and former Editorial Guru for Vivendi Games Mobile”.

We want better, more expensive games, but not enough people are willing to pay for them to make them profitable. It sucks. For now, the main use case for the majority of people who buy iPhone and iTouch games is the one-to-five minute ‘gameplay snack.’ They want novelties and amusements, not gameplay.

I am horribly confused by this statement. For someone coming from a game development background in some capacity (being employed by Vivendi) and now a part of the general enthusiast press, this seems to contradict itself. We just heard from one person in game development that they want to create these expansive environment and gameplay experiences, which Palley backs up… but then goes on to say that it is simply not what people want.

If that’s not what people want, why on Earth are you wasting your time, effort, and ultimately money to produce something that no-one wants?

We have had a similar situation on another handheld platform, which goes against everything that was anticipated. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (a new game in a well-established, always-high-selling franchise) is having trouble pulling in the numbers on the Nintendo DS, one of the best-selling systems in the history of the industry with a ridiculously large installed-base throughout the world.

An incredibly well-reviewed game from a multi-million-selling franchise on arguably the most successful system in the history of the industry with a highly-visible advertising campaign is having trouble selling? What’s going on here…?!

Analyst Michael Patcher has popped up a lot in gaming blogs and news stories as of late, so while I feel slightly ridiculous bringing these points up again if you have already read them, I promise you that it all pulls back to the bigger question in the end. Patcher states in a later Gamasutra article:

… “we can’t say that Take-Two made a bad game or marketed it poorly,” he says. “Instead, they created an M-rated game for a largely E and T audience, and those DS owners who are legally allowed to buy an M-rated game are not particularly interested.”

While things may change over time (as Take-Two insists they will, with Chinatown Wars having long-legs), for the time being it appears Take-Two made a great game for the wrong market.

I don’t see any difference from iPhone game developers making huge, immersive, “expensive” games… for an audience that just wants to play a Tetris clone for thirty seconds.