Kotaku vs Gizmodo: How Long Can AAA Games Hold Off Against Mobile?

Kotaku vs Gizmodo: How Long Can AAA Games Hold Off Against Mobile?
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“How long do you think people will keep splashing out on console games when mobile gaming is so cheap,” shouted new Gizmodo Editor, Danny Allen, across the great Kotaku/Gizmodo divide. “Forever, I hope,” said I in response. “Because I want to keep playing them. So began, the great mobile/AAA game debate of lore – which I have now reprinted in full for your reading enjoyment.

DANNY: So I’m having dinner last night with a mate, and we got talking about the price of console games. How long can blockbuster titles come in at $100+ when these days, ten to twenty bucks gets you a handful of phone or tablet games, and you get almost as much enjoyment, especially in terms of play time. Sure, the biggest games take years to make and need to recoup massive budgets, but so do movies, and I can pick those up for $15 at the cinema, and $30 for the Blu-ray. Even that still leaves me with over $60 change compared to a new release game. Seriously man, how long can blockbuster console games fend off casual apps?

MARK: Forever, I hope. The survival of the games I know and love depends on it. Being perfectly honest, I think we’re more likely to see some sort of balancing in the coming years. Yes, I think that AAA video games with mega budgets and billions of man hours behind them will end costing slightly less, but I also believe we’ll see an increase in the cost of mobile gaming.

The fact is that a team of one could, at the moment, create the next Angry Birds or Doodle Jump – but as mobile technology increases rapidly the cost of production is going to increase – bigger teams, bigger budgets. People are going to start expecting more from mobile gaming, and they’ll have to pay for it.

It’s just the nature of the beast. When I was a kid I could buy budget Spectrum games for less than three Aussie dollars – because these games were created by kids in their bedrooms. As the tech increased, so did the cost of production, and the price of games.

I expect the same process to occur in the mobile gaming realm.

DANNY: That’s a fair point, but I’m not so sure that history will repeat itself. These days we have a new element in the mix: Apple. Love him or loathe him, Jobs totally shook shit up by strongarming record labels into US99 cent songs. iTunes song price tiers have expanded over time (which would follow your argument that game prices will go up), but the cheap songs remain the hook. And increasingly, cheap casual games are the new iTunes crack.

Even though Australia still gets bent over a barrel on iTunes music, Australian App Store prices (including games) are now much more in line with the US. It’s clear that Apple is in a price war for our casual free time. All that said — I will concede this: five years from now app prices will be roughly what they are now, but it’s likely we’ll be forking out extra to expanded maps or features. Downloadable content — or the Jetstar model — that’s certainly where EA’s creative director believes we’re headed. And like Apple, EA is another company with too much influence for their own good.

MARK: Music is a far more structured experience, as an entertainment proposition you get this: 3-6 minute song. That proposition is consistent. There’s very little variety.

Take a look at games. Games go from Doodle Jump to Red Dead Redemption, and everything in between. The difference between music and games in that regard is epic in scale.

Look at Blu-rays for example – it costs me roughly $60 to buy Mad Men on Blu-ray at JB Hifi, but there are still a handful of movies I can pick up for $15. Games are similar – you get what you pay for, and I expect that will continue. On the whole I expect to pay a little less for games – but I will not have a problem paying more for a proper AAA 10-15 hour experience.

DANNY: Yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The more epic and immersive a game is, the more hours of game time you get, the more you can justify paying a premium. And consoles by nature are more interactive with motion controls, richer graphics, and big screen 3D.

That all bodes well for AAA titles until you look at big games like Homefront (still $90-ish) that take four hours to get through. In terms of game time, it’s titles like this that mobile games will soon be nipping at the heels of, especially once iOS or Android games hit the TV via the next Apple TV, direct connection or some other unreleased device.

AAA console games need to come down in price (outside of the fact that Australians should, but aren’t benefiting from the exchange rate). Retail figures released in Feb show a 16 per cent drop year on year, reversing years of record sales. Until the next-gen consoles blow our minds with better graphics, improved 3D or motion controls — hell, maybe even head tracking — then casual mobile games will continue to grow. Yes, they’re like reading a magazine instead of an awesome novel, but just look what e-readers have done to those.

MARK: Retail figures going down is testament to the state of retail, not the state of video games themselves. Local retail is scrambling to adapt to digital distribution and the rapidly growing imports market, and that is the issue here.

I really liked what Cliff Blezinski of Gears of War fame had to say – he claimed that the middle class game is dead. That middle step of mediocrity between flash/mobile/Indie games and big budget titles is in decline and there’s really no place for them in today’s market. It’s Assassin’s Creed or bust, Halo: Reach or reach for the door.

I agree with this, and I think that’s the true casualty here. I think the real problem for gaming is the fact that investment in innovative AAA experiences will grind to a halt. Unless you’re a proven developer like Irrational Games or Rockstar, it’s going to be difficult to get something like, say Child of Eden, get greenlit.


  • I have to agree too. Mobile gaming is taking off, and they’re gonna have to kick up competitive pricing on console games if they want to compete, especially with handheld systems.

  • How can people stand eating out at fancy resturants when you can get McDonalds for a quarter of the price?

    How can people stand paying money to see a football game when I can watch my local team play down at the park for free?

    How can people stand paying $20 for a movie when there is heaps of good TV being shown for free?

    How can anyone stomach putting $2,000 down on a high end gaming laptop when a ball and cup costs $5?

    Pointless argument is pointless. The people who buy AAA titles (like us) are going to keep on buying AAA titles because those are the kinds of games we like! The $100 argument is a bit rich as well, when you consider things like imports and steam sales. During the last steam sale, I bought monday night combat for $2. I’d like to see an iPhone game give me as much bang for my buck as that.

  • Yeah im sick of hearing this arguement too.
    The games themselves & mobile platforms JUST DON’T DO IT FOR REAL GAMERS!!
    I have plenty of games & emulators on my Galaxy S, but playing them isnt the same as playing my 360 at home with REAL controls. (not sloppy touch rubbish)
    How many times will we have this arguement?! Ffs!

  • As much I really want to enjoy playing games on my iPhone and iPad, the controls kill it for me.

    Tilt controls don’t work when you’re lying down, and touch screen controls suck balls in general.

    IMHO mobile gaming won’t evolve into anything more than a casual platform until these control issues are addressed.

  • The thing with the disappearance of the middle class games might be because they cost the same as the AAA ones.
    There is no middle price point so there is no middle class.

    But maybe as the more indie style game market grows then that will fill the gap.

    • I have to disagree
      Cinema manages just fine all at the same price point but different budgets from almost nothing to x00 millions
      Room for all levels

  • Nice! Been waiting for a Kotaku vs Giz discussion again. I think once mobile games have a bit more depth in their control and stories, they might start to worry the consoles. At the moment, they are just time fillers. Whilst some are extremely addictive and you can sink lots of time, they are yet to provide the emotional investment of Mass Effect, Uncharted etc..

  • Two words “Game Boy”.
    Been there, done that, enough said.

    In fact, the only battle is going to be between Nintendo’s Game Boy product and the mobile platform.

    Consoles and PC games are designed to be played in a way where we can be immersed in the game world, whereby casual games are more targeted at those wishing to fill in time on a car trip or train ride, they’re two different niche markets of gaming that cannot compete with or take over each other.

    The only reason Nintendo should be worried is because it’s Game Boy products are at stake, and yes I can foresee that Mobile platforms will overtake the Game Boy simply for their flexibility. This is provided Nintendo doesn’t bring out something truly amazing soon.

    • On a second thought however:
      With the slow but steady rise of cloud computing, it is quite possible (and something that a few hardware developers including Nvidia, Intel, and AMD, have been striving for) that the heavy CPU and GPU calculations used in many AAA titles today could be done remotely on server.
      There would still need to be major increases in system memory on the platform, but this would be part of an overall “bridge of the gap” to competition with today’s consoles.
      From there it’s only a matter of plugging the phone into the TV.
      It’s a bit ambitious, and there’s a way to go, but I can see a demand for it, maybe not from most of us, but from a majority public view, it could sell.

  • I’m yet to find a iPhone game that really holds a flame to any real game so to say that Angry Birds is gonna knock Mass Effect 3 out of the park, or in any way cause game publishers to think twice before pricing it at $90, is a bit ridiculous.

    What should make publishers think twice is digital distribution (which is getting more and more competitve, which should hopefully put more pressure on the current players to drop their over-inflated prices) and international trade, which is already forcing brick and mortar retailers here and hopefully online distributers to reconsider their current business practices. For example, why should I pay $90+ for Battlefield 3 on Steam or Origin when I can buy it from a UK based online store for $48?

    iPhone games will never force the cost down of buying AAA titles but real international trade will.

  • Yer man from Gizmodo needs to check that notion at the door, because it’s just wrong. I’m sorry, but saying that big budget console gaming is under threat from mobile gaming is just ridiculous. Next you’ll be saying that both big budget gaming and casual/mobile gaming are both under threat from all the free games on FOG.com.

    • Heya Brimm,
      Not saying that big budget gaming is under threat — more asking the question if app games will force cheaper console games and or a rationalisation of AAA games. Was just a dinner conversation I had with a friend which later got Mark and I talking in the office — just an interesting subject to kick around. 🙂

  • “Assassin’s Creed or bust” is a nice way to put it, I don’t think studios are willing to risk the investment budget for mediocre games, especially with technology and development costs as they are.

  • Another goodbye to the only games worth playing, those middle-men. Goodbye God Hand, goodbye Nier, goodbye Mirror’s Edge, goodbye Vanquish… Just to pull the names off my desk.

  • “People are going to start expecting more from mobile gaming, and they’ll have to pay for it.”–Mark (from this article)

    I think one of the problems that developers in this arena will come against in the future is that casual gamers (for mobile) don’t want to pay anything more than two bucks, and I keep hearing them mention “99 cents” with phrases like “sweet spot”.

    I read a comment yesterday where this guy said (and I’m paraphrasing slightly): “I wouldn’t mind paying an extra 99 cents for an additional 45 to 60 levels of gameplay”.

    They also complained about the “ads” revealing themselves in the FREE game, Angry Birds. So Mark, I’m suggesting they don’t want to pay anything & they don’t want ads. So how is a “bigger team” supposed to see a return, let alone a profit from these mobile games?

    I guess I’m rambling. Produce bigger and more epic mobile games to compete for that 99 cents? It just sounds like a downward spiral for developers where 1 or 2 free/99 cent games will sell well, followed by a herd of developers who can’t make any kind of living.

    But anyway, I’ve talked enough. Mark’s comment in the article just made me think about financial sustainability of mobile games for developers.

    • Wow – thanks for commenting in this. I had forgotten about this piece.

      Some great points as well. It’ll be interesting to see the direction iphone games head towards. I will say this: Firemint has made more money from Real Racing than Flight Control. Less people bought the game, but a premium price can often lead to more dollars.

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