While it may be Jim Sterling's sole purpose in life to troll the internet's gaming community from his perch at Destructoid, his latest blog post raises an interesting point about the price of handheld console games in the post-App Store era.
The console cycle is experiencing upheaval it's never dealt with before, in the form of mobile phones with the processing power to match it with dedicated hardware — not to mention arguably more sophisticated and mature content delivery systems. Say what you will about quality or controls, you can't argue that Google and Apple have eaten away at Sony and Nintendo's market share with Android and iOS-based devices.
It took a while, but developers eventually began porting successful games from dedicated consoles to smartphones. When Square Enix brought Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions from PSP to iPhone, it completely disregarded the established tiers and priced the game at $17 — a controversial move at the time. 2K Games, on the other hand, priced its port of Civilization Revolution at a slightly more reasonable $7; the DS version is $20 new, and 360 is around $50.
Clearly, game pricing these days isn't based on development time or resources expended — the usual variables used when calculating the worth of a product at retail. It's entirely to do with the platform and how much users are willing to pay for software on that platform. Boxed copies are always going to be more expensive, if only for logistical reasons, but between different digital services on different platforms, the tried-and-tested publisher arguments don't hold much water.
Adding to the roughness of this new frontier is the fact that not only are we getting some great original games on smartphones, but "hardcore" franchises are finding a home on them also. In Sterling's editorial, he uses the example of Dungeon Hunter: Alliance, published by Ubisoft. Local prices place the PS Vita version at $68, while the Mac App Store version is just $0.99 — a 6800 per cent mark up. While your Mac isn't as portable as your iPhone, the price tiers are inherited directly from the original App Store.
It won't be long before more games are ported from iOS / Android to the Vita and, less likely, the 3DS. How publishers decide to handle pricing is anyone's guess. Is Ubisoft an outlier in this strange new world of portable gaming, or should we get use to the idea of the same game costing a single dollar on one platform and $70 on another?
Ubisoft's PS Vita bullsh*t is truly incredible [Destructoid]