Many people who give Windows Phone 7 a try are impressed by the phone’s slick user interface but one area that’s hard to defend is the pricing of Marketplace applications – games in particular.
I was holding off blogging about this in anticipation of another overpriced release when the massively popular Angry Birds finally arrives on Windows Phone. It’s apparently going to be an Xbox-branded title which means it is sure to be another example of customers getting ripped off for choosing to own a Windows Phone device. This is a title that sold for £0.59 on iOS.
Angry Birds is not out until May 25th, but yesterday I fired up the Marketplace on my phone and noticed that they were promoting a game called Centipede, which I thought deserved a mention.
Centipede for Windows Phone 7 is indeed a remake of the ancient Atari arcade game from 1980. I played a clone called Maggot Mania on my C64 when I was five years old. As you would expect Centipede doesn’t exactly lend itself to a device that offers no physical controller, so they’ve had to add an onscreen D-pad and fire button. These days, many people have a variety of gaming devices and I can’t see why you’d want to play something on a phone that was intended to be played using a joystick. Phone gaming can be excellent but this is usually when the game has been designed around the touch screen and accelerometer hardware.
In the Apple app store, Centipede would be a throwaway title at a throwaway price, and indeed it is. The closest equivalent is Atari’s own Centipede Ultra on the iPhone which is available at £0.59. It’s similar to the original game but remade with enhanced graphics – meaning it’s actually better than the WP7 version.
So how much are Microsoft charging for a more basic port of Centipede for Windows Phone 7? I found this hard to believe but they want £2.49. This has deservedly attracted some criticism in the reviews section of the Marketplace. Here’s a few comments to set the tone:
sclifford5: The most ridiculous pricing so far…i know people keep saying “stop moaning about the prices, its because the WP7 market isn’t as developed as the Android or iPhone” but this takes the piss. When are we going to see some unique games worth paying for? Are you even listening to your customers reviews Microsoft?
NinjaBreadMan77: You want how much for this you’re having a laugh and where’s the angry birds hurry up and stop taking the piss.
It’s interesting to note that these reviews sound like they’re from people who haven’t downloaded the game. They’ve taken one look at the price and scoffed at the proposition. Most other reviews expressed broadly similar opinions. Those that actually bothered to download Centipede say the control method is rubbish.
Is there any defence? Well the main argument I’ve read from Windows Phone evangelists is that there are less WP7 users so prices have to be higher. This has some logic to it – it costs money to produce games and no-one can afford to do it at a loss (except possibly Microsoft).
On the flip side of that argument, early adopters are critically important to a new platform, especially one with a lot of catching up to do. It’s a risky strategy to punish them. This is a cyclical problem too – prices are high because of the small user base, but higher prices will deter new users. And lets face it, the Windows Phone ecosystem desperately needs a lot more users.
Instead of encouraging this, Microsoft is using the Xbox branding to push up game prices, including setting a minimum price for all titles. I guess the idea is to attract the hardcore gamers to Windows Phone with the promise of Xbox Live integration and more serious in-depth games than the iPhone. I’m not sure this strategy is appropriate, because the real value of the Xbox integration is questionable. It’s nice that my avatar appears on my phone as well as my Xbox, and it’s also nice to be able to gain achievement points on phone games that count towards my grand total. But is it worth paying four or five times as much for games? No way. It’s a nice to have, that’s all.
Here’s a few more examples of how bad the problem is at the moment:
|Title||iOS||Windows Phone 7|
|Super Monkey Ball||£0.59||£3.99|
|Need for Speed Undercover||£1.79||£3.99|
|Bejeweled Live (Bejeweled 2 on iOS)||£0.59||£3.99|
As a final example of the price differential, lets look at the games offering the best graphics each platform has to offer. The stand-out title on the iPhone for graphics is John Carmack’s amazing RageHD which sells for £1.19. The best I’ve seen on WP7 is the gorgeous looking The Harvest. It retails for £5.49. Yet another massive difference.
Alongside prices, the gaming scene on Windows Phone is made worse by two other factors – availability of titles and the capabilities of the hardware. iOS users have Angry Birds, the Halloween and Christmas special editions and now Angry Birds Rio while WP7 users are still waiting for the original version to be released. The latest iOS game to generate lots of attention is Tiny Wings – a fun bird-piloting game with some really nice artwork. It is currently unavailable for WP7.
Higher prices would be slightly easier to justify if WP7 game performance was the best available on any smartphone, but sadly the Adreno graphics chipset that all devices currently use is inferior to the iPhone 4 graphics hardware, and this shows in games. Add in the fact that WP7 games are limited to 30fps which makes a number of 2D titles look choppy and it’s clear that the iPhone 4 will be staying out in front for the time being.
Nothing Microsoft can do changes the fact that most phones are sold on 18-24 month contracts, and after that people replace them. With the smartphone market so competitive and innovative at the moment there’s every chance that people will jump ship to a different type of phone next time their contract is up. Committing to spending anything more than a couple of pounds per title is risky and people know this.
If Microsoft continue ripping people off with Windows Phone 7 games, I can see piracy becoming an issue. Unlocking tools mean applications can be obtained from the usual free non-legal sources and installed directly to the phone, and this will become more commonplace if prices remain above what people are prepared to pay. The ridiculous NoDo update fiasco has already encouraged people to tinker with their Windows Phones to get the latest OS updates installed.
Having said that, Windows Phone 7 has only been on the market six months so there is plenty opportunity for things to improve if publishers are prepared to stop being so greedy with pricing.