A Mobile Price Barrier

A Mobile Price Barrier

Think back. Think all the way back to the heady days of October 2012. Just months before, we’d been previewing XCOM: Enemy Unknown and now it would finally be coming out. The question we all had on our minds was would the final product be any good, or is this a game that works only in small doses? There are plenty of games like that where once you get the grand view, the holistic valuation, the cracks begin to show and shine through like a candle in the dark. SimCity from March of this year was one such game where the one-hour beta was perfect to show its potential but not its faults in city limits and region dependencies.

But XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out and—whew—it was good. In fact, it was more than good as it topped some Game of the Year lists. It did, yes, work in small doses, but not only. Missions themselves may take a while, but the individual actions required little time at all, or rather didn’t require sequential amounts of time. You could do a turn, go put in the roast, come back, and finish up the round. You could manage your base and labs at your leisure. It was perfect, it seemed, for something smaller in scale, something like an iPad.

Lo and behold, just a few weeks ago, XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out for iOS devices, and it mostly worked. On iPhones, reading text was a bit of a chore and the natural problem of a minuscule screen size (relative to an iPad, anyways) cropped up more often than you’d like when it came to position soldiers, but it was an entirely faithful port of the original and seemed to recapture a lot of what made people love it in the first place. The problem, though, was the price.

It was set at $19.99 in the App Store. Now, the problem wasn’t actually the price itself since twenty bucks for what is otherwise a full and exceedingly excellent retail product that once went for $60 is really quite the steal. No, it’s actually about the fact that it’s $20 on a mobile device. When we buy something for our tablets or phones, we buy it because either the utility is of moderate worth (e.g. Facebook, Foursquare, etc.) or because it looks like fun. But we hang on to it because its utility is of great worth (e.g. Twitter, Gmail, etc.) or because its data stores are inconsequential.

This means that either it is of so small a size that keeping it around it commensurate to taking a couple of extra pictures or that all of its relevant data can be easily replicated. To-do list apps, for example, hang around because they’re usually only a couple of megabytes and because to-do lists are generally short term things meant to be ephemeral, so when the app and its data goes away, it’s not that big of a deal. You’re more likely to buy a song for 99 cents than a journaling app for the same price because the song is merely a license for you to download it and listen to it at any time while the app’s storage of your thoughts and feelings can vanish with the long-press of a digital button.

That is where XCOM: Enemy Unknown and other high-priced games on mobile platforms fail, and it’s mostly out of their hands; it’s more about the psychology of potential loss than anything. You’ve spent $20 on a game that you could possibly put in dozens and dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours into and it could all go away in a flash. And when it works in concert with the fact that it is 1.86 GB that expands out to somewhere around 3 GB, you have a lot of resources that go into playing this game.

If you need that 3 GB back, you can delete the game but you also delete all your progress and saves. It’s almost a negation of the money you spent to acquire the game in the first place. That purchase was not only a license to play the game but also to the experience you gained through it, and when you delete it, the culmination and potential from that experience is gone, and so is half of the value you put money into.

Of course, this is easily rebuffed with the fact that such experiences are quite literally boundless as long as you have 3 GB to spare, but human psychology isn’t always rational or logical. That is a little bit of digital goodness that represents hours and hours of knowledge, experience, and tragedy that found its way from the screen and into you. And when it all goes away, there’s nothing left, no vestige in which to seek solace, that can accurately represent your hardships and endeavors.

It’s the same reason why people buy souvenirs when they’re on vacation or take pictures when they travel; it’s because they want something that can mentally or physically manifest their memories of those experiences. Deleting all of that data that goes along with something like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, though, is like throwing all those postcards and scrapbooks into a fire and saying sayonara. There’s no simple way around it, but it is a problem that most people encounter when considering purchasing large (file size-wise) games on mobile devices. Money, time, storage space, and the potential for loss are all considerations that go through the average consumer’s mind, and it’s usually enough to discourage them.

Too bad Sectoids don’t carry around cameras.

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