Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Idea of the Perfect Downloadable Games Store

I really only got to thinking about this because of a fairly negligible portion of the most recent episode of Podcast Unlocked, the newest podcast from all about Xbox 360 news, games, and happenings, that promises to record weekly (instead of triannually). A large portion of the episode was about the members of the podcast discussing what they expect from the next Xbox, as well as what they would prefer out of the next Xbox, and one of the questions was about what they would like to see from the next XBLA type store. I don't remember them really speaking that much about it, but it inspired me, so my thanks to them.

I feel a bit crazy every time I say it, but I think App Store game prices are generally too cheap. Actually I should feel crazy, because that's not really what I mean.
I think there needs to be some order to the pricing of games contained on a platform. Pricing ought to be based partly on development costs, and partly on the breadth of content with-in, that is to say, not actually based on the quality of the content, which is subjective anyway. Only some of the App Store games seem under-priced, and some seem overpriced, but those under-priced games make everything else look bad, and those overpriced games make people less willing to buy something that isn't popular. So, prices need to be adjusted relative to each other.

But who's left to enforce that? If a publisher thinks they'll make more money at a cheaper price, who can stop them? That's why I also think that a third-party should have influence over the prices, and really the only third-party that makes sense is the maker of the platform that the game is releasing on. If you're thinking this sounds a bit monarchistic, you're not totally off base, but you may be surprised to hear that Nintendo actually does something like this for WiiWare. I desperately wish I could recall which WiiWare developer/publisher I heard this from, but the general idea is that the publishers pitch a price to Nintendo, and Nintendo has the power to influence that price up or down on some level. Not total control, but enough to help enforce the idea of relative prices.

I pay close attention to WiiWare games, because I think it's full of great content that doesn't get talked about by other gamers enough, but in paying attention to it, I've seen a couple of games that can't even justify the service's minimum $5 price to me. Again, that involves my perception of the breadth of content with-in, and my estimated cost of the game's development, all compared to other similarly priced games. That leads me to the next point, that there shouldn't be a minimum price point, or at least the minimum should be $1, or $0.50, or what have you to better accommodate the variance is game values that you would expect from the service. But in the same breath, prices should be round, that is, I don't want to spend 627 points and have an odd sum of points that will likely never get depleted and bother me for the rest of the life of the system. Beyond the prices being in rounded increments, I don't think there should be pricing tiers. WiiWare and the App Store seem to be the only ones to have avoided tiered prices, and with Nintendo being involved in one of them, it's weird that I get to use DSiWare as an example that has tiers; prices are stuck at free, 200, 500, 800, 1000 points, and prices beyond (Shantae: Risky's Revenge stands as the only game priced beyond 1000 points, at 1200 points).

Speaking of lots of point values, if you're going to use a system that converts cash into points, I don't see any point in not having the point to cash conversion be 1:1 for a particular region. I don't really have a preference for a direct cash system or a non-refundable points system, because I think they both have their merits; cash lets you put in exactly what you need, while points will encourage you (or maybe it's just me) to add more simply because of the left over points.

Finding Games
A really important part of a good store is how easy it is to find things on it. An easy to find search system for pairing down your results is very important. Of course you (hopefully) have a "new releases" section of the store showing the most recent additions, but what if I'm interested in a certain genre? There should be a way to pair the results down in that regard. You just played a game you loved, and want to see if that company has made anything else you might like? There should be a way to search for games developed/published by that company. And other categories worth having sorting options for:
- Prices
- Multiplayer modes or not
- Online Multiplayer
- Downloadable content
- Controller support (say, for MotionPlus, Move, or Kinect)
- User ratings
- Recommendation level

Speaking of those last few, I thinks it's important that the service support user ratings right on the store. Not only is it a rating that other users can look at, but it's a reason for the user that recently bought a title to revisit the store. And based on the genres and prices of the games you buy and the ratings you give them, it would be really advantageous to have a system in place that actively recommended other games to you that you might be interested in playing. After using Netflix for about three months, I was quite surprised at how accurate it became with the rating it think I might give it, so if there could be a system that good in place for games, that would be perfect. If the store was arranged in such a way that you could view trailers or pictures for a particular game without leaving the store (much like what Nintendo is promising with the eShop), that would be excellent, but in addition to that I think it would be great to get to user uploaded gameplay videos or commentary just as easily, even if it only connected to YouTube.

I personally love looking at figures that hold some information about how well a game may be selling on a service, whether it be a "most popular/top sellers" section, or stats that show off how much the game is being played, I love gleaning information from that since developers and publishers are so rarely straightforward about sales for their games. Another really small addition is just being able to tag games as favorites. Maybe only you get to look at that list, or maybe your friends can view it, but it feels nice to know that the makers of the game might get that information to know that their game had a lasting impression on someone. I'd also really love a system that re-promotes old releases. For this kind of system to be valuable, I don't see any way around it being selective. I needs to only push interesting titles. Completely subjective, I know, but maybe you could call it "Nintendo Recommends Some [insert game platform name] Classics" so at least you're upfront about it.

Odds and ends
Because a game is on a downloadable games service, I think it should be inherently different from a "full retail" game you buy in stores. Things seem to be blurring a bit, with bigger hard-drives and companies pushing toward a downloadable only model, many of what I would call "full retail" are actually also downloadable games, but I hope you understand the difference I mean. "Full retail" might be available in both physical and digital form (as a convenience), but a "downloadable game" wouldn't be sold alone on a disc or cartridge in any official fashion (because of the budget). File size has become less of a concern because of the increasing size of hard-drives and flash storage, but I think having a limited size for games on a downloadable games service is important. It stresses spending time and money on creativity and fun over a flashy presentation. But a limit too low can end up being, well, limiting. You don't hear about it as often as you think you might, but WiiWare developers sometimes complain about the 40~45 MB or so limit on WiiWare games, and other times you can see a neat game with a concept really suited to the downloadable game format that is limited by that cap, either because it's missing some features that make sense, or it has a low numbers of levels to select from. I think this limit needs to be selected on a console by console basis, and it would be beneficial for the console maker to be open to readjusting that limit at least once during the life of the system.

Being able to transfer your games, or more exactly, transferring the rights you paid for that let you play those games is an important incentive for me. I don't know of any downloadable games service out there that doesn't let you transfer those right, but it's worth mentioning.

I'm not sure if I've said it here before, but for me, demos for every game is really unnecessary. I had been making video game purchases for about 10 years before the Xbox 360 came out and I was really even aware of wide-spread free game demos. PC gaming is still very alien to me, but I'm guessing they had free demos long before. In that time I had developed a very good sense of the games I would enjoy, all without the help of demos. Even a few years into the 360's life, I still had more to learn about other games I would also enjoy, and I did, but without the help of demos. When WiiWare got demos, I found myself much more eager to play the games that I presumed I wouldn't enjoy, because I'd frankly be thrilled to find out I was wrong and that I would enjoy them, but so far there hasn't been any such case. Like I said right upfront, I would like demos for some games, and mostly for concern over controls and how they feel. Controls are one of the few things I feel I can't grasp about a game without playing it, so especially for motion controlled games, I'd like to know if they actually work before purchasing.

Just to run through the parts of my perfect digital game distribution store in list form:
- Relative pricing
- Controlled pricing
- No minimum price-point
- Round prices
- No price tiers
- Points to money should to have a 1:1 value
- Sorting system
- Ratings system
- Recommendation system
- eShop + YouTube type information viewing
- "Top Seller" section
- Favoriting system
- Re-promotion of old releases

- Limited, but "adequate" game size
- Transferrable games

I have thought about this for a day or two, but I could be struck by a topic worth adding, so you might look for a big UPDATE on the post title. And speaking of stuff worth adding; your 2 cents. I feel like I wrote a lot here, so if you have comments on any part of it, feel free to talk about in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. "I desperately wish I could recall which WiiWare developer/publisher I heard this from, but the general idea is that the publishers pitch a price to Nintendo, and Nintendo has the power to influence that price up or down on some level. Not total control, but enough to help enforce the idea of relative prices."

    I know with Ghostfire Games and Rage of the Gladiator, that the game was originally releasing with a 1500 Wii Points price, $15...but the developers were paying attention to the comments on NintendoLife, and literally went to Nintendo and asked Nintendo if they could lower the price to $10...which Nintendo did comply with.

    As for WiiWare(and the VC), I really wish Nintendo would do sales on games, but they never do. Games released 2 years ago still have their same price today, that they released with.

    As for the App Store, I own an iPod Touch, but have never purchased any app or game for it. I have downloaded a few free games, and apps, but I'm just too cheap to purchase stuff on it...which is probably why I own only like three DS games.