A short aside on handheld game prices

When I bought my first Nintendo DS in the spring of 2005, touchscreen gaming was new to the mainstream and the idea of downloadable handheld content was still a few clouds short of a perfect storm. I believe you might have been able to download a game directly to a Windows Mobile PDA, but syncing them over from a desktop was the standard practice.

At that time, I was happy to plonk down £20+ (nearly SGD$60) for a simple casual game like Zoo Keeper, which many will recognize as a clone of Popcap’s Bejeweled. Yeah, that game you can play for free online. I remember ordering it online from the American Amazon.com because it wasn’t yet due in England for some time, and the ensuing wait for something to play on my new DS was torture.

Even though it launched alongside meatier fare like Super Mario 64 DS, this Match-3 game was an incredible new experience. The ability to directly manipulate blocks onscreen was hailed in the gaming press as something that could “only be done on Nintendo’s new machine”. You could even wirelessly engage other DS-owning friends in a competitive mode without them having to own a copy. I have fond memories of Zoo Keeper because its mechanics were finely tuned to allow ever-flowing speed combos, and till today still consider it a better Bejeweled than Bejeweled itself.

Present day: one can download a similar game onto an iPhone in under a minute, for free or about a dollar. You compete against hundreds of friends online through Facebook. If Zoo Keeper were to be ported to iOS tomorrow (please please please), USD$4.99 (about SGD$7) would seem too high an asking price. Even Popcap’s own sequel to Bejeweled goes for $2.99 on the iPhone while desktop PC/Mac versions continue to retail at $19.95. How did we get to this point? I love a low price on games, and while $60 for Zoo Keeper was certainly too high a price – accepted at that point in time as a form of “early adopter tax” whereby new technology for which no benchmark price has been established often goes for as high as producers dare hope the market will bear – I worry that this might not be sustainable for our ecosystem of independent and major developers. Which is why I welcome Apple’s iAds program onto my device, and everyone whining about having ads in their games can go buy themselves a PSP Go or whatever.

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