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Game Strategies: iPad vs. iPhone

July 8, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[With the iPad newly-established as a gaming platform, should iPhone developers be creating 'universal' builds for the same price or making brand-new HD versions of their games? Developers such Semi Secret (Canabalt) and Firemint (Flight Control) weigh in.]

Though Apple's iPad has launched to incredible sales, some developers with iPhone experience under their belts -- and who are now building for the iPad as well -- are struggling with how to strategize and price around titles for the new touch-screen platform.

Some have chosen to create "universal builds" -- gamers can buy one version and receive the other version as a freebie. Others are developing separate builds for each platform and are pricing them separately. It's all a matter of business strategy, they say.

For instance, at Austin, Texas-based Semi Secret Software, the fledgling developer expects its "pay once" policy will be a major selling feature.

"It won't matter what device the customer has," explains co-founder Adam Saltsman. "Once they pay $2.99 -- which is what we currently charge for our games -- they can pull down any version of the game and enjoy it."

Semi Secret's Canabalt -- a simple one-button platformer that challenges gamers to outrun the demolition of their city -- was originally a Flash game ported to the iPhone in October and just last month an update was released to the App Store with iPad compatibility.

Saltsman admits that the $2.99 price is quite a bit more than some other iGames that sell for 99 cents, but that's all part and parcel of his company's strategy, he says.

"When we started two years ago, we didn't want to participate in what we call a 'shotgun-style' of development where you make like 20 crappy, half-built games and throw them out there to see which one gets lucky and catches on," Saltsman explains. "We decided not to do 99-cent apps, but to concentrate only on stuff that customers would think is really cool. We wanted that to be our reputation."

Which is the main reason why Saltsman and his partner, Eric Johnson, chose to support the iPad as well.

"We loved how the iPad looks and we wanted our games to keep running regardless what platform you choose to play them on," he says. "Once you pay your $2.99, we wanted to be known as the guys who keep taking care of their fans -- with free updates, new music, and so on. We even rolled the game back to be compatible with older operating systems."


Saltsman calls their strategy an experiment and predicts other developers may have alternate ways of monetizing their creations. His gut feel is that the industry will adopt a two-pronged approach depending on the nature of the game.

"Some games are really hard to port to iPad because you've done the iPhone version art at a really low resolution and now you have to re-do everything to run on a larger screen size," he explains. "You need to do a lot of optimization to get the performance you really want on the iPad. And so I expect the developer will just say, 'Okay, this is a whole new game we're building and it's totally fine to get away with charging more for a new premium iPad version'."

But, he adds, if the port isn't difficult, then developers may adopt a "pay once" policy, especially "if they feel that charging twice may piss people off," he says. "The question a developer needs to ask themselves is whether they think the customer will love the game enough to buy it twice. Is it awesome enough on the iPad to justify buying it again?"

Porting Canabalt to the iPad was a relatively simple procedure, given the fact that the game is supposed to be played with large, chunky pixels -- no new assets were required. But, admits Saltsman, his "experimental pricing policy" could change for future games, especially those that are difficult to port.

"Essentially I think it's going to boil down to this," he says. "If the game is going to be too hard or too expensive to port to the iPad, then we're just not going to do that and the game will be iPhone-only. Heck, there may be a lot of interest in the iPad, but the install base is just a fraction of the one for the iPhone. That's the one we need to concentrate on."

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