[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."
But up at Vancouver-based IUGO Mobile Entertainment, director of business development Sarah Thomson says the six-year-old indie developer of mobile games has recently standardized its approach to i-platforms.
As a way of rewarding customers who already have a copy of the company's iPhone and iPod Touch builds of Implode! XL, Zombie Attack! Second Wave XL, Cliffed XL, and Escape: Norm's World XL, no added purchase is necessary to download updates, including iPad support.
And IUGO's upcoming iPad titles will be universal builds, she says; if you own one, you can play it across all three devices.
"That's a strategy that Apple actually recommended to every developer from the get-go," recalls Thomson, "so that was part of the reason we adopted that strategy.
"The other part is that even though the iPhone is and will continue to be very much our priority, we wanted to immediately jump on the hype about the iPad as soon as it was announced earlier this year and we now believe that, ultimately, a multi-platform mass-market approach is the real key to big success."
"Jumping on the hype" meant quickly selecting the four games that could best be ported to the iPad -- but "not simply by doing minor tweaks and then throwing it on the iPad," according to Thomson.
In keeping with IUGO's philosophy of creating content that is customized for a particular platform or handset, the developer took each game and fashioned some sort of value-add. A level-editor was built and added to Implode! so that gamers could create their own levels and share them with friends.
A "same device head-to-head" feature was added to Cliffed so that two gamers could race each other on the same iPad. Multiplayer modes were added to three of the four games. And IUGO pumped up the graphics for all four titles to make the most of the iPad's larger screen size.
Despite the amount of work that went into the add-ons, IUGO decided not to boost any of its prices, except one -- a dollar was added to Implode!, increasing the fare to $2.99, when it was determined that there had been so many updates and content added that the higher price was well worth it.
Zombie remained at $3.99 for iPhone and iPad; Cliffed, $1.99 for both platforms; and Escape is a free app for the two platforms but with in-app purchases (two more difficulty levels and a multiplayer mode, each $.99).
"Our goal is to use our lower prices to our advantage," reveals Thomson. "We knew that a lot of our competitors intended to price their iPad games higher and we felt that we didn't need to do that. The idea wasn't to make millions of dollars more, it was to get our name out there as a quality developer of iPhone and iPad games."
Thomson doesn't believe most developers are on the same page though and she suspects the majority will create two different iPhone and iPad builds, sell them separately, and charge more for the latter.
"A few may adopt the universal build philosophy," she says, "but I'm guessing most won't -- which is not necessarily a bad way to go either, to be honest. The jury is still out on which strategy will be the better one... and we're going to take a wait-and-see attitude on whether we'll try the non-universal approach as well."
But Melbourne, Australia-based Firemint isn't wavering; the 11-year-old mobile-game studio is adamant about not creating universal games "because the considerations, capabilities, and markets for iPhone and iPad are quite different," says community manager Alexandra Peters.
"Given our approach of tailoring adaptations of our games to suit the specific hardware, it made more sense to launch separate apps for the iPad, which we did with Flight Control HD and Real Racing HD," she adds. "We don't think that releasing identical games on both platforms is an effective strategy."
Firemint's current policy is to develop new games first for the iPhone -- which the studio considers its lead platform -- and then, if they do well, consider launching enhanced adaptations that are optimized for other platforms -- with enhanced price tags.
Peters cites as an example Firemint's latest release -- Real Racing HD for iPad -- which started with Real Racing for the iPhone.
The studio overhauled the graphics throughout, adding more detail and higher-resolution textures, and also included the ability to add any photo from the player's library as a custom skin to the cars.
A new "ghost racing" feature enables players to race against the "ghosts" of other players downloaded from the Internet. And, under the hood, the code was optimized to ensure smoother racing performance while the controls were tweaked so they would translate well to the larger device.
The overhaul costs gamers $9.99, twice the price of the iPhone's $4.99.
"We think the HD version is worth it; it's a realistic pro circuit racing game that turns the iPad into a combination steering wheel/windscreen," she says. "The 3D graphics are just gorgeous, they make the most of the iPad's bigger screen, and it seems to be the game of choice for showing off the iPad's capabilities."
Similarly, as soon as the iPad was announced, the developer knew it wanted to make an HD version of its biggest hit -- Flight Control -- which was originally designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch and still sells at $.99 for those platforms.
Flight Control HD
The new HD edition -- priced at $4.99 -- includes three new HD maps, a classic map, new multiplayer game modes, and upgraded graphics throughout. For multiplayer, games can play the three HD maps co-operatively on one iPad or they can play wirelessly with a friend on another iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
An enhanced warning system, too, was added should two aircraft get too close to each other since the iPad screen is bigger and there is a greater chance that some of it will be obscured by the player's hand.
A lot of thought went into re-imagining the game, says Peters, which is exactly the process Firemint intends to pursue if creating an HD version is justified.
"If a title does well -- and if it makes sense to adapt that IP to other platforms that are a good fit," she adds, "that is certainly something we are keen to do."