Last year we faced a dilemma. The long-suffering Android port of ‘Table Tennis Touch’ had come to a grinding halt. It was suffering from a horrible bug over which we had no control and so couldn’t fix. We had two options: 1. To release a broken game to every Android owner or 2. Release a working game to 3% of that huge market – just the Lollipop share. It was an obvious choice; as a premium game, we had to choose the 3%.
Premium: “of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior”
A lot of work goes into selling a premium game. Search for “table tennis” on the App Store, and you’ll be presented with dozens of free table tennis games to choose from and just one premium game – ‘Table Tennis Touch’. So it’s our job to convince players to choose to spend money on our game rather than downloading one of the free alternatives. As well as crafting a game that we genuinely believe is better than the alternatives, we do that by spending a lot of time on trailers, screenshots, websites, app descriptions, responding quickly to user feedback and by maintaining a near 5 star review average on the App Store. Having an “Editors’ Choice” label from the App Store certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Persuading someone to press the Buy button isn’t the end of the story though. By selling a product, we’re entering into an agreement with the player. They’ll trust us that the game they’ve just bought will be as good as the promotional material suggests and that it functions in the way it’s intended. If we released a game that didn’t meet these criteria, because it had bugs or broken gameplay, we’d violate our agreement and their trust. If we were selling physical products, that kind of shoddy behaviour would result in a knock on the door from Trading Standards.
But downloadable games are different – particularly on Android stores where app vetting is often non-existent. Every time a buggy paid game is released to the app stores, it’s another nail in the coffin for premium games. Developers can’t be surprised when players turn to free games to reduce their exposure to risk once they get burnt by a few bad experiences.
That’s why the decision to limit the release to Lollipop was a no-brainer for us. It doesn’t mean the decision was a pleasant one – a struggling three-person indie studio really can’t afford to turn down sales. But we can’t put a premium price tag on a product if it isn’t premium in every sense of the word. If making money was our only driving force, we’d have stuck energy drinks into the game a long time ago.