The PC Port Pricing Problem
One day while out shopping, you find a wondrous pair of pants in a small store. The pants are absolutely perfect. They fit great, look great, fit comfortably. Best of all, they are inexpensive. Needless to say, you purchase the pants. A few months later while shopping at a national chain store, you see the pants. A cursory examination reveals them to be identical to the pants you previously purchased.
Deciding you would like to have another pair, you check the price tag and nearly faint. Despite being the same pants you have at home, the pair in front of you is triple the price of the pair you own. You examine the pants again, but still see no difference between the two pairs. The pants seem the exact same, but they are still selling for a higher price at this national store.
This scenario sounds ridiculous right? There’s no way identical goods can sell for different prices based on the store they are being sold from correct? As ridiculous as it sounds, this is a disturbing trend which has hit Steam.
Folks, This is the PC Port Problem.
What is the PPP? Essentially, mobile games are being ported to Steam in droves and being sold at a higher price, despite being identical to their mobile brethren in every way. When Valve changed their policies for allowing games onto Steam, the levee broke. These changes have led to several issues but today we will focus on the deluge of mobile games flooding Steam.
In theory, I have no issue with mobile ports making the way to Steam. If you have a quality game, then by all means, bring it Steam so more people can play it. The problem is when a port is completely, 100% identical to the mobile game, yet costs three times as much.
Inflation is fun!
For instance, take the game rymdkapsel. The game is selling for $4 on iTunes and the Google Play store. Now let’s take a look at the game’s store page on Steam. Notice a problem? We have a 50% price hike between the two platforms.
Surely the developer added new content, mechanics, or some general changes to the game, justifying the price hike? Well, from what has been seen so far, this is not the case.
Surely the developer added new content, mechanics, or some general changes to the game justifying the price hike? Well from what has been seen so far, this is not the case. The game is a straight port with no additional content of any kind. The game does not even have proper resolution selections. If the developer had made some major changes or added content of some sort, I would have less of an issue with paying more for the same game.
However, this is not the case here. What we have is a situation similar to the example with those perfect pants, there is no discernible or justifiable reason for this inflated price except for the store where the game is being sold.
I understand that some work goes into a PC port.
Adding $1-$2 to cover any work made on the developer’s part in bringing the game to PC would be easier to swallow. But charging $5 more with no additional content is not only greedy, but it also decreases the chance of loyal fans purchasing your game again.
When a consumer pays more for one version of a product versus a different version of the same product, the consumer is typically receiving more for their purchase (Blu-ray vs. DVD, a collector’s edition of a game over a standard version). But to charge more for the exact same thing with no differences comes across as deceitful and greedy. Players need to hold developers accountable for these practices and call them out.
To charge more for the exact same thing with no differences comes across as deceitful and greedy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Kingdom Rush. Kingdom Rush launched on Armor Games, found its way to Kongregate, invaded mobile devices, and then popped up on Greenlight. When justifying the transition to PC, Ironhide Games promised 1080p resolution, removal of the micro-transaction system, and other changes.
After release and ironing out some technical difficulties, Ironhide appeared to be true to their word. The PC port had the features promised and more. Is the game more expensive on Steam? Yes, but the developers were forthright with the justification of the price and also added and removed content, ensuring the game earned its inflated price tag.
Here we have a developer who clearly understands players would be hesitant to purchase the same game with a higher price and worked to ensure players get the most out of their purchase rather than simply porting the thing.
Dem Bones: The "Skeleton" Port
Even worse than the developers who inflate their game’s price, are those who have a skeleton port. A skeleton port is the bare minimum of a port the developers had to do in order to get the game on the Steam service. Most of these games are simply the mobile game with an upped resolution. I have seen a number of these games being sold on Steam, a PC digital distribution service, that still include "Tap Here!" prompts.
When you port your game to PC, there is a set of expectations your game should meet.
The developers could not even be bothered to change the text on their prompts or simply remove them. You can find many which still have the basic user interface and setup of a touch screen operated game.
When you port your game to PC, there is a set of expectations your game should meet. The game should have proper options, and not just for resolution. The game should also look like a PC game: the wording of the game’s instructions should reflect the game’s platform and proper key bindings should be added for crying out loud. Is it too much to ask? The game should not have the user interface of a bloody mobile title.
Perhaps the worst bit: no consequences for these lazy developers.
Steam allows developers to set their prices as they see fit with a minimal amount, if any, of Quality Assurance. Developers have taken to flooding Steam with mobile games much like the terrible “horror” games. With little to no consequences, developers can throw whatever they want on Steam and reap profits from it.
The game may look and play like it jumped straight off a mobile device. The game may not even have proper key bindings. The game may have the user interface nearly every mobile game has. None of these things matter though as the game can still be released onto Steam and turn a profit for these greedy devs.
Now let me tell you the tale of Major Mayhem. Major Mayhem is free on Android, but is selling for $4 on Steam. This is perhaps the most audacious of these things I have seen. The Steam port is a perfect example of all of the issues with this practice and a great teaching tool. The game has had the least amount of effort in being brought to Steam. For crying out loud, the developers could not be bothered to change their text to reflect being on the PC rather than mobile or even add proper key bindings! Everything in this game is controlled by the mouse. Even the jump feature is tied to a mouse click. The amount of laziness on display here is sickening. What justifies the $4 price tag when the game looks and plays like this? This is such a lazy, cynical port, even my cats are ashamed by this.
With Steam being the way it is and no change in the foreseeable future, these shenanigans will continue for some time until these developers stop making money or are not allowed to bring these underwhelming ports to Steam. These meager ports clog the veins of Steam, pushing more deserving games off the front page and new releases lists to make way for this rubbish.
Why bother working hard to develop a game you are passionate and care about when a majority of your sales and publicity can disappear when a lazy bugger posts their rubbish mobile port? It is slightly discouraging for devleopers actually trying to bring us players great games.
It seems raising awareness is currently the only solution for combatting this problem. People, if they are not already aware, need to be made cognizant of these unscrupulous products and the dangers supporting them can incur. These developers should not be allowed to profit off their laziness or ineptitude.
However, neither should we allow consumers to be kept in the dark about these practices. I belive there is a time and place for caveat emptor, and there is a time for alerting potential customers just what they are about to buy. If they decide to continue on with their purchase, well, they should have heeded the warning. Until then, we can keep fighting the good fight, and never be afraid to call out a developer over a skeleton port.
We deserve better and so does the gaming world.