Much has been made of the “race to the bottom” pricingon the iPhone App Store, which makes it hard to sell a successful app for more than a dollar or two. But I didn’t really realize how pervasive this problem was until I downloaded The Incident, a simple survival-platformer game that involves dodging and climbing heaps of junk falling from the sky. While I enjoyed the old-school graphics and sound effects, I found the gameplay to be a little dull and shut it off (probably for good) after only half an hour of play. Despite the game’s $1.99 price on the App Store, I still went away from the experience feeling like I had been ripped off.
Believe me, I know how ridiculous it sounds to be complaining about the value of a game that sells for less than $2, especially when there are dozens of worse games retailing for $60 or more on store shelves right now. This kind of impulse purchase isn’t exactly going to put me in the poorhouse, after all. Furthermore, at an adjusted rate of $4/hour, I realize that my short experience with The Incident was a better value than many other things I could do with my time.
Despite this, I can’t help but feel disappointed and a bit regretful with my purchase. Part of the problem, of course, is the structure of the market itself. No matter how good a game is on the App Store, chances are there’s a free alternative out there that approximates the experience relatively well, or at least provides a comparable distraction for less money. To overcome the huge perceived value gap between free products and even cheap products, the paid version has to be a whole lot better than anything that’s available for no cost.