The Hardcore iPad Experience

By @ 03/15/13 in articles

So, Leigh posted his thoughts recently on the fact that our game, despite being primarily targeted at iPad, is not really an ‘iPad game’. It is in the sense that was it was built from the ground up for this platform – the interface went through three careful major iterations to make it as elegant, seamless and transparently simple as possible on a touch interface.

But it also *isn’t* in the sense that is is a full, solid premium game. These are my thoughts on that – consider it a friendly rebuttal, if you like, or at the very least an alternate perspective – why I feel he’s right… but why I feel that’s not a problem.

It wasn’t designed for in-app microtransactions, and even the budget/scale of the game is more like a mid-level indie game than a little iPad twitch-fest. This we’ve known from the start – but it wasn’t something that bothered me. Far from it – I considered it an opportunity – and a challenge. To illustrate this, I’ll tell a story. I enjoy many genres of video game, but one I’m particularly partial to is wargames. Hardcore wargames. The old style of hex-based, turn-by-turn wargames which have a library of details on the stress points of different armour and lookup tables for what might happen when, say, a 2-pound projectile impacts at a 32 degree angle on the hindquarters of a German Panzer IV Ausf. H infantry assault tank.

So when somebody told me a year or so ago that a proper, hardcore hex-based wargame (Battle Academy) had hit iPad, I got excited. Very excited.

I rushed into the app store to dig it up, and my heart nearly skipped a beat. $21? Really? For an iOS game? But iOS games are cheap! A few bucks! Maybe, at most, the cost of a coffee-and-bagel deal from one of those stands in the CBD! But $21? That’s outrageous! That’s… that’s… the price of a NORMAL video game! A cheap one, sure, but still… that just wouldn’t do.

The awesome Battle Academy by Slitherine Ltd

The awesome Battle Academy by Slitherine Ltd

Then I thought about that. What the heck? Why was I suddenly considering not buying a game which looked RIGHT up my alley, because it cost $20? I’d drop $20 on a desktop or console downloadable game without much hesitation – sometimes just staring at the screen shots would convince me!

So what was it that was different about the iPad? It was expectation.

iPad is for bigger games than iPhone, sure, but still not “normal” games. (Never mind that hundreds of them actually exist – some built specifically for it, many fairly direct ports of full-price desktop or console titles) Why is that? This was clearly a game I’d enjoy. It was on a platform I love using. Why didn’t I want to be lounging on my couch, music playing on the stereo, beer by my side, commanding tanks through the desert battlefields of North Africa in WW2?

So I bought it. And I was right – I enjoyed it immensely.

Out of my usual crew of wargamer friends, I managed to convince about a half of them who owned iPads to drop the cash on the game, despite the price. Many of them were quite excited, too – a game! A real, serious game, on their iPad! The price was the biggest turnoff, but in general the idea was solid – I felt that I wanted more of this.

I wanted serious games, ones you’d sink hours into, for my iPad. So when the idea for Township percolated into my brain, iPad seemed natural. I love citybuilders, I love strategy, I love crafting, I love exploration… why not make a game like that which was truly tailored for the touch screen / couch experience?

Much as I love the odd stint in Angry Birds or the endlessly addictive Fruit Ninja, I want a choice. I want intelligent, serious, thoughtful, stressful games as much as I want the wonderful content we already have for this platform… and I don’t think I’m the only one.

We won’t be putting quite so prohibitive a price tag on our game as the “terrifying” (yet, I feel, justified) figure that gave me pause over the wonderful Battle Academy all those months ago, but we still make no bones about this being a full, premium game that just happens to be on your iPad.

A pleasant little town.

For anyone who still thinks this is entirely unreasonable and silly of us, I simply say: look at the figures. Not sales figures, but usage figures. I attended a fascinating talk at a conference recently, where some interesting statistics were produced from a few reputable analytics companies.

Firstly, iPad users are more likely than iPhone users to buy games. Sure, there’s more iPhone users out there than iPad users, but that a higher percentage of those iPad users actually buy and play games has to count for something, right? Secondly… the average session time for an iPad game is higher. Much higher.

For an iPhone/smartphone game it’s about 3-10 minutes per session on average. For iPad? 10-45 minutes. That’s a bit shorter than your average play time for desktop or console games, but I still see positives here. Not only is about half an hour a good play time per session (we think) for Township, but I also feel that the reason for the relatively short play time on iPad versus console or desktop is due to the types of games one is likely to find on them.

The solution? Make bigger games. More full-size titles like the Telltale adventures (which play well on touch and hit touch platforms alongside the more traditional ones), or, better still, more games that are grand in scope but really carefully built for iPad – like ours.

That’s why I think our choice of platform is good – and why I see a good future for similar titles on tablet.


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