EA's iOS Game Sale Comes With Ulterior Motive

By  |  Friday, December 17, 2010 at 10:17 am

Christmas is closing in, so Electronic Arts’s $1 iOS game sale is a big deal. But as GigaOM’s Darrell Etherington argues, it’s also a clever tactic to crowd out iPhone and iPad app charts during the busiest sales period of the year.

The move rubs right up against a glut of new game launches from publishers big and small. NOVA 2, The 7th Guest, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and a bunch of other games were all released on Thursday. Infinity Blade, published by Epic Games, launched last week. Etherington calls the EA sale a bully tactic that robs other publishers of top billing.

He’s right about sales volume, at least. Looking at the app charts on my iPad, every game in the top 10 paid app chart is published by EA. But the list of top grossing apps proves that EA’s strategy doesn’t spell doom for other publishers.

Right now, the top-grossing iPad app is World of Goo, which on the Wii was my favorite game of 2008. On iPad, it costs $10, so whatever World of Goo lacks in sales volume — the game ranks 16th on the sales charts — it makes up for in revenue. Other examples abound: Angry Birds HD ($5) ranks 14th in sales and 6th in revenue, Infinity Blade ($6) ranks 19th in sales and 13th in revenue, and Dungeon Hunter HD ranks 42nd in sales and 28th in earnings.

How is this possible? In World of Goo’s case, promotion from Apple as the iPad game of the week probably played a big role, but that doesn’t explain the success of Infinity Blade and Dungeon Hunter. I think we’re seeing word of mouth play a big role in promoting iOS games. I didn’t find out about Aralon — a huge RPG that’s now 28th on the iPad charts — by trawling the App Store. I heard about it on blogs and Twitter.

In other words, iPhone and iPad are gaining legitimacy. They’re not just throwaway time-wasters, but games you can anticipate before launch and then spend $10 on. Aralon, for instance,¬†is a 30-hour experience. People are willing to pay for that even as EA sells its wares for next to nothing.

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