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Cave's Watanabe on the benefits of premium app pricing

Heidi Kemps

Conventional wisdom says that expensive iOS and Android games don't sell, but in a speech at GDC, Mikio Watanabe, COO of shmup developer Cave, frankly stated the exact opposite. In a presentation entitled "Japanese Retro and Social Games on Smartphones," Watanabe gave advice to developers looking to port their companies' legacy IPs to the rapidly blossoming smartphone and tablet markets.

His advice? For starters, keep the games running at a good clip instead of focusing too much on graphical clarity. "When games are running quickly, the human eye misses tiny imperfections in the visuals," he noted, encouraging developers to try to shoot for an average of 50 FPS or better. To increase the profitability, he encouraged developers to include unique and interesting DLC to spur in-app purchases.

Most iOS games do the majority of their sales in their first month, Watanabe noted. As far as pricing, Watanabe insisted that developers shouldn't shy away from premium app pricing. "Smartphones are inherently expensive," he said, "so the people who buy them tend to have more disposable income. If the game is interesting and well-made, people will gladly pay for it." Cave games are higher-priced titles targeted towards a particular niche -- Dodonpachi Resurrection, for example, is $7.99 -- and they tend to do well with such focused aim. Cave initially priced its smartphone games a bit highly out of fears that they wouldn't sell very much, but found that its loyal fanbase was ready and willing to pay the set prices.

But perhaps the most important element Watanabe emphasized was the importance of building and maintaining a loyal fanbase. "By keeping fans happy, it lowers the amount of customer support you need to do in-house," he stated. Fans are likely to help out other customers having problems with purchased game. Fans write generally positive reviews. Fans also drive sales of franchises and re-releases of popular titles. Establishing news feeds and in-app community links – such as Cave's own Cave World service – helps maintain a brand identity and provides a means to connect fans and deliver news about new games and services.

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