At the beginning of December, the traditional video game industry attempted another iPad invasion. New versions of “Grand Theft Auto,” “Modern Combat” and “Baldur’s Gate” hit the iOS app market priced between $5 and $10. Over the past years, we have seen repeated attempts by major console and PC industry franchises to tailor their blockbuster games for iPhone and iPad platforms. None have succeeded. As the iOS app market increasingly favors free games with in-app purchases, the old-timers have started failing spectacularly.
December is the most important month of the year for the iOS app market and the days around Christmas are the hottest period. As consumers upgrade their iPhones or receive their very first iOS devices, they tend to go on mobile app buying binges. That is why mega franchises like GTA and copycats such as “Modern Combat” launched the latest iOS products at the beginning of the month. The games were supposed to stay alive for at least three weeks. They did not.
The lavishly marketed “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” peaked on iPhone app chart at No.2 on December 8th and plunged to No.36 by December 22nd. It rebounded to No.25 on December 25th. On the iPad, the game plummeted to a shocking No.52 by the all-important Christmas Day, when new iPad owners go berserk on iTunes.
Here is the kicker: on the revenue chart for U.S. iPad apps, the new GTA game had tanked to No.75 by December 25th. This is even worse than the No.52 position on the download chart. I find that genuinely fascinating, because it means that a game with a very stiff download price of $5 is showing weaker revenue performance than on raw download volume.
The GTA title is priced at $5 at a time when 80% of the top-grossing iPad games are free downloads. The top free apps have compelling in-game purchase strategies — “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” does not. As a result, it is getting beaten by titles such as “Fairway Solitaire” and “My Little Pony” in revenue generation. Having massive name recognition and hundreds of millions of units in console game sales helps very little in the brutally competitive iOS game market.
“Modern Combat 4″ has also plunged out of top-50 on the iPad revenue chart just three weeks after its high-profile debut. The $10 update of “Baldur’s Gate” is out of top-200, brought low by its ridiculously high sticker price.
The proud console and PC game champions keep repeating the same gambit in the iOS market: price ’em high and ignore the in-app purchase angle. They keep failing. When are we going to see a major console game franchise finally adapt to the Apple (AAPL) ecosystem and create an iOS game that is free to download but lures users into an in-app purchase trap effectively?