4Q Interview: ustwo™

Posted by Chris Hall on February 4th, 2010

It's no secret that the App Store economy is artificially deflated, but none have been quite as outspoken as the guys over at ustwo™. Their blog proclaims that "UK studio ustwo™ have launched a tongue-in-cheek (yet serious) campaign against 59p app pricing (that’d be 99 cents in the US, obviously). “F*** 59p. I’d rather nothing than that insult price." Inspired by their tongue-in-cheek rage, I decided to send a few questions over their way to get the real scoop.
Chris (148apps) - I read a tweet this morning from you guys that said "Developers Unite. Don't undersell your apps. Join ustwo™ in raising the minimum PAID to £1.19. Be Bold. Be Proud.". My question is, what is that squiggly L shaped thing next to 1.19? (Just kidding). What do you think a storewide price boost will do to the App Store?

Mills (ustwo™) - At ustwo™ we like to think we’re a fiercely passionate and independent studio. We’re luckily in a position where we don't have to answer to anyone other than ourselves, so the point is, if we wanted to push out cheap apps all day long and pat our own backs and congratulate ourselves on driving larger downloads - we could.

Problem is for us it’s currently a false economy. There may have been 2 billion app downloads and counting so far, but we cannot ignore the fact that most developers out there are making absolutely nothing – in fact most are losing money. The emergence of the 59p price point 100% kick-started the app store phenomenon as we know it today, but the bottom line is that it’s impossible to make money at the 59p price point for 99% of studios. I'm talking about enough money to actually allow you to survive on app sales alone. If people are not making money then clearly there is no market, just the illusion of one created by the hope of hitting the jackpot. I’m hinting at the future of the app store as it stands today with developers from all walks of life having a go and creating great apps. If we don’t address the price point issue and the realities of what’s going on at the moment, then we may see in the future a purely corporate, branded led app store with no individuality shining through.

If all developers move their app prices up to at least a minimum £1.19 ($1.99) then a clear and simple statement is made. A statement that says we are proud of what we’ve achieved and created; and we will no longer be forced to compete on price point alone to win cheap sales. By finally having a more expensive release price, designers, developers and marketers will think hard about their app offerings and question whether what they are producing is worthy of a worldwide release. I ultimately believe this move to a higher price point will help drive quality to where it 100% deserves to be – at the top.

Chris (148apps) - Another point and more importantly, do you expect customers to hop on board with more expensive apps or will they go the route of the Wal-Mart customer and expect rolled back prices?

Mills (ustwo™) - The point is developers need to make money and as I’ve highlighted before price point was clearly one of the main reasons behind the runaway success of the app store. It is a catch 22 or chicken and egg scenario – the appeal for developers is that anything can be created and sold but as the market matures and only the big players survive everyone – both consumer and developer will lose out. Most small developers will give up and consumers will be left with a corporate controlled and dominated app store. The initial appeal and buzz surrounding the app store could be lost forever.

To reiterate, as developers we need to make money to continue in this game. Gone are the early days of releasing any app just because you can, now is the time to focus on exceptional useful experiences and not joke apps. Incidentally I have nothing against joke apps, but they don't help cement the usefulness and worthiness of application development.

Chris (148apps) - With that being said, what do you think the fair market value is for the current $0.99 apps? I know that a ton of time is put into some of these apps, and to me, even £1.19 seems like a steal.

Mills (ustwo™) - Bottom line is there are too many apps, too many copycats, way too much for the consumer to navigate through. Getting through to them in the current 'sea of app sewage' is very difficult. Therefore it must all be about focusing efforts on ‘standout’ application development. As far as we're concerned 59p is as good as free, and that price suggests to me (the developer) that I don't value what I've created. The user is potentially getting a highly polished immediate delivery of entertainment to brighten their day. £1.19 is a good price for the minimal casual games, games that may have only taken £2,000-£3,000k to create and develop. We are now investing over £50K per app idea in order to create experiences that give the user ongoing satisfaction, we want them to love their apps, not just buy them. These types of apps or games deserve a minimum of £2.79+ at the very least. We must remember that Apple has done an incredible job at making distribution to the entire world an incredibly painless and cheap experience. The customer doesn’t need to pay for developer distribution costs anymore, so we can afford to offer amazing experiences at impulse purchase prices and we feel that should be a minimum of £1.19.

Chris (148apps) - Enough about pricing... how excited are you about the iPad? Don't hold back here, I want to feel the excitement.

Mills (ustwo™) - I’m genuinely excited by what I have seen so far. It’s not perfect, but it is exactly what the industry needed. It’s a much bigger platform to show off on and gives us a chance to deliver engaging content to a wider audience. The weaker developers will not be able to hide this time round – as the big screen doesn’t lie.

We see the iPad suiting two main areas – gaming and publishing. The term, ‘content is king’ is 100% relevant to the development of iPad applications and their future focus. The key for developers is to see the larger screen as a true laid back media consumption device, offering a fully immersive, content driven experience that users will happily eyeball all day. 

Chris (148apps) - Last question, with the iPhone screen being so small, it makes sense to have a game called ".". There have been two sequels now, but with the iPad screen being significantly larger, don't you think that you need to step up your dot quantity... maybe throw some exclamations in there? ".....................!!!!!!!" 

Mills (ustwo™)
- The .™ series has been a massive success story for us. It gave us an outlet in the early days to promote one of our key visions, which was and still is to be known for creating incredible and unique experiences on the small screen. The .™ experiences fall under our 48Hour coole’ctable™ series titles - games created in a 48 hour time period, each focused on stunning design and simple addictive gameplay. It would be easy for us to port these .™ experiences to the larger iPad, BUT we won't be looking to do this. We have a clear vision of the types of content we will be creating on the new device. Less app and a lot more APPLICATION - we’re looking at creating a much bigger and immersive vision really taking advantage of the big screen.

Chris (148apps) - I don't ever do this, but I need to ask one more thing. Do you really have a trademark on "the threequal™"?

Mills (ustwo™) - ustwo™ is known as much for our sublime wordplay as our creations themselves – all I’ll say is it’s very important for us to put our stamp on all the words we create. The ™ is that stamp.
Big thank you's to ustwo™ for not only doing the interview, but also coming up with the cool RIP59 logo at the top of the page.

Posted in: News, Interviews
Tagged With: Ustwo
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