CEO Of Mobile Company Blames Everyone For Wanting Coffee Rather Than His Game

from the buy-my-game,-you-ungrateful-fucks! dept

As happens periodically and predictably, a person who created something but hasn’t seen the financial return he anticipated is now blaming the public for his financial woes. It’s nothing this game developer did wrong — according to him — it’s everyone else. They all want stuff for free. (h/t Techdirt reader Sneeje)

A mobile game my team and I poured our hearts and souls into is receiving rave reviews from users. The game, Battlestation: Harbinger, was featured by both Apple and Google as one of the best new games in their respective marketplaces.

You may think that congratulations are in order. You might think that my team and I popped some Champagne and headed out on a well-deserved vacation. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Even with these successes, my company and I are in the red, desperate to bring in more money before we have to lay off our workers and close our doors for good.

These are the words of Aksel Junkilla, the CEO of the company behind Battlestation:Harbinger. Complaints about mobile gaming are often inseparable from complaints about casual gamers and the games that cater to them. Everyone supposedly wants everything for free, which is why so many game developers have taken the “free to play” route. Game development is subsidized by a small percentage of users who will dump hundreds or thousands of dollars into the game while the other 99% play for free. It works, to a certain extent, but it also relies on large, loyal userbase.

But that’s not the only problem with Junkilla’s arguments. They’re also premature. Any market can be unpredictable, but markets with limited data are even more so. Console gaming has been around for more than 40 years. PC gaming has been around even longer. But full-fledged mobile gaming has only been around for two decades, and its first decade or so bears almost no resemblance to today’s market. To complain about the state of mobile gaming in 2015 is like complaining about the state of the motor vehicle market in 1920. The market is still mostly unexplored and, like any other creative endeavor, what works for some will not work for others. But that hasn’t stopped the complaints.

Creators often talk about the internet and other democratic distribution platforms as being responsible for the “devaluing” of creative efforts. But one of the first things this game developer does in his rant about mobile gaming is devalue his own work.

You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like. In order for creative games to be made, there needs to be a major culture shift. We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.

When you open your rhetorical arguments by comparing your game (which is apparently “worth” far more than people are willing to pay) to a cup of coffee, you’re doing your work a disservice. A game shouldn’t be compared to a cup of coffee just because the two are similar in price. The rough analogy may seem like it works, but all it really does is signal you feel your game is comparable to cups of coffee and yet somehow more deserving of people’s spare income than the local coffee shop.

If that’s the argument, this is the rebuttal. Here’s Rob Fearon, a game developer in his own right, but one you’ll never see arguing that the (potential) customer is always wrong.

What if I didn’t spend that money I’m supposed to save for an app on a coffee. I mean, that’s possible because I don’t even like coffee.

What if I spent £2.99 or whatever…

on food to eat because I need to eat?
on milk or a bottle of juice or two or a Ribena or something?
going towards a pack of nappies for my youngest or some wipes or something?
bus fare to the hospital?
train fare to see my relatives or friends?
or most of it anyway on a Big Issue?
some great tunes I can listen to for years to come?
a comic or a magazine I enjoy reading?
some second hand books?
some new books!
someone else’s videogame because I didn’t like the look of yours? Like Spellbound. I paid £2.99 for Spellbound. Do past purchases even count or is this a modern malaise where it’s only apps or coffee?

Junkilla’s inability to see beyond his own price point — one he had decided was “fair” before “consulting” the buying public (by offering it for sale) — stunts his own argument. As Fearon points out, mobile game purchase decisions aren’t binary. It’s not THIS APP or THIS LATTE. It’s this app or any number of things that seem more worth the cost. But Junkilla wants to believe the world is keeping him from doing what he loves because they can’t stop throwing away their money on spiced lattes.

It could be any other small expenditure, but for some reason, people seem to want to compare [insert thing for sale here] to cups of coffee. Fearon’s list is far more expansive and it takes into consideration the fact that humans have many things to spend money on and each person will make decisions based on subjective value — rather than the “use anywhere” objective value Junkilla seems to believe exists.

And when Junkilla finally moves on from criticizing his potential customers for blowing money on coffee rather than on him, he moves on to indirectly blame them by complaining about free-to-play games and what they’ve (supposedly) done to the robust market he assumes would be there if not for Clash of Clans, etc.

Even apps that find success in their marketing campaigns cannot make up the money spent on development because people would rather spend $5 on a latte every other day than on the app. Why? Because the most popular games are free-to-play, with a monetization model that lets most players play for free while milking some customers for thousands of dollars.

Junkilla blames people who prefer lattes to his game. He blames people who prefer free-to-play to pay-up-front. He blames bogus reviews left at Google’s Play store that rate his game lower because it’s not cheaper. He blames popular culture for being popular and generally being more successful than niche offerings like his own. Everything about mobile gaming — as it exists now — is the problem. Nothing about his lack of success can be traced back to him or his game… at least according to him.

A review of the comments, however, uncovers a variety of reasons why people may be unwilling to pay the price he’s asking, none of which have anything to do with discretionary coffee spending or wanting everything for free.

I would gladly play console game prices for a console game experience.

Me too. On a console.
I have zero interest in playing Zelda on my phone. Because I don’t use my phone that way. I use my phone for short, distracted, frequently interrupted gaming sessions. If I’m going to sit down and play through a console/PC level game, I’m not doing it on my phone.


Mobile is still too fluid an ecosystem to expect people to go for premium games right now. Players are limited by ram, storage, download speeds, data limits, screen size, and social footprint. Until tablets/smartphones stop changing so much every 12 months, developers aren’t going to have any idea what kinds of games they can develop and consumers aren’t going to trust anything except free because they’re either upgrading their device so often or dropping the stupid thing on the pavement and cracking the screen in a million places.

There just isn’t enough stability in the hardware to give the author what he wants in the marketplace. When you buy a console or a PC, you’re going to keep it for years. You buy a Kindle or an iPhone and you’ll upgrade it in 12-24 months.

This is a just a small sampling of responses. Other issues brought up are fluky mobile control schemes and phone screen sizes frequently not being optimal for “console-level” gaming. Then there are comments from other game developers, one of which points out the folly of complaining about how the only way to make money is to go “free-to-play” while simultaneously demanding the rest of the world come around to your way of thinking, rather than going where the money actually is.

By the time Junkilla arrives at his conclusion, he’s contradicting himself.

Gamers need to learn to vote with their money. This will allow developers to build the great games that everyone wants to see on the expanding mobile platform.

And yet, when the wallet voting occurs, Junkilla is right there to complain about the tallied votes. The public has spoken and his game apparently won’t make him rich, much less allow him to break even. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. But they are not symptoms of a severely damaged system.

Finally, Junkilla’s implies that his game’s critical success should result in commercial success, despite the entire history of cultural and creative efforts showing these two elements rarely go hand-in-hand.

As has been famously noted, the Velvet Underground never sold many albums, but every album they sold resulted in someone starting a band. At any pop culture site, you can find multiple lists of TV shows critics loved but only survived a few seasons because the general public was less impressed. The movies with the best reviews aren’t the ones racking up hundreds of millions in ticket sales. Studios behind universally-acclaimed games have closed up shop.

That’s the way it goes. It’s still a relatively untested market and no one has all the answers. Junkilla, however, doesn’t even have the right questions. Attacking potential customers and blaming them for spending their money elsewhere is no way to grow a business. The world isn’t just gaming apps and cups of coffee. Connecting the two just because it’s an easy way to compare prices does a disservice to both your argument and the public.

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Comments on “CEO Of Mobile Company Blames Everyone For Wanting Coffee Rather Than His Game”

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Moonkey says:

He could be doing a marketing trick though, getting people interested in his game by making rude, or silly statements and boosting his ego to get covered in an article like this.

Kind of like Derek Smart’s accidental influence on, rather than driving people away, getting people more interested in Star Citizen. (That’s not exactly a marketing trick though… I think.)

TheResidentSkeptic says:

Re: Good point, but timeline appears off

William Crowther, Adventure, PDP-10, 1975. Granted, not a PC, but all the MainFrame guys I worked with didn’t consider it a “real” computer…


William Higinbotham, “Tennis for Two”, 1958, on a Donner Model 30 analog computer using an Oscilloscope for output…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good point, but timeline appears off

Reading comprehension fail — on your part. Nobody is (yet) arguing about the advent of console gaming. However, nobody has (yet) cited a PC game that existed by 1975.

Which is going to be difficult, as the first real (mass-market, not prototype) personal computers were the Commodore Pet, the Apple II, and the Tandy TRS-80, all circa 1977.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Good point, but timeline appears off

I’m using the generally accepted definition of “personal computer”. Forgive me for being sensible instead of twisting the definition, far, far beyond any reasonable interpretation.

Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just admit that the original statement was wrong?

Doug D says:

Re: Good point, but timeline appears off

Note: PDP-11’s do not qualify as PCs.

If you take “PC” as an idiom for “the kind of computer that typical computer users have access to”, then it kinda does.

But even discounting that, many hobbyists had S-100 based computers (like the Altair) in 1974, and CP/M goes back to 1973. And I remember magazines including BASIC source code for simple games, that you’d type in yourself and play regardless of the BASIC implementation you had.

John Nemesh (profile) says:

Hopefully, this happens to ALL "free to pay" mobile devs!

This trend of “freemium” can’t die soon enough! I had visions, once upon a time, of playing FULL RETAIL quality games on my mobile device. I imagined a Nintendo GameBoy like experience, but with better screens and more powerful hardware. Instead, we get Candy Crush…and Bubble Witch! We even have one company making their frekin’ LOADING screens longer for free users “Pay now to shorten loading times!” BULLSHIT! It all needs to die in flames!

Anonymous Coward says:

Analogy Fail

Most coffee shops will give you a cup of water for free, if you want something with flavor or bottled you pay and pay each time you want it. They like that reoccuring income of people purchasing something small each day, keeps the case flowing…..

Buying coffee could compare to the “freemium” type games but not to his large upfront cost game.

Maybe the whole issue here is he needs to go to business school or hire someone who has that actually understands the economic forces at play here.

If his game really is good he should reduce functionality, give it away for free and have an in-app purchase of 3.99 to return full functionality. Bet he would make more money that way, lots more money.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is also a mental transaction cost. Buying a latte is only a financial expenditure, with a game you will also have to allocate time. The game has to compete not just financially but also for your time.

And besides that a free to play game that isn’t worth your time can easily be uninstalled, but uninstalling a paid game because you don’t like it enough feels pretty bad.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Agree With Him On This One Point

“We need to be willing to spend a few dollars on a quality app, rather than for a few extra lives or other in-game purchases.”

Now, unlike him, I know that the market does what the market wants to do, and you can’t hold your breath until it changes for you. However, I also hate the fact that people are unwilling to pay a couple of bucks for a good game.

The reason is that because of the market’s desire for free, devs went to the free to play, with in-game upsell model, or in-game ads.

The net result is a dearth of simple, good quality, pay-once gaming, and an explosion of nagging, prompting, interrupting, Notification-generating apps. By forcing the devs to be beggars, they have become excellent beggars.

Before in-app purchases were enabled in apps, and before in-app advertising, the number of biz model choices for developers was pretty small: charge for your app or don’t. The need to eat meant that the majority DID charge for their app, it was a couple of bucks and you had the app until you upgraded your device or more. The apps that trickled to the top of the ratings were the good apps – not necessarily the cheap apps. The result was that, for a few wonderful years 2008-2010, you could buy an highly-rated app, it would be good, and it would not nag the shit outta you for another 99 cents for “dragon food” or whatevs.

The golden age of apps IS behind us. It was short. Because people hate to pay, the apps have responded by treating them like the cheapskates they are, and trying to trick or bait-and-switch them instead of selling quality for a price.

I feel the same way about economy airline travel. Why is the service so shitty, the food so bad, the seats so small, the entertainment so lame, the nickel-and-diming so prevalent? Because the mass market asked for it to be that way by shopping only on listed price of ticked. You want it cheap? They cut costs, then try to make extra money off you any legal way they can.

Get off my lawn.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Agree With Him On This One Point

Price becomes important as soon as the extra value is limited/unknown. If you can see what you are buying, you are more likely to pay the price.

Unfortunately, as you mention, you have 3+ major players in the market-place market, making a commitment to an android, iOS, Windows etc. the question of if there is any longevity in the investment in the owned forever business. I think most people would like to avoid being locked down to a vendor by buying an unknown game based on gameplay.

Phones are for casual games atm: The screen is too small for more advanced games, the control is clunky and limited, the audience is younger and more attracted by sound/flashy graphics and the market is volatile and in no way settled, making any longer term investment questionable. That is the problem here: The game is missing the target audience and the devices are limiting for the type of game they have developed.

As much as the mass market always can be blamed for ruining what makes life worth living (That hits home), the financial model chosen here seems too risky for this time, and/or these platforms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Free-To-Play games are the result of a general oversatuation of a market: You hope to build up a fanbase large enough and loyal enough to support your product economically by trying to make it clear to the customer that your product is “worth it”. The disadvantage for the Pay-To-Play model is both the FTP and the longevity: If you change phone as often as you change socks and even change from OS to OS, the value of the purchase may not be too impressive. Many Phone-games have an extra disadvantage in the lack of community creation which hurts the games not focusing on casual graphics and sounds as a marketing-vehicle.

The phones may just not be the right platform for these more evolved games at the moment. On the other hand, the PC is not the right platform for low graphic phone games now since they compete with free independent 1-man productions. So the deeper error seems to be the lack of market-analysis and or a far too risky gearing for the market.

limbodog (profile) says:

For what it's worth

I bought that game a while back on a whim. It is actually rather decent. Could perhaps use a bit more polish, but I found it fun and a nice timesink. It didn’t pester me to buy diamonds or gems or whatever other digital currency they’re peddling these days.

I kind of agree with him that it’s a shame people aren’t as willing to plunk down a few bucks for a game on a gamble when there’s so much “free” (read: pay to win, etc.) content out there.

I even have a reddit post out there to try to catalog the games people were actually playing for their iOS device and most are in-app-purchase oriented.

I wonder if a try-it-before-you-buy-it setup could work on Apple Store. Because there’s no shortage of people willing to spend money on games, they just seem unwilling to do so before they’ve played.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t buy games for a phone because I don’t game on a phone. End of story.

This has nothing to do with what else I might or might not purchase because this is my life style. If I want to game, I will do it on a computer to get the full experience of the game. Funny, I don’t see him mentioning that a PC version is available.

Even if it were on the market, up for sale, chances are I would never buy the game anyway, without either a trial or without hearing from the public and not a review that the game was worth buying. Gaming houses in their quest not to have a bad review for even the worst of games have totaled out any trust in reviews. Simply, they have poisoned the well and lack any creditability at all.

Neither Apple nor Google can be trusted to actually rate a game impartially. They are not in the business of making games, they are in the business of selling and advertisement. Citing those two as recommendations are the same as citing Coke corporation as a dependable source of impartial info on recommending Coke as a purchase.

Call me a too often bitten cynic critic of the hype game and refuses to pay attention to it any longer.

I am not a walking wallet.

Kevin (profile) says:


“You see, we have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you. You would rather buy a pumpkin spice latte a few times a week and enjoy it for a few minutes than buy a game that you can play as long as you would like.”

I think he missed the real point. The real point is that ‘mincemeat pie’ has been around for hundreds of years, and it is exactly the flavor people are now calling ‘pumpkin spice’. It seems like pumpkins are culturally appropriating the mincemeat pie flavor.

We need to fight the power and take that name back. Who’s with me, social justice warriors? Mincemeat lattes for freedom!

Anonymous Coward says:

The right and the wrong imo

I agree with him on certain points, though I would not have expressed it quite so agressively and so arrogantly. Frankly it has put me off from even looking at his game.
It is however sad to see how otherwise great games gives into the socalled “free to play” model. I do see the great thing in testing a game out before buying, but too many games have become about annoying you untill you pay.
It is not that the market shouldn’t exist, just that it has spread too far in that in all but a few games you cannot get any kind of meaningful experience unless you give in and end up paying more than you would for a full game.
I am afraid for the future of gaming and that it will become about getting the next $ rather than creating exciting stories and immersive experiences… more than it is today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Its mobile, its worthless

It is a mobile game. The mobile game market is so infested by utter tosh, free as well as paid that I would never even consider spending a single cent on a mobile game. I mean, free or not, virtually all of them are infested with ads and microtransaction (yes, ads AND microtransactions in paid games)that they are not worth anything, neither my money nor my time.

And once the go past the T-Rex sized gorilla in the room that is the business model we get to the even more crucial issues. They wanted to make a “Core Game”. On Mobile. With touch controls. Gaming on mobile is a miserable experience by any possible metric. The performance of the hardware is not there (not THAT much of an issue, but still) and most of all the UI is godawful. You have effectively 1 button that doubles up as a stunningly inaccurate pointing device. That combined with a comparably tiny screen means that the UI cannot have a reasonable information density which means that displaying information is simplified to an unreasonable point and it needs countless nestled menus to be just barebones functional lets not even dream of adequate.

Thanks to these pretty much unsolvable UI problems you then have the option of either making the game unplayable or simplifying it to a point where every bit of “Core Gaming” gets substituted by QTEs or game mechanics on Match 3 levels of complexity. Either way it ends up being a miserable experience. You simply can’t make mechanically complex and interesting games with touch controls, because you will be unable to properly control them.

Mobile devices have to solve the UI and interface issues or gaming on them will always be a laughing stock, but touch controls can not possibly work for Core games. And don’t even start arguing with “virtual controls” they are an even more miserable experience then the dumbed down games released normally.

I stopped caring for mobile games now all together. someone could make “the best game ever” on a mobile device and I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t *care*. Mobile gaming has poisoned the well with extortionate business practices, unplayable controls and dumbed down games now to the point that it is simply not worth to even try. Not even for free.

JoeCool (profile) says:

It's good... so what?

There’s lots of stuff that’s good or great that I loathe. Everyone has their own preference, and while I can agree that certain games are well done, they are not the sort of thing I like to play. If you make a once-in-a-lifetime game that blows critics minds that doesn’t appeal to most people, it’s not going to sell. As simple as that.

To make a blockbuster game, just like a blockbuster movie, you have to pander to the masses to some extent. It means critics will often hate your game/movie, but it’ll sell big. Then take some of those profits and make that god-like game that no one bothers to play. 😀

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

As someone on a budget...

I get my mobile games in humble bundles. I buy early and pay $10 when the average is between $5 and $6.

And these are games people are purchasing, so the non-F2P market is far from dead.

Also, I avoid F2P games and games that push in-game purchases more than a little bit. I was very disappointed in the Catan marketing strategy.

AC720 (profile) says:

As a rule, I don’t play games on my phone. The few I keep I did pay for, but it’s not like $5 one time is a lot of revenue to any company. They’re never going to make it depending on users like me, and no I won’t pay more because it’s a game. On my phone. A few inches of screen automatically devalues the content displayed on it.

Compare to a PC MMO, which is where I spend a lot of time and money. I get immersed in it, have friends and voice chat and spend a lot of time making screencaps and recordings of gameplay. And it’s all on a glorious large screen where I can forget about everything. Those games get my money. Just spent $200 on one of them just to beta test the game and another $40 buying the incredible music from the game.

Games like this are normally free to play but of course use the cash shop model and I will throw money at games that way too. So I feel no guilt about not doing so on phone games I don’t have.

Not even mentioned in this complaint is companies like Amazon deciding most of their app library is “truly free” or whatever they call it. Ask users what they think “free” apps are worth and no developer is likely to want to hear the reply. But developers AGREE to have Amazon give away their apps. Nobody forces them to do it. How they make any money on it, I have no idea. But that’s not my problem. Plenty of businesses run on shitty flawed business plans that aren’t the responsibility of their customers.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Maybe that's the problem.

I’m pretty sure that the whole basis of our advanced, non-agrarian economy is about sustaining the notion that work = $, even if the translation isn’t perfectly consistent, it should happen most of the time.

It was the American Dream once. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Also meaning you could live well by working hard.

Otherwise we have to ask ourselves why we don’t just pick nuts and berries and hunt elk for food.

Or barring that because there’s too many people, why we don’t club passers-by, take their stuff and eat their limbs for nourishment.

Usually, it’s because work = $ is the better alternative.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s an interesting point, but comparing it to coffee is wrong.

Some people can’t pay for it. Maybe they do not have the spare dollars for it. Maybe they don’t have a supported payment method to use. Maybe they’re a kid without their parent’s credit card.

Some people won’t pay for it. Personally, I won’t pay for something I haven’t tried before, and that’s why video games are a big risk. (Short of a playable demo, etc.) All it takes is one crappy game and it ruins the experience for everything else. If you get a bad coffee, you’ll think twice on going back to that coffee place. If you get a bad game, you’ll think twice on buying another game.
And of course, the pirates, the cheapskates, whatever – but there is no point complaining about them.

People’s money is their own and they choose not to give it to you, that’s just too bad. Just because you have a good product (video game or otherwise) doesn’t mean you automatically get paid. It’s sad, but it’s just reality.

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