Epic: Premium iOS games can still make a fortune

Epic: Premium iOS games can still make a fortune

By Rob Crossley

September 23rd 2011 at 2:39PM

Unreal group 'doubling down' on triple-A mobile work

Mobile games development can flourish without selling apps at rock-bottom prices, the CEO at Epic Games has said.

Tim Sweeney said his company has made “significant profit” in the iPhone games business, largely because of its debut iOS game Infinity Blade, which retails at the relatively high £3.99 and $5.99 price-points.

“Infinity Blade has proven that iPhone owners are hungry for high-end games with cutting-edge graphics,” Sweeney told Forbes.

“For a long time, the market was seen as a ‘race to the bottom’ with developers being squeezed into releasing apps for 99 cents or even free. Infinity Blade’s success shows that premium-quality apps can sell for more.”

Free-to-play games have become a driving force on smartphones, allowing users to try apps at no cost with the option to buy additional in-game goods. A recent study claimed that 72 per cent of iOS revenue has come from in-app sales.

Meanwhile, publishing giants such as EA and Gameloft are choking the competition with seasonal $0.99 sales deals. As a result, many studios insist on releasing games at their lowest prices to effectively compete.

But Sweeney believes the smartphone market is willing to buy premium content at an appropriate cost, as proven by Infinity Blade’s $10+ million revenues.

“We’re making significant profit here and, as a result, we’re doubling down on triple-A mobile game development with Unreal Engine 3′s graphical advancements at the centre of our strategy,” Sweeney said.

It is believed that Epic subsidiary studio Chair is now working on a new premium iOS title, though the company as a whole could be working on more than one mobile project.

Design director Cliff Bleszinski recently revealed that Epic is looking to partner with an external studio to finish development on the sequel to the XBLA game Shadow Complex. Chair had made the original but has moved onto another, as yet unknown, project.

Epic also partners with external iOS developers via its prevalent Unreal Engine technology.

The Unreal Development Kit is free to use, though a $99 licence fee is issued when studios make their projects commercial.

Epic takes a 25 per cent cut of a game’s profits, but the fee is calculated after Apple takes its own 30 per cent cut of gross revenues.

However, Epic will not take anything from a game’s first $50,000 of profits, giving studios more freedom to take a chance with their games.

Sweeney said this focus on iOS was part of a wider strategy to proliferate Unreal tech across numerous devices.

“In the past, our engine generations have been driven by a particular type of device: PC with Unreal Engine 1 and 2; Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with Unreal Engine 3.  Our strategy today is ‘Unreal everywhere’,” he said.

“We want to lead the market with an engine that scales across all manner of world-class devices, from mobile platforms like iPhone and Android, to future consoles, and to computers and tablets of all sorts.

“We see great efficiency in a single technology and toolset, as it enables developers to move between projects, platforms, and even companies and bring the full benefit of their experience with them.”