Wayward Souls feels a lot like a two dimensional, mobile-optimized take on the infamously difficult role playing game series Dark Souls. You control one of several different heroes, from a sword-swinging warrior to a magic-flinging mage, as you venture across a dark, treacherous world where one small mistake can mean you're dead. It works as a mobile game not just because of the slickly integrated touchscreen controls, but also because of its structure: when you die, it's game over, forcing you to start from scratch. This creates an addictive loop as you keep venturing back to try to make it just a little bit further than last time. And since the world is procedurally generated, it's different every time you play.
It's one of the better RPGs you can play on a mobile device, and it's available today for $4.99 on iOS. But if you're interested, you should act fast — because that price is only going to go up.
The game was developed by Rocketcat Games, which co-developed the 2012 hit Punch Quest. Like many mobile developers, Rocketcat made Punch Quest free to download in hopes of reaching a wider audience and hopefully earning a sizeable sum through in-app purchases. But the game was a financial flop due largely to its generous structure, which provided little incentive to actually pay for anything since you could get quite a bit of in-game gold just by playing. After just a few weeks the developer gave up on free-to-play and turned Punch Quest into a paid download.
It started life as a free-to-play game
Despite that less than positive experience, the initial plan was to make Wayward Souls free as well. There are numerous examples of free-to-play games that are successful even without gouging players, and Rocketcat was hoping to emulate that. Specifically, the studio looked at the blockbuster success of the massively popular online game League of Legends, which is free to play but lets players buy additional characters. The problem was that while LoL supports dozens of different characters, that doesn't quite work for a character-driven RPG like Wayward Souls. "Characters in Wayward Souls are super complicated," says Rocketcat's Kepa Auwae, noting that things like equipment and weapon upgrades can significantly change the experience, and supporting a huge roster of characters and classes with those features proved very difficult.
"So we decided to just make it paid, with less characters," Auwae explains. The decision meant better balanced and more engaging characters, but it didn't keep the studio from experimenting with pricing. While Wayward Souls is a paid download and features no in-app purchases, its price isn't fixed. Instead, it will increase by $1 each time the game receives a major content update, of which several are already planned — including one slated to launch not long after today's release.
The pricing structure is an experiment
There are a few reasons behind the unique pricing structure. For one, it encourages players to buy early if they want to try the game, because they know ahead of time that the cost will only go up. For the studio, it's an excuse to make sure that the updates for Wayward Souls are substantive enough to justify the price increase. It's basically like a series of expansion packs, except the price for those expansions is factored into the base product and you can't just skip them over. Rocketcat — a developer that never seems to shy away from trying new things — also sees it simply as an excuse to see how the market reacts. Auwae describes it as "an experiment to see how each price point works."
The mobile gaming market can be a fickle place. When Threes launched at $2.99 it was seen as a "premium" priced game, and many users balked when the iPad version of FTL: Faster Than Light was released at the same $9.99 price point as its PC counterpart. Wayward Souls is a well crafted game that manages to take a deep dungeon crawling RPG and package it in a way that fits perfectly on your phone or tablet, so the current $4.99 price point doesn't seem too far-fetched. Whether gamers will be willing to pay twice as much for the same game with five updates, however, is another question.