EA's App Store Tactic: Dirty Trick or Just Business?

Electronic Arts (EA) (ERTS) has a lot of games in the App Store (AAPL), and a huge chunk of them are now available for only $0.99 (via Touch Arcade) as part of a massive holiday sale the publisher started today. But EA isn't just getting into the giving spirit; this is a calculated move by an App Store bully designed to anticipate the holiday app rush.

Many of EA's games manage to ride high in the charts even when priced above the $0.99 mark, which seems to bring so many titles such a high degree of success. Offering 54 iPhone games and 15 iPad titles at $0.99 (as of this writing) is obviously an effort to flood those charts with EA titles in advance of the App Store freeze that begins Dec. 22 and continues until Dec. 26, which also covers the period during which iOS apps enjoy the heaviest sales volume.

Why start now, a full six days prior to that freeze date? First, to build momentum. You don't climb the charts within a couple of minutes. Such apps as Angry Birds reach their lofty perches by doing a brisk business consistently. Starting now gives the EA titles a chance to gather steam.

Power of the Price Cut

More importantly, today is the release day for a ton of great new quality titles. Such games as Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, World of Goo for iPad, and NOVA 2 are among the fresh crop of potential blockbusters. Other great titles, such as Eternal Legacy, Dungeon Hunter 2, and Infinity Blade, have only recently arrived. Those games stand a pretty good chance of climbing and staying at the top of the charts, but they have one weakness: price.

As Endloop Studio's Garry Seto pointed out to me on Twitter, big price drops are a common way for studios to steal attention from the major releases of competitors. EA seems to have taken this to an extreme with this scattershot approach to gaining chart traction.

All this jockeying for position is exciting to watch, and it results in cheaper prices for consumers, but it also reveals the App Store's limitations when it comes to promoting and selling software. Developers and publishers live or die by the App Store charts, and big studios with extensive libraries can pull this sort of stunt, while smaller fish have to struggle to get noticed. That discrepancy will become even more pronounced as time goes by, and the Mac App Store will likely bring the same kind of thing to OS X development, too.

What do you think? Should Apple implement some kind of controls around the holidays to prevent heavy hitters like EA from throwing their weight around, or is this just the unavoidable nature of the beast?

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