Fishlabs boss Michael Shade casts an eye over the front lines in the battle for developers' attention
With billions of game downloads and 200 million iOS devices out there, Apple has created the most popular gaming platform ever. However, if Angry Birds is the biggest success story so far, there must be remaining untapped potential.
While the iPad 2 hardware is almost at a level that will be familiar to teams developing titles for consoles, one-man-show games like Tiny Wings can still knock even Angry Birds off the charts in an instant. It’s a case of a truly democratic platform, but without a category for premium product on the devices, big publishers are hesitating to invest into Apple’s platform.
Consequently, if multi-million pound development and marketing budgets are at stake, publishers want to have a better predictability of success before they commit to diving in completely. Ironically, selling high production premium games on premium devices to a premium audience seems like a natural fit, if only there was just a premium category on the App Store.
Maybe Apple just lacks the right gaming DNA to really go up against Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony.
And yet, even without a premium category the Apple App Store will remain the most attractive place for small and bigger mobile game developers for the next two years, as it is the most mature platform in terms of consistent installed hardware, a robust OS, and a tight store front. Last but not least, given its unparalleled track record, who knows what innovation Apple might come up with next?
AN OPEN ALTERNATIVE
But there isn’t only Apple. Android now offers a tempting alternative. Now setting the pace with its devices-sold-per-day rate, and second in terms of installed base with 100 million products already in the public’s hands, Android is also heavily supported by operators, and is substituting their J2ME content business. It sounds like a great space to be in.
However, openness brings with it software piracy, malware, and fragmentation. Furthermore, technical issues with in-app market billing, poor search results, and the absence of content quality management by Google hold it back from being a winner for paid content, yet.
It seems to be quite a stretch for a company that has built tremendous success on the mantra ‘all services are free for the consumer’ – monetising solely on ads and making copyrights not always the top priority – to become a really sustainable mobile ecosystem provider.
Google has to improve its ecosystem heavily to convince developers and publishers to justify their investments in the Android platform. But even free content is hard to monetise through ads, unless downloads are in the tens of millions. Some virtual goods-based games seem to be successful too, but this model won’t work for cutting edge, high production games that utilise the latest hardware, as these make only a small number of devices today.
The silver lining on the horizon is that gaming hardware powerhouse Nvidia is betting heavily on Android, which could prompt Google to drastically improve its platform. Otherwise, if the content offering is poor compared to its competitors, consumers will stop buying multiple-core-powered Android devices. The pre-loaded Tegra Zone app featuring highly optimised games for Tegra-powered Android devices is a first step into the right direction.
THE ECOSYSTEM BATTLE
And then there’s Nokia. It seems the once dominant company gets bashed from all sides for struggling in the booming smartphone market. Granted, as Steven Elop explained himself, to make Symbian^3 fit to compete against iOS and Android would take too long. Meanwhile MeeGo has arrived late and won’t be available for mid and low-end smartphones, and does not appeal to other OEMs for obvious competition reasons.
However, from a developer’s perspective, compared to the 100 million-strong heavily fragmented and a technically weak Android ecosystem, a consistent 50 million symbian^3 devices install base and a tightly managed OEM-centric store is the better choice today.
Backed up by two extremely wealthy new friends in Microsoft and Qualcomm, who probably will do anything to make sure Nokia sells tens of millions of Windows Phones, Nokia is a pretty good candidate for becoming at least number two in the race for the most successful mobile gaming platform.
Furthermore, Microsoft is a company with a vast amount of talent for selling software, and it brings with it a very strong gaming proposition. It would have not been the first time that Microsoft comes in to the arena late, especially into gaming, having teething issues in the first attempt but scoring well on the second.
If you put it all together there’s a potential leader; the number one mobile hardware manufacturer with more than a billion customers, a solid and fresh-looking OS with a strong cross platform gaming proposition built-in, as well as a seamless MS Office integration, a premium content positioning, and the ability to keep carriers as an important part of the content value chain.
The Microsoft-Nokia alliance is extremely appealing to consumers, operators and developers. Looks like now it is the time to buy Microsoft and Nokia stocks.