It’s not news that the app store has been revolutionary for mobile gaming, with titles such as Angry Birds and Words With Friends paving the way, just as Farmville has for social gaming. Increasingly, though, with developers and publishers seeing both of these previously ridiculed areas of the industry suddenly surging in popularity, it seems like a new Golden Age of Gaming may be on the horizon.
Apple’s efforts with the iPhone and the iPad in particular have opened up the market to people who otherwise wouldn't have shown any interest in playing games. Joe Wee of Chillingo, one of the leading publishers of iOS games, singled this out as the greatest strength of these platform, saying: ‘It brings out the hidden gamer in everybody. That’s the magic that iOS has brought to an entirely new gaming market.’
Relentless Software, responsible for the Buzz! games on the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, agrees that iOS is currently at the forefront of this effort to open new markets. ‘I had a lot of people that would say they weren’t gamers, but then when you quiz them on what they do, they do play games,’ said David Amor, Relentless Software CEO. ‘People almost accidentally have a game device in their pocket.’
New iOS games boast a fidelity and depth that was previously unheard of in mobile gaming
The situation has been helped by the great deal of innovation in iOS game development too. Much like the indie market at large, the overheads are minimal compared to the more standard models of software development seen in the industry. Amor illustrated as much when comparing the process of bringing his upcoming iOS title Quiz Climber to market with the stress of getting Buzz! to launch on the PSP and PlayStation 3.
‘Traditional video game development requires a massive commitment' he says. 'In the case of making a PlayStation game, your master disc is going to Austria and there’s a machine there that stamps out a million discs and that’s a big thing to take on. This is much more straightforward.’
The platform is also very easy for a developer to work with and the development software for the iDevices is highly accessible. ‘Anyone who is creative can download that and just hammer out a game,’ says Chillingo’s Chris Byatte. ‘It’s opened the doors to everyone to reach the market.’ Although some have criticised Apple’s approval process, Byatte believes it's highly beneficial to the consumer. ‘In the more traditional mobile market, there’s a 50 per cent chance that it won’t even work,’ added Wee.
Developing for iOS also bypasses a significant drawback of PC development, which is that developers only have to worry about one standardised system (albeit now with a few SKUs). One positive aspect of Apple’s strict control over the uses for its device and how it can be modified is that development for it is much simpler. ‘So much energy as a developer is soaked up figuring out different configurations,’ says Amor. ‘You’re spending half your energy worrying about that, and it would be much more fun spending that energy on making a new game or coming up with new ideas.’
Yet it's often the simplest games which stand out the most
It’s not just the PC market that suffers from this. The mobile gaming market outside of Apple is also affected by the diversity of the hardware currently in use. Chillingo started out developing for Pocket PC (now known as Windows Mobile). ‘We know the pains of delivering content and provisioning,’ said Chris Byatte. ‘It’s tricky, and in the old days providing support was very time consuming and really, that has gone now.’
Before Apple, developers wanting to sell in the mobile market would have to port titles to many different platforms and then rely on shaky distribution centres, only to earn 50 per cent of the revenue (compared to Apple’s 70 per cent). Joe Wee described the release of the iPhone as a ‘Eureka moment’ in mobile gaming, as it offered a standardised platform with a built-in digital distribution centre that was attractive to many developers.
The accessibility and ubiquity of iOS appears to offer the benefits of the PC market, but also the benefits of working with the homogenised hardware configuration of a console. Small teams of developers aren’t just prospering in the market; they're thriving, despite the fierce competition. These teams are setting up virtual studios, and Byatte tells us how Chillingo is working with teams that have never even met each other face to face, or are operating on different sides of the globe.