To say that Apple has dominated mobile gaming over the last 18 months is to make a whopping understatement.
The iPhone and App Store combo is as pure a definition of disruptive technology as you’ll find, and it has single-handedly democratised mobile content delivery, acting as a catalyst for dismantling the carrier model.
However, Apple’s success has resulted in a near total monopoly in mobile gaming. This has made it very hard for competitors to puncture Apple’s bubble of momentum as developers flock towards the most visible and financially viable option for distributing their wares.
There have been claims that the Apple bubble has already burst for developers, that the gold rush is over, that’s it’s impossible to make money on the App Store, but the numbers tell a different story.
Money, money money, in an App Store world...
With over 75 million iPhones and iPod touches at large in the wild, a developer who chooses to sell his game at the cheapest price point can still achieve a sizable return.
Even at 59p, a developer will make no less than £23,800 after Apple takes its 30 per cent cut if he manages to sell to even 0.2 percent of the total installed user-base (34,000 copies).
For a team that has a good idea, executes it well, and follows it up with a concerted and comprehensive marketing effort (which, admittedly, does eat into revenue), that’s a reasonably conservative target.
But the race isn't over. According to Apple’s latest figures, the iPhone has snared about 15 per cent of the smartphone market, meaning that despite its impressive numbers there's still a large chunk of the mobile gaming market left to play for.
In the green corner...
With Mobile World Congress underway this week in Barcelona, major handset manufacturers have displayed their new gaming wares, with Samsung’s bada service being a notable example, along with other impressively endowed handsets, such as Sony Ericsson’s expanded X10 range and Motorola’s oddly named Quench (all of which run the Android OS).
Android has so far failed to attract developers in numbers to match its reasonably impressive user base (Android’s smartphone market share doubled in 2009, reaching about 5 per cent), but all of the pieces are in place.
When mobile gaming isn’t on mobiles...
But perhaps the mobile games market isn’t the mobile games market at all, or, at least, not exclusively so. Apple owes as much to the iPod touch as it does to the iPhone for its meteoric rise in mobile gaming and it seems sensible that other manufacturers should heed the lesson.
Particularly with Android, there’s no reason at all why a range of future touchscreen media players running the operating system (potentially from different manufacturers), couldn’t offer Android smartphones an extra leg-up in terms of snaring increasing mobile gaming market share.
More market share for the platform equals more developer interest, more games, better quality (hopefully) and hence more much needed competition. The iPhone may be mobile gaming’s current saviour, but it could also be its downfall if the market becomes too dependent on it.
We need more choice
Squeezing out other platforms might look good on Apple’s sales flipchart, but it doesn’t bode well for consumer choice or developer creativity. The onus is now on the smartphone market at large to come up with a smart solution for bringing balance to an industry that’s increasingly lop-sided, due to the overbearing weight of the App Store.
Rebranding existing content delivery channels and convincing successful iPhone developers to port titles across is not the answer (here’s looking at you, Nokia’s Ovi Store). If a true competitor to the App Store in mobile gaming is to emerge, it needs to hook development talent with features the iPhone doesn’t have yet.
Clearer lines of communication between developers and the content delivery channel would be a good feature to ask for (as anyone who has braved Apple’s one way street approval process will testify).
Similarly, though OpenFeint, Plus+, ScoreLoop, and Crystal are all well and good, a hardwired Xbox Live style social environment for mobile gaming would also no doubt stir up attention in all the right places.
The iPhone and the App Store may be good, but it’s not unbeatable. Come on Google, come on Microsoft: make it happen!