Looking Through a Window into the Non-iOS Mobile Marketplace
Independently created video games have always existed on the periphery of traditional game platforms, calling the PC home when AAA publishers put out million-dollar blockbusters on home consoles. Since the modern indie scene began on sites like Newgrounds and PopCap, a sophisticated online distribution network has grown up around the PC to the point that the bigger publishers are now turning their heads back towards the desktop.
As PC development has grown, more and more indie developers have moved to the mobile phone market since the rise of the iPhone. Apple’s app marketplace contains one of the largest libraries of independent games, and today the term ‘mobile gaming’ is almost synonymous with the term ‘iOS’. But recent statistics show that Apple’s iOS only holds 27% of the market share – a significantly smaller chunk than Google’s reigning Android operating system at 37%. With new mobile platforms like Android and Windows Phone opening up that offer developers more varied options than the impenetrable Apple ecosystem, indie developers are moving outward.
Making games for the iPhone has been a well-documented experience as the standard-bearer of mobile development, but despite the massive percentage of alternate operating systems out there, most people don’t consider anything beyond iOS. Alain-Daniel Bourdages and Trevor Robinson are two mobile developers from Vancouver BC who have focused on non-iOS mobile development, and they sat down with me to talk about the major differences working out of the shadow of the big apple. Trevor Robinson has been a developer for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform for over a year, and now Windows Phone 8. He has released six games as Roving Sheep Inc., including his Jack and the Mechs series, a first person shooter.
The mobile market has famously been somewhat unforgiving to unusual experiments, with the most successful and plentiful titles being some variation of tower defense, match-3, management simulation, or asymmetrical social game. One of the incentives for developers to move to other mobile platforms other than iOS is the stubbornness of the over-saturated market with cheap games that copy the mechanics of the hundreds that came before it. “It’s amazing what people download. It’s amazing what makes the top 100 list. People download just some of the most obscenely poor games,” says Robinson. He hoped that gamers would be more open to an independently developed first-person shooter on the Windows Phone market. “I thought they would love it. I thought they would just be salivating for this stuff, but they’re not. They’re salivating for fart bubbles.”
He says that part of the problem is Microsoft’s algorithm for placing new releases on the storefront. “You release a game, and a hundred other games are going to get released on that day,” he says. The climb out of the bottom of the list is a difficult reality of the platform. “You basically have to call people in France and Germany and say ‘Hey, could you download my game?’ because if people do not download it, it will not start percolating up the list,” says Robinson. He says the US can be a difficult market to penetrate with unusual games, but if there’s one place where you can always be sure to get your game in many hands, it’s China. “I’ve been in the top hundred in China without a single unit sale,” he says.
Alain-Daniel Bourdages is primarily an Android developer who was the first person I heard mention that China is essentially the country of lost sales. “The Chinese market is a different beast. They don’t pay. Over there they have websites, they scrape the listing on Google Play, they host it back in China, and basically they remove the copy-protection that there was from the root of the hardware,” says Bourdages.