Apple’s iPhone and iPad App Store has been the source of countless get rich quick stories. But for every game developer that’s made a viable business out of selling games to smartphone owners, hundreds will tell you that their plans went terribly awry. Still, the influence of apps seems only to be growing for today’s independent garage developer – or is it? To get to the bottom of the story, we asked Bjorn Larsson, head of Spooky Spirits: Puzzle Drop creator Legendo Entertainment, to weigh in. Following are his thoughts on whether or not smartphone apps can ultimately challenge PC and video game consoles as the predominant gaming platforms – and if the medium offers indie game designers the best chance of hitting it big going forward.
Could app games challenge console and PC titles for the overall gaming dollar?
I believe portable consoles such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP certainly need to watch their backs and innovate their digital delivery mechanisms to remain relevant in the future. As for the traditional, stationary consoles and the PC market, for those markets, I would say no – they offer immersive content not available on portable platforms and will remain stable through various digital delivery services that offers user convenience and low-barrier access on par with the app games market.
With most private developers gobbled up by the big studios at this point, do smartphones and apps offer the garage developer a chance to make an impact again?
Yes. The games industry has seen massive change in recent years, offering a plethora of new business options for the veteran and junior garage developer alike, mainly because of the rise of digital distribution services, and for app games in particular because of the App Store – the mobile gaming market was a broken and fragmented ecosystem before the advent of the App Store. Now there is this excellent distribution platform that makes developers’ games available all over the world in an instant, while also handling much of the financial side which means less overhead for administration. With the right product and a bit of luck, in today’s market, anyone can win.
In your opinion, who does app games better – big developers or smaller, more innovative start-ups?
The more innovative app games tend to come out of the smaller companies whereas the large, more established developers also offer a wide array of exceptionally high-quality content (albeit often based on established brands, which often means less innovation). With that in mind, I think there are exceptionally good games coming out of both camps.
Will we see the casual gamers gravitate more towards apps, while hardcore players keep consoles and PCs going?
I think the casual and hardcore generalization is too wide. I prefer to think in terms of genres instead. What I think will happen is that we will see that certain game types will dominate the app space, whereas other types of games will work better on the console and PC platforms. Much like tycoon and sim-based games are currently dominating Facebook, racing and sports games are still massively popular on consoles and for the MMO genre, the PC is the master platform. On the iPhone, short session games that are simple to control tend to dominate the charts.
How do you expect the app market to evolve going forward?
The app market has gone from strength to strength in the past years, and I think this trend will continue. The app space is considered a viable, expanding business, however app games are not as widely-covered by journalists as the major console or PC titles or even Nintendo DS games. Having said that, I would be surprised if Apple did not pull a few clever tricks out of its sleeve going forward.
Are film and TV studios making good use of the app market?
Even though there are many good attempts at studio content in the app space, there are many opportunities left on the table. The App Store is an excellent marketing vehicle that should be top priority for any studio’s marketing mix, and it is also a great channel that could breathe new life into classic movie and TV brands. In the app space, Hollywood is up and running, but there is still a long way to go before the race is won.