So you're an indie dev, you just made your first game and you want to sell it. It goes up on the iTunes app store or Google Play service or whatever it is the other lesser-devices use to peddle their apps through, and you get your first buy. After a 30% cut to the distributor you're looking at a 69 cent revenue stream from a single customer... a customer that stays your only customer for a week... for two weeks... for a month. What happened to that infinite well of prosperity that was promised by every big mover and shaker in the industry when the numbers rolled out and it looked like mobile was the way to go?
Well, install base and market saturation has nothing whatsoever to do with selling apps, especially when there's an uphill struggle to deal with app discovery, stiff competition and a lack of marketing funds to get your game recognized. Some developers are learning this the hard way. A detailed article over on GamesIndustry.biz reveals that the grass isn't always greener where your core demographic does not reside.
The article talks to a number of developers who have had it tough trying to sell games on the app store, where indies like Jeffrey Lim and Paul Johnson revel in the pity of their sob-stories for getting games out onto the mobile marketplace. Lim and Johnson aren't the only ones, though, you can talk to just about any indie dev making mobile titles and hear a similar story, from Nautilus to Kaveluza, the name and situation may change but the results are all the same: the mobile marketplace is flooded with apps, competition is stiff and profits are slim.
Of course, there are those who disagree with this assessment – there are those who feel as if strong-arming the mobile demographic with insouciant restraint in marketing and sometimes paid-for reviews, can help them get their game to succeed where others have failed.
Chillingo COO Ed Rumley paints a different picture of the mobile space, one of an embittered and grizzled consumer, wiping away the grime and dirt of fetid software apps and poorly designed mechanics off their machines as they seek higher quality, longer lasting experiences, saying...
"The number of games being submitted is growing, as is the number of developers contacting us. I'm not sure if some are being scared away, but we know from experience that some developers underestimate the time and quality it takes to make it in mobile now. Consumers are a savvy bunch and spot second rate games a mile off. You can't just knock something together in your spare time, upload it and wait for the money to roll in anymore,”
In other words, you can't do in mobile what you can now do with Steam, which is basically: Make your game, make sure it's good, submit it to Steam Greenlight for $100 and then wait and watch as the audience and community build. Like the old saying goes from a movie I've never seen: If you make it good, they will come.
Michael Schade, the CEO of Fishlabs Entertainment feels more inline with what Ed Rumley had to share, telling GamesIndustry.biz that...
"Sure, mobile's not an easy market to breach into, but then again, which market really is? No matter what business you're in or what product you're trying to sell, you'll always have to work hard to gain your ground and make a name for yourself,"
It doesn't matter, though, because the sweet words of a publisher mean little to the starving artist and the hungry developer. Those words mean even less to real gamers who play games to have fun and invest in the hobby religiously, this is why developers are going where the real gamers are: PC and console.
Many developers realize they'll never have an Angry Birds on their hands or revel in the success of a Temple Run because mobile app success is almost harder to achieve and more difficult to sustain than it is on console and PC.
Jeffrey Lim, the producer at Wicked Dog Games is no longer buying into the “grass is greener over there” mantra; if the kite didn't fly when there was no wind before, it's not going to fly just because someone says you're not manipulating the wind right. Lim believes in sticking with what works, saying...
"The mobile space offers certain advantages, like having the largest customer base and relatively low development costs. However, there's no doubt it is getting harder to be profitable with the ongoing piracy and discoverability issues."
Both Sony and Nintendo have gone over and beyond to reach out to creative minds in the independent game development space. Nintendo has loosened up their concept approval process while Sony has dropped the concept approval process altogether.
The new generation consoles are now indie friendly, and they're following in the footsteps of Valve, who has opened up the door for just about any and every developer from every walk of life.
Instead of fighting for pennies to a dollar on the app stores, mobile developers are abandoning the once promoted waterhole of success and retreating to more stable ground... they're going back to where gamers made the industry famous: PC and home consoles.