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IUGO's Sarah Thomson on the four-way fight between iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry

IUGO's Sarah Thomson on the four-way fight between iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry
This is a guest column written by Sarah Thomson, vice president of business development at Canadian mobile game developer IUGO.

IUGO has been developing mobile games for seven years; and that's a helluva long time in mobile years. We began on the nightmarish platforms of J2ME, BREW and Symbian. We've paid our dues, that's for sure.

Though it may be at a snail's pace, mobile has changed a lot since those good ol' days. For the most part change has been positive, particularly from the perspective of the indie mobile games developer.

Let's take a look at where we are now to reflect on how far we've come…

iOS



This is the platform that changed it all, for IUGO anyway.

As soon as Steve Jobs announced the App Store, our CEO Hong-Yee Wong decided to throw caution to the wind and put everyone on developing for the iPhone. For the next two years we pumped out 15 of our own original titles. Some did really well and others bombed.

Apple got a lot of things right; a platform that was a pleasure to develop on, gorgeous hardware, an intuitive OS, processing power, a well-established distribution platform, seamless payment process... I could go on and on.

Yes, there are challenges too: discoverability is a bitch, Apple is a wall of silence, rules and guidelines have been sketchy at best, hypocrisy ran amuck with app approvals... But all-in-all, iPhone changed the landscape of mobile games development forever.

The elimination of fragmentation alone is reason enough to give Steve a big ol' kiss. IUGO continues to support and utilise the iPhone as its lead platform in games development.

[IUGO rating: 8/10]



Android

A few of you probably aren't going to like what I have to say about Android: Callum Rowley from Gameloft really hit it on the head in his recent article on PocketGamer.biz.

When Android first came out, we were excited, we really were!

But then the open platform started repeating history by following in the footsteps of Java. This time, fragmentation wasn't just about handsets though, as handset makers and carriers can customise and utilise whichever version of the OS they want, creating an extra layer of nastiness.

Then there's the refund policy: users can return games within 24 hours of purchasing the game [since reduced to 15 minutes]. This has backfired as users seem to have taken real advantage of the policy, and that's not good for developers trying to make a living. Another big error was that the Android Marketplace launched with free content, so everyone expected everything to be always free. Developer are now trying to re-educate customers but it's a slow and painful process.

Also, as I understand it, the old and annoying carrier relationships are still required if you want to make any kind of decent coin on Android. That sucks for us little guys. Carriers are impenetrable unless you have a lavish business expense account to wine and dine them, which isn't really an option for an indie developer. There's the route of pairing with a publisher to distribute your game, which we will be trying soon. The jury is still out on this approach.

Of course, there are vast numbers of Android handsets being used, and it's a number that's growing every day. However, if there's no money to be made, install base size means diddly squat. I really hope Google finds a way to fix the mess, but I'm not holding my breath. How do you even approach that fragmentation problem? We're still watching Android but as a games company, IUGO remains cautious.



[IUGO rating: 4/10]

BlackBerry

IUGO has released three titles on BlackBerry, and they've pretty much done nothing.

BlackBerry has an app storefront, but the majority of sales occur on carriers' storefronts. One of the reasons we're so in love with Apple is it was the first handset manufacturer to eliminate the need for carrier relationships. It's a shame BlackBerry hasn't had much luck there.

We've also seen issues with billing on BlackBerry App World, although RIM seems to be slowly addressing this. Carrier billing is still the best option.



But the biggest problem with BlackBerry is that the handsets are designed for business use not gaming. This is changing, but as with Android I'm not holding my breath for big changes that will makes the lives of game developers easier. I wish we could tap into the vast BlackBerry userbase, but as it stands, IUGO won't be doing too much more for the platform.

[IUGO rating: 4/10]

Windows Phone 7

The new (reborn) kid on the block, Microsoft did a lot of things right when it launched the platform late last year. There are sleek and powerful handsets from a few manufacturers, the integration of Xbox Live is smart, and there's great support for game developers.

IUGO had two launch titles supported by Microsoft: Implode! and Zombie Attack! Second Wave. And our development team found the OS so delightful to work with, we've released an additional four titles ourselves. Early sales are modest but this is a marathon, not a sprint. We feel optimistic about Windows Phone 7, and hope to continue supporting it.

In the medium term, I hope to see Windows Phone 7 take the middle ground in between Apple and Android; balancing out Apple's restrictive, closed environment with Android free-for-all open platform.

Microsoft's focus on gaming makes us sparkle and giggle with joy. The notion of convergent gaming with the implementation of Xbox Live is an awesome strategic and forward-thinking move. IUGO has embraced Windows Phone 7, and hopes the platform thrives so we can too.

[IUGO rating: 7/10]

So there you have it. It's only getting more interesting in the world of mobile games. Who knows where we'll all be in another year?



Sarah will be speaking at the GDC Smartphone Summit on Tuesday 1 March at 13.45 on the subject of How IUGO Rose Above the Noise and Became a Successful Indie Studio.

You also can find out what IUGO does next on its website

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