Interview

iPhone 4S spells 'beginning of the end for indie developers on iOS', reckons Hiive's Andrew Rollings

iPhone 4S spells 'beginning of the end for indie developers on iOS', reckons Hiive's Andrew Rollings
As prevalent as iOS may be in terms of mobile games development, Apple need not look to far back for an example of how quickly the situation can change.

When Sony launched PlayStation in late 1994, it changed the industry. It broke down barriers for developers previously used to abiding by Nintendo and Sega's strict rule-sets and, crucially, opened the market up to a whole new breed of consumer.

Little over a decade later, and a dominant Sony launched one of the most powerful, but equally expensive consoles onto the market - hardware with architecture so complex, many developers complained little of substance could be achieved without a mammoth team working on it for several years.

Sony became exactly the kind of controlling power it had once looked to replace, and was itself unseated as a result. That's exactly the kind of trap Andrew Rollings – co-creator of Creatures & Castles developer Hiive – believes Apple is heading straight for following the launches of iOS 5 and iPhone 4S.

We caught up with Andrew for his take on why, from an indie developer's perspective, iOS's best days could well be behind it.

Pocket Gamer: The update to Game Center looks set to import more Xbox Live-style features. How do you think this will increase user engagement?

Andrew Rollings: I think they can only help. Before, it was difficult to 'network' with friends, as there was no real emphasis on connecting with other players.

Now, as well as recommendations for games you also get recommendations for other players to add to your friend list. I'm not sure how that will play out long-term, but anything Apple can do to make the Game Center more of a gaming hub than an afterthought is probably a good thing.

How do you think its game recommendations will change the promotional opportunities open to you?

I have no idea if it will be possible for the developer to exploit this channel easily, although I'm sure some of the big names will figure out a way.

I'll wait and see if there will be anything useful for the smaller indie developer to come out of this, but I'm not holding my breath.

Given AirPlay Mirroring requires Apple TV to function, do you see it playing a major role in releases on iOS 5, or is it a first step towards acclimatising iOS users to TV-based play?

I've seen lots of talk about Apple preparing to take over the console world. I'm slightly sceptical as to whether this is their plan - or even a particularly achievable goal.

For one thing, touch-based controls are an absolute pain in the arse, and I don't see Apple coming out with any branded controllers any time soon. Not to mention that the pricing scheme for the current App Store setup would not translate well.

I don't want to get into my problems with the App Store's pricing, but it's bloody ridiculous to see people complaining about having to buy an app for a dollar or two - especially when that app represents months or years of work on the part of the developer.

The 'bargain-basement' pricing of apps is, in my opinion, a strategic error on the part of Apple, and if they carried it over into any Apple TV-based game console system, we'd see a lot of upheaval in the games industry - and not all of it would be positive.

Do you plan to work support for iCloud into past releases?

I think it will be useful for when users have multiple devices and they want to pick up where they left off when they switch to a new device.

I would probably make this optional rather than mandatory, as quite often devices are shared among family members using the same Apple ID.

Is there anything missing from iOS 5 from a game development perspective?

Hmm. That's a difficult question, and my thoughts on the subject may be a little controversial.

My problem isn't specifically with iOS 5 but rather with the iPhone 4S, so please indulge me while I go off-topic for a second.

If you think back to the early days of the games industry it seemed that everyone and their dog - assuming their dog had some technical skill - was able to publish and sell a game. Now, many of these games were utter dross, but there were equally many absolute gems. And because the entry barriers were so low, it was cheap and easy to experiment.

But after a while game machines got more powerful and it was no longer possible for a single developer to be able to produce a game. Instead, teams were required with specialised members focussed on each aspect of the game - music, graphics, etc.

This meant increased costs for development and subsequently less risks the developers were willing to take. Anyone who remembers the glut of cute platform games in the early-to-mid '90s will know what I'm talking about here.

So - what do we have with the iPhone 4S? A dual core processor and graphical power increased seven-fold.

Now I'm not against technical advances - and it would be a fruitless pursuit anyway - but in my opinion this could be the beginning of the end for the independent lone developer for iOS. Although the iPhone revived the 'bedroom-programmer', history looks set to repeat itself and the iPhone is poising to kill him off again just as mercilessly as the first time, back in the mid-90s.

Overall, I think this will be a bad thing for the iPhone - and definitely for indie developers.
Thanks to Andrew for his time.

You can find out more about Hiive on the studio's website.
Editor

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. As PocketGamer.biz editor, he has the pleasure of monitoring the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.

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