Definitely maybe: Top 10 mobile games industry predictions for 2013, by Fraser MacInnes
100% accuracy guaranteed. Probably
Fraser MacInnes is a mobile games industry professional who cut his teeth writing for Pocket Gamer.
He's now working for Danke Games, a new gaming start up based in the heart of the Black Forest in Germany.
Making predictions is precarious, especially in the tech industry.
Not as precarious as trying to balance a fridge freezer on top of three stacked space hoppers, perhaps, but more precarious than trying to pilot a giraffe wearing roller-skates.
Either way, it's a devilish business and should only be entered into with the full expectation that one can, and often will, turn out to be comprehensively wrong.
So bearing that in mind, here are ten – mostly unfounded, mostly possible – predictions that may end up making a buffoon of me by the end of the year. Feet first – let's go!
1. Blackberry 10 will be pretty good and hardly anyone will buy it
The hardware is reassuringly expensive-looking and the OS is a gesture driven disruption to the current mobile OS paradigm. Which means I'll almost certainly pop into a shop to fondle one and coo at it for a while after it's released.
That all-important ecosystem factor will still prevent me from actually buying one though, as I imagine it will others too.
The software mountain Blackberry has to climb is just too steep to meaningfully scale, which means RIM will revert back to its business-first approach. It's not a bad strategy, but it will confine Blackberry 10 to a smaller pool of customers. Probably.
2. Third-party app stores will fall away
The Amazon Appstore and Google Play will continue to dominate Android's distribution mechanism and OEMs will opt to make bespoke content distribution a smaller part of their strategy, letting the big players do the heavy lifting for them.
Additionally, the shift in performance marketing in mobile away from volume traffic deals and towards more cost-per-action focused models, with a higher importance placed on retention, the resultant reduction in offer walls and incentivised traffic sources will also have an impact on the number of third-party app stores out there. Probably.
3. App discovery services will start to die
The content gatekeepers of this industry are starting to clamp down on certain types of marketing deal, most notably with Apple's much publicised clause 2.25, which chiefly nixes offer walls and incentivised traffic services that effectively, game the top ten charts.
But that's only the reason why it will be harder to run and maintain data driven game discovery services – not why they will become less popular.
To me, discovery services have always been about making developers' titles more visible than they have been about serving an actual consumer need to discover the games they are interested in.
A cursory search on any of the big application stores will turn up an embarrassment of riches for consumers of all tastes these days. Have you ever heard any of your mobile gaming chums say, 'I searched the App Store but couldn't find any good games to play'? Me neither.
Discovery services get the relationship between developer and consumer backward and their presence will (read: should) dwindle. Probably.
4. iOS 7 will be less of an upgrade than everyone wants or expects
Apple has always tread a fine line between innovation and incremental improvements, tending more toward the latter where iOS is concerned over the past 24 months.
Many are predicting a big shake up for the next major version of iOS with Jonathan Ive now at the helm of the division that develops it.
The problem is, while Apple has continued to serve up an extremely robust and feature complete operating system, it has given away much in terms of innovative features to its competitors.
It will be hard for iOS to evolve significantly without either aping innovations pioneered by Windows Phone and RIM, or scaring off customers who like their smartphones vanilla-flavoured. It will definitely either kill or completely fix Maps though. Probably.
5. Windows Phone will steadily gain ground
In spite of some confusion over the cross compatibility of Microsoft's jamboree of Windows-based platforms, even the most hysterical Apple/Android zealot would concede that Windows Phone 8 is a formidable beast.
As is Microsoft's cash war chest and the muscle it is currently, and will continue to, throw behind the platform's marketing push.
Microsoft has known for long enough that it simply can't afford to not be a significant player in the mobile market and it will throw money at its smartphone division until it has carved out a big enough slice to breath a sigh of relief.
It's not a case of if but when, and 2013 will see Windows Phone building on the market share it snaffled in 2012. Probably.
6. Android-powered consoles will build a meaningful bridge between smartphone game development and your TV
I'm a big fan of the Ouya as a concept and I'm eager to see what the guys behind Game Stick can produce.
The idea of a cheap under the TV box that brings the expressive and creative power of low barrier mobile development into the living room, is just too democratic and potentially disruptive a concept to not get unreasonably excited about.
It's a development that further blurs the line between gaming platforms and with an impulse-buy price tag attached to both the hardware and the software, any successful entrant into this space could end up shaping an industry-wide evolution of software pricing.
The seeds of this will be sewn in 2013, and by Christmas next year, at least one box will be showing signs of gaining a real foothold. Probably.
7. Everyone will finally accept that HTML5 is not a platform
HTML5 was a mobile industry darling until everyone started to realise that consumers couldn't care less about the problems that it solves for developers.
Expecting consumers to move with the tech because of a convenience factor that doesn't directly serve their needs was a judgment error many of us made (myself included).
It's a wrong assumption that has brought into focus the clear fact that HTML5 is and always has been a technology that can elegantly solve some problems, but it's not the silver bullet for cross platform app deployment.
And it won't be in 2013, either. Probably.
8. Zynga will have a bit of a second wind
Many companies had a rotten year in 2012, but it's hard to imagine Zynga's problems getting much worse, which makes this prediction a relatively safe bet.
Slicing out a cross-section of casual titles wholesale and taking a chance on very core, single player titles like Horn on mobile, are signs of a company that's grinding pivot shows signs of winding up to a potential turnaround.
Instead of stacking its users as high a possible but with a comparatively low ARPU (average revenue per user), looking for games that attract highly active, sticky players that monetise well would not be a surprising portfolio strategy.
That, for me, would mean an even bigger shift away from casual to core titles (albeit, free-to-play ones, unlike Horn). Probably.
9. There will be a LOT more F2P PvP games competing on mobile
The mind-boggling numbers pouring out of Supercell's press are testament to just how much money there is to be made if you can crack the magic formula for a free-to-play game with a significant focus on player versus player battles.
It has been established long-since that competitive, real person challenges are significant triggers for virtual goods purchases and now – with some major successes to bear out the methodology in cold hard numbers – the bandwagon for this particular template is boarding.
It's not hard to imagine all five of the top spots on the highest grossing charts of every application store being free-to-play games with player versus player battles by this time next year. Probably.
10. Big data will be the embarrassing fad that nobody wants to admit they championed by this time next year
The flapping of mouths about the importance of the magical revenue elixir, 'big data' is a fresh epidemic on the gaming event circuit.
The actual products that back up the talk continue to be thin on the ground.
As are real working definitions for what constitutes actionable real 'big data' in the games industry, what its shelf life is (and how that affects the value of companies that claim to have it) and transparent case studies that underline the real financial value that it creates and for whom.
Not to mention the lack of any actual proof that the tools that make use of 'big data' actually stimulate industry-wide growth, as opposed to just helping developers of free-to-play games make better skinner boxes and publishers' slightly more effective cost per install deals.
Big data bears all the hallmarks of yet another so called 'silver bullet' and it will be 2013's HTML5. Definitely.
You can follow Fraser's industry commentary on his blog, or else grab bite-size rants via Twitter.
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Eric Benjamin | 10:41 - 11 January 2013
Fair enough. I'd probably use a different term for the phenomenon you're describing though -- maybe "algorithmic revenue optimization", which isn't implemented in gaming as much as people talk about (although some studios with big data science teams are doing this very expertly). Big Data to my mind just means increased instrumentation as a result of cheaper storage prices...hard to argue that this will decline in 2013
Fraser Ross MacInnes | 09:54 - 11 January 2013
I think the term 'Big Data' is misused a lot and its assumed potential application in gaming is much narrower than many band-wagoneers are claiming. Big data has become a byword for such simple things as pattern recognition using large data sets or even just what many companies would consider normal data collection and analysis - a practice that has been happening on a huge scale in the games industry for more than a decade already. I'm not saying that Big Data isn't a 'thing' and that it doesn't have a use, I'm saying, it's this year's HTML5 - i.e. a technology that fewer people truly understand than the number of those who champion it, often for the wrong use cases.
Eric Benjamin | 08:53 - 11 January 2013
I'm not sure I understand point #10; you're saying "Big Data" is a fad? "Big Data" is simply the decreased price of cloud-based storage (think AWS) allowing firms to track far more data than they previously did when that level of storage was prohibitively expensive. Do you think storage prices will rise? Or firms will, for some reason, decide that the data they're tracking isn't productive and massively scale that back?
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