Javaground talks Xpressed: 'It's like iTunes meets YouTube'
A new spin on mobile app stores
Back in February, we published an opinion piece about the perfect mobile app store.
Well, it was more of a wishlist, really: how we'd like to be sold mobile games, taking the excellent start made by Apple's App Store, and adding a few more elements.
Here's the strange thing: at the very same time, US firm Javaground was putting the finishing touches to its new product, a mobile application store called Xpressed. And it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on our wishlist.
We sat down with CEO Alex Kral during Mobile World Congress, when the store had just soft-launched, to find out more. And since then, it's gone officially live.
Javaground describes Xpressed as a marketplace for developers and publishers to sell their mobile games direct to consumers.
On the one hand, it's a standard app store, with each game getting its own product page.
But there's also an online emulator built in for people to sample games, downloadable try-before-you-buy demos, blogs and social networking features for users, ratings and, most innovatively, a $9.99 a month subscription plan that lets you download as many games as you want.
Oh, and it ties into the other part of Javaground's business, which is its Xpress Suite porting environment.
The little guys
"If you look at the mobile industry, until Apple's App Store, small developers have been completely excluded from the ecosystem," says Kral, explaining the rationale behind the launch of Xpressed.
"Even fairly large developers like Gamelion and ourselves could not get carrier placement, for example, so there was no path to market. And of course there was the complexity of the industry too, in terms of handset support. Developers might have 10 handsets, but they can't afford to buy 500."
Kral's pitch is that Xpress Suite solves the latter problem, making it easier for developers to port their games to a wide range of handsets, and Xpressed solves the issue of a path to market.
It's targeted at independent developers, although the likes of Digital Chocolate, I-play, GlobalFun, HandyGames, In-Fusio, Indiagames and RealArcade show that Xpressed is finding favour with larger firms too.
The emulation aspect is certainly attractive - on this side, Javaground is working on the same principles as Mpowerplayer, even if the two companies' services have different aspects.
"The developer has full control over how many minutes he wants to give the user to play," says Kral.
"We give full visibility to the content, too. If you have videos you can put those in there, screenshots and links to reviews too. People can share with friends, report content, write comments... it's like iTunes meets YouTube!"
The try-before-you-buy demos are interesting, too, since Javaground handles the DRM technology via a wrapper around each download that lets people play it for a certain duration or number of times - set by the developer - before they have to pay to unlock it.
But we're intrigued by the unlimited subscription option, where players pay $9.99 a month for as many downloads as they want.
It's certainly not unknown in the web casual gaming world, and it's coming into other areas of mobile content too, such as Nokia's Comes With Music initiative for unlimited music downloads.
How does it work for developers, though? "Because we have the DRM wrapper, we can measure how many minutes are played in every session, and at the end of the month we know how much each game has been played," says Kral.
"Then we rev-share proportionately to all the content owners - all the publishers who've signed up to this method. It's fair. The idea is to grow the business."
It's a fascinating model, for sure, and it's to the publishers' credit that they're trying it out. What about the big guns, though - would an EA or Gameloft ever go for this?
"The very big guys have their own websites, but also philosophically they do not want to do D2C," says Kral. "They're in bed with the carriers, so if they go anywhere else, they feel like they're cheating on them. Or at least they worry that the carriers will see it that way."
Xpressed packs numerous innovative ideas into a slick whole, and certainly shows a way forward for D2C mobile game sales. However, there's one huge challenge, which is how to drive sales through it.
Having a great app store is just part of the battle - successfully marketing it to a big audience is the expensive problem. As an indie developer itself, Javaground presumably doesn't have Jamba-sized TV advertising budgets, so what's the plan?
"We plan to market this by having some distribution partnerships with sites that have a lot of traffic," replies Kral.
"We're working on deals with several that have a lot of traffic, but don't currently sel mobile games. We'll give them a portion of our revenues. Think of websites that sell software or games online, for instance."
He stresses that Xpressed isn't a white-label service, though - these websites won't be rebranding it under their own badges.
On the phone
Seeing how Xpressed develops will be intriguing - we made the Mpowerplayer comparison already, but it's also in the orbit of services like GetJar too. Kral's plans are certainly ambitious.
"We have a rich on-device client too," he says. "We want to have the store on handsets, so that if someone buys a game, they can go back to the store when they start the game and get more info, download a free trial, or look at the comments their friends have written."
Meanwhile, there's a separate strand to Xpressed that creates a social network for mobile games firms. "Small guys can create their own studios on the site and put up ads, for example if they're looking for a scriptwriter or game designer," says Kral.
"We want to empower the developers, and also to be transparent."
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