Going multiplatform is far from a no-brainer, argues iQU's Fraser MacInnes
Is convenience really king?
Fraser MacInnes is a mobile games industry professional who cut his teeth writing for Pocket Gamer. He's now working at iQU, a behavioural knowledge company working in the games sector.
When is a mobile game not a mobile game?
Is it when you are playing Clash of Clans as it should be played (which obviously, is on an iPad while sat on the toilet)? Is it when you are playing Plants Vs. Zombies on the big screen that Xbox Live Arcade affords?
Hold on a tick – bong goes my Mac's Notification Center, reminding me to tend to my fleet in Pocket Planes…
The umbrella platform 'mobile' is fuzzier than a half sucked wine gum after an unplanned trip to a sofa's nether regions.
When we say 'mobile games', do we mean, mobile AND tablet games AND games that appear on Android set-top boxes AND games that started on mobile but ended up on home consoles?
Beyond the relatively simple line that can be drawn between smartphones and their genetic relatives, tablets, the opportunities for mobile developers on Facebook, PCs, consoles, set-top boxes and smart TVs are seemingly vast.
The refrain on the event circuit is that serving your customers no matter where they are, is a value proposition so self evident that if you ignore it, you are damning your business to start-up hell.
From what I can tell, multiplatform should remain a big question for developers, as opposed to a no-brainer.
The consumer benefits of multiplatform gaming are clear and have had a fair bit of cheerleading throughout the past year. But being faced with the reality of living up to a multiplatform strategy throws up some tough to answer questions for the discerning developer/publisher.
Traffic acquisition strategies and costs are very different on different platforms – does your performance-marketing professional have relevant experience (and a well-stocked rolodex of first degree contacts) in all of the platform verticals your company plans to attack?
Monetisation models and the cuts that vendors take create wrinkles on the business end too. The 30 percent cut you pay Apple makes sense financially, because the licensing fee is only about 100 bucks a year.
On home console Y however, the licensing fee is much larger and though you may have negotiated a reasonable percentage split with the vendor, the break-even point might be six months away based on your projected budget for performance marketing, instead of two.
Can your payroll put up with that burn?
And what about how the rules per vendor, in terms of what can and cannot be sold, affect the fundamental monetisation mechanics of the game?
What is the smallest real money transaction allowed by your lead platform? If it's 69c, is that the same for other platforms in development and if the minimum on one of the other platforms is 3 pounds, euros or dollars, will that break the monetisation design of the game for that platform (and others if you offer cross-platform play)?
Then there are usability concerns – will all of the games in the portfolio remain balanced when players play against each other on devices that afford different input speeds. How does it affect the PvP mechanics in your game (assuming your game has PvP)?
And what about core platform features that can't sensibly be left out of the release on one platform, but are simply not available on the other – you can give Mark Zuckerberg a foot massage and descale Tim Cook's kettle, but neither will let you add Apple's Game Center to the Facebook version of your iOS game.
There's a lot of very boisterous talk around multiplatform in the industry right now, because of the aforementioned convenience it gives gamers. Even where that use case is 100 percent proven, I think it's a narrow view of the approach.
In many cases, game developers that have invested heavily in Facebook games are now trying their hand at mobile, because that's where they see their customers going.
That's not a savvy pre-defined strategy, it's sink or swim agile pragmatism and it's working out very well for the likes of Wooga and Supercell.
But how many new companies race out of the blocks with a multiplatform strategy (where one of those platforms is mobile) from the off, who are then wildly successful?
I'm not saying there aren't any, but it feels like the PR nugget of, "we serve our customers on every platform" is a sexy, but reductive sound bite.
Focus, focus, focus
Is it not better to focus your efforts on a single platform and make that your strategy at the outset? That way, instead of playing the pragmatism game, you can play the opportunism game.
Who'd say no to a multiplatform strategy where there's oodles of cash in the bank to make it happen.
Indeed, Halfbrick has done this marvellously with the Kinect version of Fruit Ninja, for example, as has Chillingo with the Mac version of Tiny Troopers (which is to say nothing of the deluge of other Mac App Store titles that have migrated from iOS).
I don't claim to have the answers – I wish I did.
Maybe if every device in my immediate vicinity weren't telling me to abandon this article and go and plan new passenger routes across Europe, I'd have the headspace to think about them. Probably not though…
You can follow Fraser's industry commentary on his blog, or else grab bite-size rants via Twitter.
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