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Why Apple needs to get into the mobile game publishing business

Carter Dotson has a radical proposal
Why Apple needs to get into the mobile game publishing business
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After my previous column about the death of the full-time indie dream - which caused much discussion and even some backlash - I got to thinking: what could platform holders, and especially Apple, be doing to help?

I fear that Apple, in particular, is doing too little to ensure that developers continuing to make high quality software.

I also fear that if they don't do something more, they risk hurting their platform as many developers become too skeptical to invest serious time and resources in to iOS games.

Accidental success

There's a lot of skepticism around paid games, and this is a problem Apple needs to be doing more to address.

Considering that they are pushing "Pay Once, Play Forever" games, there's definitely some interest. But to a lot of developers, these sort of games a risk, and many prominent ones just won't make them.

This isn't a grand anti-free-to-play screed. People enjoy Candy Crush Saga, it's a perfectly fine game. Clash of Clans is well-made, and there's clearly demand for what it provides. And I love the endless high-score games that more and more developers are making.

Apple's doing something but needs to do more
Apple's doing something but needs to do more

The problem is that there should be balance between free games and paid ones, and things have clearly gotten out of whack, as paid games do not sell reliably at all.

One such problem is that Apple is not a gaming company and it doesn't act like one. Google has this problem too - the lack of promo codes is a sin - but Apple gets the focal point of the blame as they're the quality leader and first mover in mobile gaming.

Apple is not a gaming company and it doesn't act like one.

Apple is a computer company that runs one of the most important marketplaces for games, almost as an accident.

It's not just the App Store experience is suboptimal for games, but iOS as a whole is. Controller support is still largely obscured by Apple, to where it is hard to find new games and you can't use the controller anywhere but in games.

Save files for games can't be backed up, making games with large file sizes risky to play for enthusiasts. iCloud exists, but it is neither trustworthy nor reliable.

Even actual game releases are a mess, still, as many fail to understand how the store works.

  • Why are games not rolling out globally at the same time?
  • Why is it impossible to search for a game right as it launches?
  • Why was there an issue when it became difficult to buy a game right after it came out, as was a common issue in the last couple of months?
  • Why is promo code generation still limited?
  • How is it that pre-release promo codes could stop working for a few days with no indication from Apple that it was a problem, as was what happened earlier this year?

Better on PC?

One of the benefits that Valve has in their marketplace is that they make games, too.

They know how games are sold and have an idea on what goes into a game release, and what their platform should be doing for developers.

Sony's PSN is a disaster only slightly better than the eShop for buying things, but Xbox Live is at least okay.

Is Steam the app store model to follow?
Is Steam the app store model to follow?

And those platforms, as gaming-first platforms, have the user experience designed to support gamers. They have their issues, they're far from perfect, but the experience of buying and playing games feels more natural, not like an afterthought.

Apple needs to start treating iOS like it is a destination for games, and to make developers optimistic about working on the platform again.

First, fix those issues I mentioned earlier. Next, start taking steps to ensure that developers want to make iOS games again.

Show off

Thinking even more widely, I think Apple needs to also do more to build the mobile gaming ecosystem. For example, Apple having a big press conference presence at E3 would be great.

Apple needs to start treating iOS like it is a destination for games, and to make developers optimistic about working on the platform again.

It's right around WWDC time, yes. But an event at gaming's flagship convention, to show off mobile games in the context meant for them? That's what they need.

The status quo has mobile games existing as a laughingstock. Remember Kingdom Hearts' demo at E3 2015? The crowd got excited for a new Kingdom Hearts game before they died down finding out it was mobile.

Why not have an event where a mobile Kingdom Hearts game is a prize? Lara Croft Go would be amazing in context of other mobile games. Minions Paradise might not look good at a 'gamer' show, ever, but at least it'd look passable at a mobile gaming show!

There's precedent for this too. The PC Gaming show wasn't great, but it clearly reached out to an audience that's growing, at least in interest. Mobile gaming needs a show just like it.

Going whole hog

But how to ensure that said mobile gaming show has content?

Radical I know, but fundamentally, I think Apple needs to start funding and publishing games.

While certainly everyone has an idea on what Apple could and should do with its massive cash hordes, I believe there's good reason for Apple to spend some money on funding top-notch projects from talented developers.

The PR benefits would be immense. Think about it: why hope that a Monument Valley comes around when you could fund 10 great games like them with a sum of cash that is otherwise a rounding error?

Help make sure that the most talented developers are making iOS games, regardless of whether they make their money back.

Apple could fund and promote 10 games as important as <em>Monument Valley</em>
Apple could fund and promote 10 games as important as Monument Valley

Apple has benefitted from a reputation as having great and unique software. Why not have that software come from third-party developers you help fund and give a huge E3 showcase to? Show that iOS is a serious gaming platform, not just the home of Flappy Bird and Clash of Clans clones.

And Google, if you want to take these steps too, I'm not complaining. Show that you care about mobile gaming and its future by helping to promote high-quality games on your platform, and it'll help your perception among players and developers.

Android plays second fiddle to iOS for mobile gaming, and there is little reason for the media (including the mobile media) to treat it as a primary source for gaming. Put some effort in and maybe that can change.

Hollowing out

No matter what Apple does, their high-up brass needs to know that they run the risk of hurting the App Store in the long-term.

There's so much nervousness around the entire mobile gaming market, including the press, vocal enthusiasts, and the developers themselves.

Developers experienced in mobile are shifting away from iOS to gaming platforms that support them more. And while there are plenty of developers willing to make mobile games still, Apple needs to make sure they aren't losing out on the great games they could be getting, that show off their platform as a destination for amazing games, not just profitable ones.