Opinion: The ten mobile and iPhone gaming trends of GDC 2010

How to thrive over the next nine months

Opinion: The ten mobile and iPhone gaming trends of GDC 2010

A lot has changed in the world of mobile games in the past 10 years and that's something we will be looking at in our new initiative which will see us reposting PocketGamer.biz articles from the past decade.

This week we rewind to our roundup trends article from GDC 2010.


The old adage that 'no one knows nothing' has never been more relevant than when considering how the mobile and iPhone gaming business will evolve in 2010.

It's a situation that's been underlined by the formal talks and discussions in the parties and bars surrounding the Game Developers Conference 2010.

Fact is there's no overwhelming trend to report, just a series of ongoing issues whose evolution will shape how this dynamic business changes over the coming month.

1. App discovery is key

Something that affects Apple's App Store and the myriad of app stores coming from manufacturers, aggregators, publishers, chip creators, developers, retailers and consumer brands is how the content-hungry yet uneducated public finds what it wants, and then how it's monetised.

Current initiatives such as FreeAppADay and Free Game a Day have been successful on the App Store in filling a gap based on driving downloads by the perceived value of getting away paid games for free. Meanwhile newcomers like video discovery app The Game Trail aspire to offer different avenues into the content. This is just a symptom of a wider malaise however.

The ability to direct millions of eyeballs to content is going to be the daily obsession of an increasing large number of companies throughout 2010.

2. Making money from free

2009 was all about how iPhone developers coped with a consumer-driven push to minimum priced content, which in the case of the App Store was 99c.

2010 is - and will continue to be - all about how companies make money out of content that is initially given away from free.

The bottomline is, if you can't make money giving your stuff away, you seriously need to consider how you can.

3. Cross promotion

If you're in the happy position that at least a million consumers will lend you their eyeballs on a regular basis, you need to have a firm idea where you want to direct them.

It may be straightforward advertising - although there's a general scepticism about its longterm yields - but more lucrative, and interesting for those eyeballs, is to be directed towards exciting content.

Successful publishers and developers are already using such scale to launch new IP - see Appy Entertainment using FaceFighter with Tune Runner, or Backflip Studios' leverage of 17 million Paper Toss downloads.

Also expect successful indies to group together in collectives, while cash-rich publishers and media companies to acquire eyeballs either directly or by buying multiple apps they can combine into larger conglomerations.

4. Android is the new Java

Android is definitely happening but don't judge it against Apple and iPhone. Symbolically Android is the smartphone version of Java. This means fragmentation in terms of technology as well as devices, operators and app stores.

But don't forget that for more than five years, Java generated hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to game publishers. Sure it was a bit painful but if money grew on trees, we'd all be sweeping it up and throwing it on the bonfire.

Note to iPhone developers. If you're not developing Android games, you should be positioning your company for an early 2010 trade sale or bankruptcy.

5. Loving the zombie: resurrection of the carrier model

The rise of the iPhone convinced developers and small publishers that carriers didn't matter any more. The failure of the App Store to generate sustainable revenues, combined with the rise of other platforms, means that the great mass of shambling undead that's served by mobile carriers is coming back into play, if only because of carriers' ability to drive eyeballs to app stores.

Developers and small publishers will still have a hard time targeting carriers directly but there will be aggregators and publishers such as Connect2Media and HandyGames to help fill the gap.

6. Get success. Nurture success

Very few mobile games have been truly successful but in a world where digital distribution is generating billions of dollars, and the consoles' walled gardens have all but crumbled, there are few things more valuable than a million-selling mobile game.

In turn however, those developers talented enough to own such a golden egg have quickly realised it's easier to take a one million-selling title to two million (or two to three etc), than try to make a second one million seller.

That's why Appy is pushing FaceFighter to two million sales, Bolt Creative Pocket God to three million, and Lima Sky Doodle Jump to four million.

7. If you have a big one, get promiscuous

IPhone. Android. BlackBerry. Palm. Java. Brew MP. Window Phone 7. Bada. Ovi. MeeGo. Facebook. DSi. PSP minis. Wii. PSN. XBLA. Flash. Comic books. Plush toys. T-shirts. Bedspread. Animated TV shows. Children's cereals...

If you have a hit in the mobile space you need to milk it for all its worth. Don't be too precious. Just spend some time finding good partners in each sector. Then start building your dairy.

8. Wolves prepare for a killing rampage

Considering the return on investment and profit margins that some iPhone developers demonstrate, there's been a remarkable lack of mergers and acquisitions to-date. This is because many of the most successful developers are being run a lifestyle businesses.

Ngmoco buying Freeverse is the first major deal of the era, but it won't be either the biggest or the most surprising of 2010.

Many of these deals will be brutal however with money (or the promise of money) being used to gain licenses, eyeballs, and key staff not to maintain the structure of the purchased companies. Equally some deals will be purely for prestige and for no better reason than so companies can bulk up their short term balance sheets.

9. Social gaming networks go 2.0

One of the most competitive market of 2009, social gaming networking is going to get much more fierce as companies gear up to target the current leader OpenFeint.

Scoreloop will be angling its cross-platform smarts and in-game currency, while ngmoco is finally going to push Plus+, as well as trying to make it the default option for freemium and online games.

However the entry of other players, such as Namco with its cross-platform Unite SDK - covering Java, Brew, iPhone, Android, PC, Mac - and possibly Gameloft too - will further shake things up.

Social gaming on iPhone alone will no longer be enough; something the fear that Apple will introduce its own low level social features within the iPhone SDK will further encourage.

10. Don't get killed in the iPad rush

Hundreds if not thousands of iPhone games are going to be tweaked and ported to iPad in April 2010.

Unless you're working for EA Mobile and Gameloft, or can make a game with the quality and uniqueness of Zen Bound 2 or have already had more than a million downloads of your iPhone game, you need to double think your strategy.

If your game wasn't successful first time around on the App Store, why's it going to be successful on the iPad App Store?

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.