Debate: BlackBerry's not betting on games, so developers shouldn't bet their bottom dollar on BB 10

Time to get serious

Debate: BlackBerry's not betting on games, so developers shouldn't bet their bottom dollar on BB 10
This is one-side of a two-part debate over the future of BlackBerry from a games perspective.

RIM's in trouble, but no-one can say it hasn't got the message.

In the months and years leading up to the appointment of Thorsten Heins as CEO in January 2012, analysts had rightly called the BlackBerry manufacturer out for failing to react to the growing threat of iOS and Android.

Apple and Google changed the way the mobile market operated, while RIM stuck its fingers in its ears and sung loudly.

Almost six months after Heins took charge, however, and it's all change. RIM looks likely to shed 40 percent of its workforce between now and early 2013, with well-placed executives flooding out of the company's revolving doors. In its own words, the business is in a state of transition – and a big one at that.

Finally, RIM is reacting.

On target?

This upheaval is playing out as the company gears up to launch its most important range of handsets since iPhone first appeared on the scene.

BlackBerry 10 certainly looks like an improvement on what RIM currently has to offer. The slick promo video (see below) put out during BlackBerry World last month – featuring a keyboard-less touchscreen, no less – certainly suggests that the OS has upped its game and will launch with the kind of features smartphone users are now accustomed to.

But on the flip side, so disconnected is it from BlackBerry's previous offerings, that the question that immediately springs to mind is, just who is RIM aiming these handsets new at?

My initial thought is, watching said YouTube snap from the comfort on my flat on the other side of the world was that BlackBerry 10 looked suspiciously like iOS, both in form and design.

However, the consensus is that as well as reducing churn for current western BlackBerry users, RIM's best opportunity will be to attract users not currently queuing around the corner at the local Apple store, but rather those with an Android handset in their pocket.

Edged out by Android

If true, that seems a curious decision. Android's key weapon in the smartphone race is its ability to appeal to 'every man'.

Though issues of fragmentation are never far away, Google has served up a platform that be shaped into almost any form, allowing manufacturers to tailor it to their own individual tastes whilst still tapping into (largely) the same ecosystem.

In short, Android is a uniquely malleable platform that OEMs of all persuasions can tinker with to target any consumer – high or low budget – located in almost any market in the world.

BlackBerry 10 is none of those things, and if RIM is looking to eat into Android's share in developing markets with cut-price devices – something even Nokia, which has a wealth of experience in this area, is even struggling to do – then it's likely Heins and co. will end up majorly disappointed.

Not so app happy

BlackBerry's brand – initially built on the idea of being on the bleeding edge, delivering slick handsets bursting with business-based features its former rivals never dared to introduce – is actually far closer to the appeal Apple has been able to muster with iPhone than it is Android.

BlackBerry is most definitely a platform for the high-end in most consumer's eyes, though taking on Apple in this arena appears to rests on bolstering BlackBerry App World's roster of titles.

Games aren't the only component in this particular battle of course, but having seen RIM in action at events and heard the accounts of developers working with the firm, outwardly the company is keen to be seen as having a healthy role to play in this market.

I can't help but feel this shift in RIM's focus – taking on Apple squarely in the app and latterly games market – is being done somewhat reluctantly, however. Indeed, those with a greater insight into the company's operations than me have suggested as much, claiming inwardly RIM doesn't see games as key to its future chances.

It could be argued that the majority of developers are aware of this potential conflict. Figures released earlier this week suggest less than 3 percent of mobile developers are working on games for BlackBerry platforms of any kind.

I do, however, worry for the developers that have put BlackBerry at the centre of their respective businesses.

Developer decisions

If, contrary to my belief, RIM is serious about taking on Apple in the games market, that's a battle it will lose – no matter how much courting RIM may do of iOS and Android developers at events, consumers are unlikely to rush to buy a BlackBerry handset to play games they've previously played on rival handsets six or more months ago.

On the other side, if RIM inwardly considers games to be of only minor importance, then those studios pumping time and money into the platform won't be able to count on the company's support if BlackBerry's business continues to stumble.

My advice, therefore, is twofold. For developers, I'd advise against simply walking into BlackBerry support blindly, or because porting over a title is easy.

Think about the kind of consumers who, even at the company's height, tended to be BlackBerry owners – from a targeting point of view, it's never been a platform that naturally lends itself to gamers, as continued slow sales of the more than competent PlayBook arguably suggest.

Back to BlackBerry

For RIM, I'd say stick to what you know. The BlackBerry OS certainly needed revitalising, but any attempt to re-write the platform's DNA from top to bottom will not pay off.

What's more, it's not needed.

Success in the smartphone market does not necessarily mean taking on either Apple or Google when it comes to games: it may be an odd statement to make on a website called 'Pocket Gamer', but plenty of potential consumers out there are after devices that don't have games at their core.

BlackBerry's perceived strengths – its secure communications tools, its suite of enterprise tools for business, the infrastructure behind its network, handsets that the average executive – are just as valid now as they were when RIM was at its height.

Indeed, if RIM is to see out this decade, those at the helm need to realise there's little to be gained from chasing the shadows cast by iOS and Android.

Any attempt, however slight, to take on Apple's hold over gamers could result in RIM taking its eye off the ball where it really matters: the inroads iPhone and iPad are making on BlackBerry's hand in the enterprise market.

The truth of the matter is, there's money to be made by simply doing what BlackBerry always did, but just doing it a whole lot better. The question is whether RIM's muddled approach means it's completely lost sight of that.
Be sure to read the other side of our BlackBerry debate!

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.