Mobile game publishers varying approach to iPhone games

How are the big guns dealing with the App Store?

Mobile game publishers varying approach to iPhone games
A couple of months into the life of the App Store, it's a good time to take stock of how the major mobile games publishers have been capitalising (or not) on the buzz around iPhone games.

With that in mind, our analysis follows, focusing on existing mobile publishers, rather than firms with their base in casual gaming (for example PopCap and PlayFirst - that's a separate feature).

Note, the figures are based on the UK App Store - although in EA Mobile's case, we've noted the difference between its North American and European releases.


No. of UK App Store games: 2
Spore Origins was one of the first iPhone games seen in public, but while Electronic Arts' support for Apple's handset isn't in doubt, its release schedule has been somewhat puzzling for us Europeans.
Tetris, Scrabble and Sudoku were all available in the US in the App Store's launch week, but Tetris has only just gone live here in Europe, with no sign of Sudoku yet (Scrabble is another story - licensing issues...)

However, the publisher is throwing its weight behind the platform, announcing nine further games coming to iPhone, including big-hitters The Sims 3, Tiger Woods 09 and Need For Speed Undercover.

Pricing-wise, the publisher is keeping to the high-end, with Spore Origins retailing for £5.99, and Tetris for £4.99. Connectivity isn't a part of either, although Spore Origins does make innovative use of the iPhone's camera.


No. of UK App Store games: 9

Out of all the existing mobile publishers, Gameloft has been the most active in the initial weeks of the App Store, going live with six titles at launch, with two more launching recently.

The publisher started casual, with the likes of Brain Challenge, Diamond Twister and Platinum Sudoku, but has more recently brought in its more hardcore titles Asphalt 4 Elite Racing and Real Football 2009.

Gameloft has also been one of the most flexible publishers on the App Store so far. Prices were quickly chopped, to the point where most of its casual games are all now retailing for less than £3, with Platinum Sudoku selling for £1.19.

However, the two hardcore games are priced higher, at £5.99, and both are currently nestling in the Top 10 Paid Games chart.

Meanwhile, the publisher moved swiftly to split its Chess & Backgammon Classics game into two seperate titles.


No. of UK App Store games: 1

Glu's iPhone strategy is perhaps the most puzzling of the Big Three mobile publishers. Despite the company's execs having talked up the platform for some time, just one Glu game is currently available - Space Monkey - currently available for £1.19.

A canny sign of waiting till the launch rush dies down, or a sign that the publisher was resting on its laurels? Time will tell. One problem faced by Glu is that many of its casual brands are being taken to iPhone by their original IP-owners - Diner Dash for example.

Meanwhile, there's as yet little sign of a demand on the App Store for movie brands - another core staple of Glu's catalogue. That said, if the company were to release its Transformers G1: Awakening strategy game, it would surely sell well. It's unclear why the publisher hasn't, unless there are licensing issues in the background.

Still, Glu has made strenuous efforts to develop its own mobile IP in the last year or two - Space Monkey is one example - so it would be surprising if it didn't bring more of those titles to iPhone this side of Christmas.


No. of UK App Store games: 2

THQ Wireless has taken a relatively cautious approach to iPhone gaming thus far, releasing De Blob with the minimum of fanfare.

However, it currently has one of the buzz iPhone games in the shape of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and will soon be releasing Lightsaber Unleashed, a revamped version of the previously unofficial PhoneSaber app.

The publisher has shown itself willing to drop its prices - De Blob now sells for £3.99 - although the Star Wars game is at the pricier £5.99 end of the market.


No. of UK App Store games: 1

On the one hand, Vivendi has had one of the biggest iPhone games so far: Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, which has been a staple in the Top Paid Apps chart, despite its price remaining at £5.99.

However, it's unclear whether the publisher will be able to capitalise on this success, with rumours swirling about its future (or lack of) within parent company Activision Blizzard.

If more of the company's console brands are to come to iPhone, it's looking increasingly likely they'll be published by the parent company, or licensed out to other mobile publishers.


No. of UK App Store games: 2

Another publisher dipping its toes in the App Store is I-play, which has two games available so far: Jewel Quest II and Numba, both targeting the casual market.Jewel Quest II is looking overpriced next to its gem-swapping rivals at £5.49, but with Numba currently selling for £2.39, I-play has shown its willingness to be flexible on pricing.

With several racing games in its portfolio on mobile - a popular genre on iPhone - it would be surprising if I-play doesn't seek to capitalise on this soon. The Fast & The Furious would seem to be tailor-made for the platform, for example.

However, I-play's parent company Oberon Media may prefer to funnel more of its casual web games onto iPhone instead, bringing Apple's handset into the company's cross-platform strategy.


No. of UK App Store games: Both 0

Digital Chocolate's absence from the App Store is somewhat puzzling, given that the platform seemingly plays neatly into the company's own-IP casual gameplay strengths.

However, founder Trip Hawkins says the company's first iPhone titles will be released this year - it's possible that DChoc's expansion to PC and Facebook delayed its full-scale iPhone development.

Equally, Connect2Media (and, indeed, its US partner Hands-On Mobile) is absent from the App Store, presumably having been otherwise engaged with a management buyout / counting its profits from Guitar Hero III Mobile respectively.

That game would be a shoe-in for iPhone - just look at the success of freebie music game Tap Tap Revenge - although this may be a matter of securing additional licensing rights.


No. of UK App Store games: 4

Namco Networks' relatively large iPhone catalogue shows one of the interesting things about the App Store - although the store itself is different in each territory, publishers aren't. So, UK iPhone owners are buying games published by the US-based Namco Networks, not the company's European arm.

For the most part, Namco's strategy is predictable - Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and Pole Position Remix are all dependable retro titles, although priced rather high at £5.99 each.

The brands may be strong enough to sustain that pricing initially, but it will be interesting to see if Namco has the flexibility to drop them in the future to stimulate further sales.


One of the other intriguing things about the App Store so far is the self-publishing efforts of publishers like Capybara Games (Critter Crunch), IUGO (Toy Bot Diaries), FinBlade (Tennis Slam) and Polarbit (Raging Thunder).

All these developers usually work with publishers on mobile, but are experimenting with going it alone for iPhone. Could this herald a trend of developers hanging onto their own IP for iPhone?

With word-of-mouth and blog buzz able to make a small developer's game an App Store hit, we may well see more developers following these firms' leads.

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)