App stores are the lifeblood of the mobile games business.
That's why the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) decided to highlight what it saw as several worrying issues in the terms and conditions of Amazon's newly open Appstore for Android.
You can read the full details of its 'significant concerns' here.
This week's question
We asked our panel;
"Do you think the IGDA was right to raise concerns over the terms and conditions for Amazon's new Android App Store?"
Our respondents divided roughly half and half, with the largest single response in favour of the IGDA, but slightly over half suggesting some concern over its decision and the way it was done.
Several developers, evinced by Sarah Thomson of developer IUGO, shared the IGDA's sentiments, more so given how little involvement it's previously had in the mobile gaming sector.
"I thought it was great... the IGDA has not been relevant or even visible (in our area anyway) for quite some time. This puts it back on the map as an organisation taking action and having a useful purpose for gamers. I applaud them!" she said.
Boasting over 17 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience, James is the co-founder of Dimoso, an integrated PR and marketing agency that specialises in mobile and tech. He is also co-founder of appromoter.
James Kaye, of consultancy company Mobizest, agreed; "Most of us know from experience that many developers are simply too small or inexperienced to be able to pick up on the dangers that can lurk in contracts. It's often only the bigger companies that have the resources to hire vigilant lawyers who can warn against problematic clauses and terms.
"In the absence of developers being able to form a union or afford expensive lawyers fees, the IGDA represents the next best thing."
Jani Kahrama of developer Secret Exit took a strategic view.
"Developers must not yield control of content pricing over to the distributors. Anyone who argues against that should take a good long look at how they expect to run a long-term business," he warned.
Other were more cautious when it came to praising the organisation however.
Michael Schade of developer Fishlabs said: "For developers who are less 'experienced' or simply don't want to deal with 'these distribution issues', I really appreciate the heads-up by the IGDA, even if it was also to position it as an advocate for the small indies for marketing purposes."
He also warned Amazon that "Apple sets the industry standard rules for digital game distribution. Any other app store operator better gets used to that."
Dave Castelnuovo of developer Bolt Creative would like to see the IGDA taking on this role more widely, and not only for terms and conditions it doesn't agree with.
"It would be an invaluable service to have some of these agreements spelled out in plain English so a starting indie developer can be more informed," he said.
"When it comes to licensing, partnership agreements, etc, the IGDA couldn't possibly go through each individual agreement, but I think it could offer some insight at the high level in terms of what types of business structures are fair, and what types of structures to be careful of."
That said, though Castelnuovo applauded the move, he would have liked the IGDA to have been more neutral in its language. It should be an advisory service, not a soapbox.
Which end of the stick?
Indeed, some of our panelists felt the IGDA may not have understood the entire situation.
While agreeing that IGDA has the best interest of the development community at heart, Matt Meads from publisher HeroCraft thought it needed to focus on the details.
"I believe some of the concerns to be largely without merit," he explained.
"I don't believe the contract eliminates the possibility of promotional activity with other sales channels as such pricing would constitute a 'promotional price' and not a 'list price'. I also don't believe Amazon would set a popular game to 'free' and lose revenues. Amazon's core pricing strategy is based on an extremely competitive marketplace competing with traditional physical retail stores, something it doesn't have to worry about with digital content."
It was an issue that chimed with analyst David MacQueen from Strategy Analytics. As he pointed out, Amazon can't make money from hardware as Nokia or Apple do.
"It's only a distributor and its desire to control pricing reflects its need to make a profit out of the apps," he said.
"In a way it's disappointing that the IGDA presents Amazon as a virtual ogre. The IGDA is correct that the terms are less favourable for developers, but there is a good reason for that difference."
Pull the other one
And some panelists though the whole issue overblown. Michael Breslin of Glu Mobile, a keen supporter of the Amazon Appstore, was first to respond.
"Amazon is not forcing developers to sell products through its site," he argued.
"Amazon's deal is pretty much a typical straight retail deal (albeit digital). If the buy backs, returns and inventory management fees were included (as in typical retail deals), I'm sure there would be even more upheaval.
"If Amazon was consistently gashing prices and only paying out 20 percent of revenues to developers then I think there would be a story and something the industry should be worried about. I hope Amazon's superior CRM and merchandising capabilities prove to be meaningful for mobile and inspire other app stores to increase discoverability, CRM merchandising and revenues for all developers."
Kevin Dent of consultancy Tiswaz revealed insider knowledge of the workings of the IGDA.
"The IGDA's board has one person that works in the mobile gaming space," he claimed.
"I reached out to a few of the board last week and highlighted the historical business models that we have seen over the last ten years on every platform from J2ME to iOS and everything in between. Sprint, for example, still does a 60/40 split - in their favour - for smaller publishers and charges the publisher for QA.
"None of the board actually knew about any of these other models, hence I thought it was odd that they were focusing just on Amazon."
Tag team smash
Since founding Tag Games in 2006 Paul has built the studio from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected and successful mobile and handheld developers in Europe.
He began a long, and some might say, distinguished, games industry career at legendary developer DMA Design, playing a key role in the development of the GTA series
Paul Farley of Tag Games went even further in his views.
"I feel that the IGDA's decision to produce an advisory, warning developers of the potential pitfalls of a single distribution agreement is a potentially dangerous, and certainly foolhardy step," he said.
"Whilst I accept that the IGDA feels it is acting in the best interests of its members, this move presents itself as either as an opportunistic publicity stunt, or evidence of an anti-Google agenda."
He felt that all developers should employ good legal counsels and that it was not the IGDA's place to be replacing lawyers.
He also questioned if the IGDA would be reviewing all the other standard direct distribution contracts.
"In terms of consistency and fairness, it's only right that they now turn their attention to Apple, Steam, Microsoft, Big Fish and the hundreds of other direct distribution channels. I, for one am, not holding my breath!"
The market decides
Eros Resmini of social mobile platform OpenFeint and Maarten Nooyens of the IMGA Awards made an effective double-team.
Resmini opened with the classic economist's move: "Competition through innovation of app store make up and policies will ultimately benefit developers. If Amazon has it wrong, developers will migrate to the better solution - and they will do it quickly."
Maarten came in quickly, pointing out there are at least another 118 app stores for developers to try, expressing his confidence that Amazon will get it right.
Leo Tan from Capcom agreed: "I would hope that any party in the business of making money from gaming does so by making choices that are healthy for everyone, since we'd all like to continue making money from gaming for the rest of our natural lives."
In your own hands
[people id="11" name="Brian Baglow"]
Brian Baglow of Revolver PR summed up the issues with admirable balance.
"Amazon is infamous for its digital media Ts&Cs being ridiculously restrictive. Its on-demand video and music downloads were excoriated on launch for being nasty to consumers and creators alike. It's tends to err not just on the side of caution, but on the side of 'whatever the lawyers suggest' whenever something new comes out.
"However, it's not the only retailer in town and it's more than possible for developers to release through other channels and support it themselves, so it's far less of an issue than it would be had Apple decided to impose the same conditions.[/people]
As with many panelists, he was happy to see the IGDA highlighting issues for mobile developers, but unsure about the target in this case.
[people id="11" name="Brian Baglow"]"With my PR hat on, I think complaining to Amazon was the wrong way to go about it. That was cheap publicity."[/people]
Mills co-founded ustwo, a digital products and services studio back in 2004.
In 2013, after successfully launching Whale Trail, he set up ustwo games to focus on creating beautiful gaming experiences. Recent titles include Blip Blupand the forthcoming Monument Valley.
So, finally, to mills of developer ustwo for some welcome comic relief.
"Naively, I have never heard of IGDA, as a small studio (only 100) we just make games, apps, UI for the fun of it..." he joked.
"It would be more beneficial to tell the naive app developer the simple truth that nobody makes money from Android because the average Android consumer doesn't really understand the concept of apps and the convoluted message that is 'apps + Android + multiple flawed marketplaces' doesn't help.
"What I really want to do is make a game that works on the 55 versions Android resolution and software combinations (none of which have owners who understand the concept of app purchase), and then spend the next few weeks uploading to all the various stores around the world and then spending hours of my time administering the 47p I make in each of the stores."
Thanks to all the panelists who contributed; we'll have another feature up next week.