Mobile Mavens

The Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss the 'disastrous' App Store update

Should Apple to sing to our tune?

The Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss the 'disastrous' App Store update

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

With the launch of iOS came an updated App Store, sporting the biggest upheaval to the marketplace since it rolled out back in 2008.

But, despite some visual improvements, some developers have been claiming that the refreshing offering threatens to hit their businesses hard, with discovery features pulled and app searches botched.

So, we asked the Mavens:

What do you make of the changes to the App Store in iOS, and - more broadly speaking - how healthy is it that supposedly minor changes to one marketplace can potentially have such a major impact on thousands of developers?

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

The move from Apple is interesting and I think a lot of it is a result of the fact that these days it is swamped by new apps and keeping up a list of what is 'new' is both logistically time consuming and largely meaningless to consumers who themselves want more of a quality guide.

What is more disturbing to me is the one screen at a time display of games - with massive preference to portrait games - and a lack of text describing the game initially.

This plays massively in to the hands of established brands that will be nearer the top of the charts anyway and need nothing more than the title and a screenshot to sell.

Any original game that requires a little bit more description to lift it out of the sea of 500,000 or more apps that will soon be upon us will simply drown and be lost in the landscape.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

To my mind this just goes to reinforce what I have been saying for months now: Apple is not interested in making it easier for developers to promote their wares.

Apple is motivated by showing off what its device can do and making it as sexy as possible, and can we really blame it?

What does surprise me though is that a the latest changes, rather than being the heralded leap in consumer experience, has instead simply been a retrograde step. I have sympathy for Jon's point that there are just to many new apps to make this meaningful, but that doesn't mean you take this UI away without replacing it with something positive.

I know from personal experience how just a few navigation improvements can vastly improve the ease for customers to find what they want - and isn't that what Apple is supposed to champion?

Even back in my day with the limitations we had with an operator deck we nearly tripled revenues by updating the list of games on the front page every four hours rather than once a week.

Personally, I've lost faith a long time ago that we will see innovation from Apple and I don't think it will be long before its brand will have an "Emperor's new clothes" moment. But I hope - against hope - that it will return to being a truly customer-experience led organisation.

Of course, if Apple need someone to tell it how to fix the App Store, I'd be delighted to tell them.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

I don’t think all of this criticism of the changes to the App Store is fair.

I remember when the iPhone first came out - the date sorted app list was critical for new apps. At that time you could browse the date sorted list once a day and actually see every app that came out.

Within a year, there was such a flood of new apps that you needed to check the date sorted list every hour or so in order to see everything that comes in, and on top of that, there are so many junk apps that a user would have to be an absolute masochist to drill through all the bullshit in order to maybe find a gem.

Nowadays it’s probably much worse. No one should be relying on the date sorted list for app discovery. At best you get a couple hours of visibility anyway. Another thing to keep in mind that there are still plenty of services outside the app store that provide visibility for apps that don’t have a strong marketing push.

Apps like App Shopper, forums like Touch Arcade, etc. If your app has something to offer, it’s almost guaranteed that people will post about it which in turn will get it noticed by the press and other users.

As far as search results, there is give and take. Sure, you were able to see more search results when there were just icons, but now you get a screenshot and part of your description in the search result as well. this should be a positive change for apps. You no longer have to live and die by your icon and app title.

To be honest, I never thought the old app listing was the easiest to scroll through anyway. You used to have to hit those tiny arrow buttons at the top of the frame which was horrible. they finally made it drag scrollable in the last year but it was still a small area to drag around.

Also, I used to have an issue where sometimes your place in the search results was lost if you clicked into an app description and tried to back out too many times. In the new interface, at least we can see a screen shot so you don’t have to waste time on a crappy app without having to click into their app description.

I think the uproar over this is because people don’t like change. They claim they want it, but when it happens they cling to the old. I’m not saying the new changes are perfect, but I’m sure they will be refined over time.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I agree with Dave: any change will have fans and detractors.

It will be interesting to see if there is any change in download patterns following the change of putting screenshots above the app descriptions, but really none of these changes actually address the core app store problem of too many apps and limited ways to discover them.

I was expecting something to have been announced by now following Apple's acquisition of Chomp - but hopefully there's something good to come. But for now, all app stores are suffering from the same problem and to be honest.

I don't see any of us in the industry offering perfect solutions, as we are all focused on trying to get our apps featured above the rest.

It seems that people want the end of walled gardens, but they still want to be in the face of app store users. I simply can't see how an effective app store can exist without effective curation, which means that some apps will survive and some will fail, and that, I'm sorry to say, is life.

Apple and Google need to be seen to be reasonably independent in curating content; I prefer Apple's more hands-on approach than Google's sink-or-swim store. But the discovery of apps outside of the major stores is where people like ourselves can do more.

The simple message is the app stores are not the be-all of app discovery and marketing. If you are only relying on the stores for your discovery, then you are making life much harder for yourself.

Jussi Laakkonen CEO Noice

Looking at it from the end user perspective, I don't believe discovery is a huge problem. If you go to the App Store, you'll always find something new to play. It's super convenient, there's always something new and cool, and it's almost always free.

The App Store is more than good enough for the end users, and they are the main stakeholders Apple designs for. Discovery through the App Store is just one piece of the puzzle.

Word of mouth is as powerful in driving installs as the App Store discovery mechanisms. I've asked about 100 people "what is the most powerful way to discover a new game" and nine out of ten respond that it is "a friend tells me", "I ask a friend", "word of mouth" or any other variation of this.

And these were all mobile game industry professionals. Just think of the normal users who are not nearly as sophisticated in navigating the store.

Because of this I see huge promise in the iOS 6 Facebook integration - i.e. liking apps. Simple, easy, well understood. Imagine my surprise when I couldn't find a way within the App Store to see what apps my friends have liked. Why not?

The real promise of super growth for your game lies in making it 'share worthy' and giving players the means to share and become your advocates.

The promise is in creating games that allow users to create something beautiful (e.g. My Horse) or outlandish (e.g. Minecraft), allow users to play together (e.g. Song Pop, Draw Something), let users to boast and share their achievements, compete, collaborate and taunt.

It's about self-expression, sharing, playing together. This is what players and their friends care about. Not canned level-up messages, prepackaged twitter updates, incentivised "share this to Facebook and get X coins!". It needs to be meaningful, personal and super easy to do.

In short, is your game share worthy?

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Yeah, I think with a store front approach, it will be hard to fully address the discovery issues that are part of every app store.

There are only so many lists you can create before people start drowning in lists. And search is only so useful when it comes to discovery - you pretty much need to know what you are looking for. I can search for Infinity Blade, but I can’t search for fun games that all my friends are playing.

Even if you tweak the search algorithms to give users more meaningful results, I think there is a leap of faith required to actually try to search for something generic. I don’t think most users will even try.

And so far I haven’t seen any results from genius that actually got me to buy an app, although I think they could make genius results better by looking at other user’s that own a similar collection of my apps and report on which apps they actually use the most that I don't have.

I think the solution should lean a little more on user generated playlists. But seriously, I think spotify has a pretty awesome way to get around the discovery problem, it’s actually more convenient to browse through other people’s playlists then use search.

I would like the ability to create a list of my favourite runners and publish it to my friends and subscribers. I would like for Pocket Gamer to publish a list of reviewed apps with an editorial blurb next to each app so I can browse and download straight from their list each week.

I want to see what Keith and Jon are actually playing. I want to check up on them that they are actually playing the games they review. What are they playing in their spare time?

I'm sure Pocket God fans would want to know what I’m playing.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

There are so many techniques for expanding discoverability that we experimented with back in the day and that Apple is yet to use, let alone what we could do now.

But to give Apple its due, it created a mechanism with more scale than we could have possibly imagined. As Jussi said their objective is a simple user experience; not a discover everything experience - which could get quite messy)

Personally, I think there is a lot more Apple could do and I believe it would make commercial sense for the store, but Apple has wider questions than just the apps discovery aspects to think about.

So, although I stand by my views, perhaps we need to put our own house in order before we cast our stones.

Are we using all of the tools we need time ensure the best awareness and virality possible with our own games? Should we not be making the best of the platform opportunities we have?

There is still a lot to play for!

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