Mobile Mavens

Is Apple's aggressive attitude to deprecating devices good or bad for game devs?

Is Apple's aggressive attitude to deprecating devices good or bad for game devs?

This week provided the juxtaposition of two contrasting stories.

Apple announced record financials, with iPhone continue to boom, especially in China, where Apple said it has paid out $2.5 billion to app and game developers.

The other sees one-man-band indie Jeff Vogel complaining about Apple's attitude to hardware and software in terms of the planned obsolescence of iOS products.

He says "Apple would be ecstatic if 90 percent of game developers disappeared overnight".

Do you think the latter statement is true, and if so, would the disappearance of 90 percent of iOS game developers have any impact on Apple's business?

 

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

The problem with eliminating the lower 90% of developers is that some of the top 10% will eventually come from there. Granted, not too many, but it does happen.

There's also a good number of smaller developers serving niches, who might not use iOS if not for the specific apps these developers provide.

I understand Mr. Vogel's issues, we had to pull out at least one older game due to iOS incompatibilities and have ongoing revisions to current titles as well.

I don't see the situation on Android as much better, with the lower OS and hardware upgrade rates and greater diversity of devices.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

According to my calculations based on latest stats I have heard -

  • average iOS game costs $25,000 to make,
  • average iOS game makes $5,250 (lifetime),
  • 95,000 games onto App Store last year,
  • therefore total development losses = $1.9 billion last year
  • ... not sure where Chinese stat comes from.

Until Apple learn how to curate the biggest heap of junk ever assembled in the games world nothing is going to make much of a difference.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

I should note that the Apple Watch Companion App, only allows users to see a fraction of the titles available.

You can’t browse the categories. This has caused some upset in the development community.

Apple says this is being worked on, but it may signify a new change in attitude there.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

iOS and Android development are now largely a hobbyists market. There are some massive exceptions and also some smaller developers carving out clever niches, but in the main this is true.

The average game is losing just under $20,000. How many times do you want to re-mortgage your house to fund the development of a game about to enter this environment?

Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

Those numbers are slightly misleading Jon.

Yes, the market's hard, but it’s not unwinnable by any stretch.
Will Luton

I expect that the average chance of success scales somewhat linearly with production and marketing budgets, most of that volume on the App Store comes from hobbyists and students where their budget is $0 in both development and marketing.

This bulk is sometime non-commercial and other times misguided “get rich quick", but totally erratic, which, as William Volk mentioned, means occasional outlier hits and more commonly strong niche markets. It’s like a primordial soup.

If you’re going in to the App Store with the mentality “I’ve spent $25,000 and I deserve that back” without considering your product positioning, business model and performance marketing then you’re going to lose money.

Yes, the market's hard, but it’s not unwinnable by any stretch.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

Will, those of us who are professional game makers would urge everyone to consider their time as money.

As an experienced consultant I charge anything north of $700 per day for my time, but everyone should consider their time spent developing games as at least minimum wage.

If you do not consider your time as money then you are just a hobbyist.
Jon Hare

If you do not consider your time as money then you are just a hobbyist, which makes mobile development a hobbyists market..

Nothing wrong with that but Apple/Google refuse to divide professional product from hobbyist product in any way it makes these platforms unsustainable for 90% of established and aspiring professional game-makers who anticipate being able to pay their rent/mortgages, bring up families and buy food and cars as part of their lifestyle.

Curation and graded division of the App Store is the solution here, and it would help the guys at iTunes too, as well as giving good quality new and old developers out there who cannot afford the marketing budgets the leg up they need.

But I don't see these solutions happening any time soon.

Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

Congrats on your day rate.

I think about my time in a slightly different way. I can only ever sell my time once, where as a game can have a long term semi-passive revenue. So I think of my time in terms of opportunity.

Thinking "I put X hours in to a project, so am owed Y value from the platform because I’m a professional" is going to lead to frustration because that’s not how the App Store or any non-commodity markets works.

Kevin Corti Principal Spidershed Media

Obsolescence is surely a factor on all platforms not just Apple's.

Maybe it is amplified to some extent for sure. That is the nature of their ecosystem. It isn't a stable console designed to last 5 years. It is a technology-based service environment in a very competitive and rapidly growing market and that dictates that it will always be in a state of flux, especially when created by a company that thrives on innovation.

If you play in this game you need to recognise the rules.

If you are not equipped to handle that scenario then don't try. It is isn't Apple's job to make the world easy for games developers. They created an ecosystem that works very well for some.

Granted it worked very well for a different set of developers a few years back that now find it impossible to compete but that is natural evolution.

The App Store is an ecosystem that works very well for some devs

It's not about Apple "caring" or not.

Apple is Apple. It made the market and the ecosystem. You are not forced to operate in it. You owe it to yourself, your team, your bank manager and your family to make intelligent decisions about what games you make for who, where and how.

It's not about Apple "caring" or not. Apple is Apple. It made the market and the ecosystem. You are not forced to operate in it.
Kevin Corti

I dare say that Jeff Vogel made exactly the right decision for his circumstances. It must have been a hard call. Others should certainly follow suit if they are unable to make it work for them. It doesn't make you any less of a professional, in fact I'd say quite the opposite. Many won't, however, and will suffer as a result.

As a side note, a reliance on 3rd party platforms, SDKs and engines can also worsen this. I (stupidly) attempted to write an iOS game a while back (I have 25,000 lines of really bad Lua if you want them) and used the Corona SDK.

In the space of a month I had a major iOS update to contend with that broke chunks of the core game code but also some 3rd party physics components stopped working (permanently) as the vendor stopped supporting them and then Corona pulled their own cloud services that I had built the game on. Shit happens. That's business.

People talk about the need for curation ... as if it is somehow possible to cull 300,000 games down to a screen full of 'good' games that proper punters will appreciate because they were built by real developers.

I find that remarkably naive. Take one look at the charts and tell me that they are not already highly 'curated'. It may not be curated in the traditional sense, i.e. with games lovingly selected based on their creative, technical and commercial merit, but I think it is largely true to say that the 'best' games are highly visible and the inconsequential dross is almost invisible.

If Apple culled 299,000 games from the store overnight based on some creatively-acceptable methodology I bet the top ranking and top grossing charts and the carousel-featured games would be pretty much the same games that you see now.

The user acquisition and marketing costs would stay the same - there would still be a thousand competing games - and the same publishers would remain that have the huge marketing budgets. All that a culling would accomplish is to stifle the professional development of thousands of 'amateurs'.

Apple doesn't hate you. It just doesn't have a responsibility to make your life easy. It makes the rules. Chose to play or chose not to. Just chose wisely.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

While it's true that Apple is very aggressive in deprecating old technology and forcing devs to keep updating their apps in order to be compatible with the latest devices, they do it for a reason.

Culling out all the old technology like forcing devs to be 64-bit compatible means they can lose 32-bit backward compatibility sometime in the future and use their man hours for new functionality instead of being stalled by backwards compatibility.

It's also a way of weeding out old apps, if a dev doesn't think it's worth their time to keep their apps up to date, then they get pushed out of the App Store in favor of apps that still have demand.

Apple is best at execution and continually stretching into the future year after year. I believe this is one of the reasons they are able to do it.

Thomas Nielsen Osao Games

There's three types of indie developers: those that are in it purely for fun; those that are successful; and those that whine about the world being unfair.

With all due respect, Jeff Vogel's complaints are completely out of touch with reality.

I feel for his problems getting his title out, but fact is that thousands of developers, professional as well as amateurs, ARE able to launch and operate games that work perfectly well across iOS updates.

Is it Apple's fault that your game isn't getting noticed?
Thomas Nielsen

Having to "get a whole new game engine" to remedy issues caused by a minor OS update sounds more like a bad engine call than anything else.

Thankfully, modern mobile operating systems aren't static. They evolve to satisfy consumer and developer needs. Apple manages their ecosystem quite well, and if you want to be a part of it, you need to keep up.

And then there is discovery. Is it Apple's fault that your game isn't getting noticed?

It's Apple's "fault" that the market has exploded into what it is today. iPhone was a good phone, but what has made it really great is the democratization of development, and the sheer amount of apps that has become available to the general public.

That is why Apple has no interest in cutting 90% of their community - Those 90% may contribute a lot less to App Store revenue than the top 10%, but they contribute a lot to the ecosystem.

Sure, I miss the days of curated stores as much as the next guy. Nothing did beat that feeling of getting down on your knees and unbuttoning the pants of whoever was "head of content" on a major mobile operator this month, in order to persuade him to feature YOUR game in that one slot BigPublisher hadn't already bought.

And interestingly, those who weren't successful with that strategy would then complain that the game was rigged, and that the ecosystem should be a lot more open to the little guys. Hmm.

The open nature of the App Store has enabled games like Angry Birds, which was made by an 8-man Rovio become a global brand

It's hard to make everyone happy, but we're at a pretty good place. With very little investment (money/time), you can build a product and enable the world to get it on their phone.

The entry barrier has never been lower, and the playing field has never been more level. All you need to do is figure out how to get the people who matter - your customers - excited about your product :)

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

@Dave - if Apple gave us a pipeline to tell us the essential things to bear in mind for forward compatibility now, our titles would hold their commercial value for a lot longer.

It is not acceptable to treat your developers as slaves to ongoing, unexpected technological change.

You should not need to keep your dev team together to keep a great title alive in the market; not in the short term anyway.

Also if Apple is really serious about killing off older games then why don't they erased them from the App Store.

After all I don't see many music cassettes on sale anymore in the high street. This is just common sense and courtesy to customers and new developers alike.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

What does Apple really need to tell us? We already know we should be prepared to migrate our apps to new APIs and be ready to drop support for old devices and OS versions.

I don't think you want more communication, I think you just don't want to have to migrate your apps to new technology.

Of course we could all find ways that Apple could improve but that would require a shift in attention and manpower away from something else.

We are hardly slaves. Last time I checked we don't have chains connecting us to Xcode nor do we have someone whipping our backs if we don't publish so many games per year on their platform.

The reason why you feel you're a slave is because they are doing something right and their platform is valuable enough to make you think they are the only game in town.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

Of course Apple are not the only game in town. It is just a bit disappointing that they used to be the best game in town and now they are not anymore.

And it is important that we don't lose a whole bunch of new developers chasing a ship that has already sailed.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Honestly, in my 20 years of development, I don't know an API or platform where you don't have to worry about new API versions or hardware releases breaking your code.

I'm constantly messing with plugins and code when a new version of Unity comes out, back in the day when I did Windows software: every release of Visual Studio would break the project, new Flash player versions commonly broke the Flash apps I worked on.

Sure it's a pain when you are forced to update old projects or a new phone isn't compatible with your game, but this is part of our job.
Dave Castelnuovo

The worst of all is Android with their fragmentation. Don't tell me you have 3-year-old apps on Android that don't have to be constantly updated to work on new devices. I would say Apple is the best among all of the above.

The only difference here is that a 6-year-old app on the App Store is still a somewhat viable product. On any other platform you would just not update it.

I just hear a bunch of whiners. Sure it's a pain when you are forced to update old projects or a new phone isn't compatible with your game, but this is part of our job.

If you want to make your life easy, create a shared codebase where you can easily fix OS related issues quickly and cleanly for your library of apps. Separate your core game logic from OS-related hooks.

If you disagree, tell me about your experience where you've had a 3+-year-old app that didn't require updating to stay compatible with the latest API and hardware (except for console where they freeze everything for 10 years at the cost of being stagnant for that same time period).

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

Jon Hare is one of Europe's best known creative directors and game designers with over 10 international number one games to his name and nearly 30 years of experience in the games industry.

Jon co-founded and managed the legendary 1980/90s development company Sensible Software, creating games such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball to great critical acclaim and commercial success and has also worked in senior posts in two of the UK's biggest games developer/publishers Codemasters and Jagex.

Since 1999 Jon has been one of the top game design and business development consultants in Europe working for many different publishing and development clients.

His own new company Tower Studios specializes in developing, publishing and licensing games on mobile and digital formats enjoying recent international success with the release of Speedball 2 Evolution and Word Explorer across numerous mobile and digital platforms.

Jon has also been a full BAFTA member for over 10 years, serving on the BAFTA Games Committee and is a regular Chairman of juries for BAFTA Games awards, as well as acting in a mentor capacity for both BAFTA and NESTA.

Dave - some of us have to reassemble teams in order to do this fiddly work: that is the main gripe.

Anyone who has worked on console or home computers (except PC) is entirely alien to this world of pointlessly fussing around with bits of finished work as a standard practise.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Well, consoles are a different beast. They basically freeze the API for 10 years so you would never run into something like this.

In exchange for this stability you give up hardware refreshes so your games start to look dated compared to other platforms like the PC and you don't get new API features to enhance your game with.

Pocket God is still a 32-bit game

However, as we move into the future, even consoles are starting to behave more and more like iPhone so I wouldn't be surprised if you start running into these same issues.

It's not realistic to think you can sell a game for 3+ years and not maintain the code base.
Dave Castelnuovo

Concerning computers, not sure what kind of computer you are talking about. PC is the biggest market and this is a big concern. This same thing happens on OS-X. Linux is niche of the niche but I would be surprised if you could have a game still run on the newest devices after 3 years with no maintenance.

And yes, sometimes you have to reassemble teams. This should be something that is thought about in the dev contract. At least getting access to source code so you can find someone else to do the work.

It does suck, and I feel the pain at least twice a year on my own project (I still haven't migrated Pocket God to 64-bit), but it's really not realistic to think that you can sell a game for more than 3 years and not have to maintain the code base.

I also have the Android version of Pocket God that isn't feature complete compared to the iPhone version. I get many support emails daily complaining about this but unfortunately we don't have the means to hire someone to bring it up to snuff.

It's not exactly the same issue but I can imagine a similar level of frustration if you have a code base that needs work but don't have a team to work on it.

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.

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