Mobile Mavens

Does Apple really care about indie game developers?

Our Indie Mavens debate Apple's attitude

Does Apple really care about indie game developers?

Jeff Vogel, a veteran indie game developer, started bringing his RPGs to iOS a couple of years ago.

Now, due to an issue with the 8.2 version of iOS that broke his latest game completely, he's given up on the platform altogether.

Vogel points to Apple's regular updates of its operating service as one of the main reasons as to why he made this decision.

It means that he has to constantly update code for his games, and the latest changes in 8.2 meant that he would have to port his games to an entirely new engine to make them work. He saw the cost of doing so as outweighing the benefit.

All this led to Vogel saying that he believes Apple simply doesn't care about smaller developers. "Apple would be ecstatic if 90 percent of game developers disappeared overnight," he said. 

We turned to our Indie Mavens, many of whom are in the same boat as Vogel, to see what they made of Vogel's comments. We pitched them two questions:

  • "Are you at all put off the iOS platform by Apple's tendency to make products obsolete with regular updates?"
  • "And do you think the disappearance of 90 percent of iOS game developers would have a noticeable impact on Apple's business, presuming most of those would be indies?"


Dave Gilbert CCO Wadjet Eye Games

God. YES. An update several months ago broke all of our ports, forcing us to basically redo them from scratch. It's a tremendous job and it's really screwed us over.

We would normally have had 3-4 new ports of our games out by now.

Instead we now have to redo work on older ports we thought was completely done. It's very tempting to follow Jeff's lead and just not bother.

Tanya X. Short Creative Director Kitfox Games

Valve is 'drowning in indies', but they do seem to take our problems to heart.
Tanya Short

After putting exactly one game on iOS and Android, we (Kitfox) decided to stay away from mobile, and those are definitely two of the reasons:

  • extremely expensive and high-risk maintenance,
  • and the sense that our platform-partners didn't take our needs particularly seriously.

Valve is of course also 'drowning in indies', but they do seem to take our problems to heart, and spend an inordinate amount of time and energy designing new systems to solve discoverability.

In the long-term, Apple would suffer from losing a huge chunk of their developers, but it would take a while, and I wouldn't be surprised if they and everyone else waved it away as either the developer's fault ("There just aren't enough good games") or the customer's fault ("The devices just aren't ideal for game-playing"), but never the platform owner's fault.

Ben Murch Co-Founder Perchang

I'm not particularly put off. Game development has many facets to it, support being one of them.

Dealing with potential issues from platform updates can be scheduled and dealt with. The way I see it is if you are using someone else's platform to sell your wares on, then really you have to roll the way they do.

Rodeo Games wouldn't exist without Apple, so I find it very hard to criticise them.

Rodeo Games only exists because of its success on iOS

It really depends which 90% of devs you are talking about. If it was 90% of the best devs, then iOS gaming would be fucked.

Look - standing out and being successful is incredibly hard work. It's also incredibly unfair, as I'm sure tons of great devs get overlooked and lost in the crowd.

If 90% of that crowd suddenly disappeared, then of course it would affect Apple's business. Perhaps not in a massive money way, but maybe in terms of iOS being the affordable development platform where small teams can make great hits.

Nathan Fouts Founder Mommy's Best Games

Neither Apple nor Valve have to care about indies right now. They care about good games, that make their platforms work.

Neither Apple nor Valve have to care about indies right now.
Nathan Fouts

A good portion of games created by indies are first-timer/amateur projects, which is fine for people to create and release, but it does bloat the app count.

Most regular gamers won't be as interested in these unpolished games. Another good chunk is cash-in trivialities, that people obviously did not put much work into, but just threw it up to the stores to see what happened.

If all that went away, I'm sure Apple's business would be just fine.

If the best of the best indies also went away, there would be certainly be a small gap after they left and perhaps Apple/Valve would notice.

I guess they are the only ones that have the numbers to say how much of their money is generated by indies.

Andy Wallace Developer Andy Wallace

Apple doesn't care about indies at all. It doesn't need to. We keep releasing on their platform anyway.

I seriously doubt that all indies would drop the platform since enough folks own iOS devices and also play games, but even if we did, I don't think it would affect Apple's bottom line in any noticeable way.

It's not that Apple hates indies or anything, it just has no reason to go out its way to support us. Total apathy.

Vadim Starygin Founder Elite Games

Was he really coding such a huge game just on iOS (in Xcode)? That is madness nowadays.

Cross-platform SDKs (Unity, Corona) are designed to resolve these issues. And Apple is a company that's also selling hardware - I don't think it's a secret that Apple drives off old apps that work on old devices to make room for newer ones.

In the case of Jeff Vogel, I'd say his mistake is not a trying to launch his game on iOS, but picking an obsolute tech (Xcode).

Pavel Ahafonau Co-founder Happymagenta

I will be an Apple advocate in this talk. Apple does slow transitions between updates allowing devs to test the beta much earlier than the release date.

I only can say that Apple does support indies.
Pavel Ahafonau

If an update breaks something it only means one of two things: either a dev was too lazy to make the game the right way in the first place, or it was a conscious risk to save time.

Don't blame me for not supporting the OP position - we/I sometimes fall into one of these two options, but experience allows to survive most updates without major changes.

And, given that a dev has beta access to prereleases long before official launches, it's unwise to skip this possibility unless it's a part of a strategy - like not to spend time on projects that won't be a hit.

So, I only can say that Apple does support indies, yet there some devs that have their own understanding on what that support should be.

Mike Rose PR Manager and Developer Relations Ripstone

I know people give Apple a hard time for this stuff, but realistically, how many pairs of eyes do you think they have?

Hundreds of games launch on iOS every single day, so for any developer to moan that Apple isn't caring enough about them is laughable really.

Sure, there are major problems, like the one that Jeff has stumbled on, and it's terrible that has happened to him - but there are always going to be problems on any platform, and honestly, no-one owes you anything.

It's all business, and those who survive are the ones who can adapt to the rolling changes that are constantly happening right now in the game industry.

Francois Alliot Designer Nerial

I think it's a question that deserves some "shifting". It's not so much that Apple doesn't care about indies, it's that Apple doesn't even consider them outside a single imperative, which is to sell the last iPhone, iPad, and now Apple Watch.

If your game is an asset for them, if it shows how cool and sleek their products are (like Monument Valley in House of Cards), great. If not, well... not much will happen.

Apple likes indies that produce polish experiences like Monument Valley

Frankly, I don't think Apple consciously push an editorial policy that would make one sort of game prevail on another. You wouldn't have so many clones if that was the case. Even the latest trend aiming at promoting premium content on the App Store is not for the sake of games or gameplay, it's because free-to-play plastered with ads and in-app purchase doesn't appear to be the best way to promote and sell phones (for now).

Apple is good at creating ecosystems that push people to buy their products and advertise the whole world about it without having to put a nickel in marketing. They're doing the same sort of things with apps and games.

Dan Menard CEO Double Stallion

Apple cares about selling phones and tablets, that's pretty much it.
Dan Menard

Apple cares about selling phones and tablets, that's pretty much it.

I think their app ecosystem is a means to an end and allows them to show all the cool stuff you can do with your phone. I don't think it's a core part of their business.

The upgrade cycle isn't unreasonable. I just think it's a shame that developers are given hardly any tools to form meaningful connections with their customers.

Steam actually allows you to build a community on their platform, and that's because selling games is their core business. The more customers engage, the better for them.

Shawn Allen Founder Nuchallenger

I have one game that was available on the App Store as a free download. I'm not sure what happened, but it was probably Apple's constant BS which made it so the game isn't there any more.

The game was a side project for me and 4 other professionals as an art project - we don't have time to constantly update and adhere to Apple's nonsense.

Thinking about having to update any other games every time a new device or iOS update launches makes my head hurt.

With an affinity for eccentricity, as well as anything macabre or just plain weird, Chris searches for the games that fly under the radar. If you ask him, anything can be a game. Oh, and a game can be about anything, if you put enough thought into it. So, there.