Week that was

PG.biz week that was: Nintendo's 3DS takes a knock, the government gets its game on, Whale Trail wins big and the rise of in-app purchase piracy

PG.biz week that was: Nintendo's 3DS takes a knock, the government gets its game on, Whale Trail wins big and the rise of in-app purchase piracy
With more interviews than you can shake a stick at, it's been an especially creative week here at PG.biz: the home of news and views on the business of app stores, smartphone platforms, developments in mobile game making and assorted technology.

Indeed, this was the week when some of the mobile games industry's guiding lights decided to speak their mind, regardless of whose feathers they ruffled along the way.

Top of the bill was analytics specialist Flurry, who – after the release of some statistics the previous week that suggested the rise of the smartphone was having a devastating impact on DS game sales – took to the pages of PG.biz to further deconstruct Ninty's predicament.

"There is no denying that iOS and Android offer a real substitute to portable gaming," Flurry's VP of marketing Peter Farago told us in an exclusive two-part interview.

"While we don't know the exact percent of share being taken by smartphone games, it would be naive to believe there is no effect. There has to be a large impact."

Nintendo's response to Flurry's findings? Perhaps unwisely, the firm's top dog in the US – Reggie Fils-Aime – decided not to address the firm's concerns, but rather dismiss Flurry itself.

"First, I haven't seen the study, and Flurry is a company that consults app developers," he replied.

"And I can't speak to the motivations of the company, as they are not a pure research firm."

Social slump?

For its part, 3DS actually had some good news to share this week, with total US sales passing 1.65 million and the handheld actually selling at a faster rate than its predecessor at the same stage.

However, as Farago pointed out, that's to be expected, given 3DS had its price slashed within 5 months of launch – not the kind of drastic move Nintendo takes every day – and its predecessor got off to an especially slow start in 2004.

Still, one of the areas where critics claim Nintendo's handhelds are both found wanting is in the social gaming arena – not that it's plain sailing on that score, either.

Our man on the floor at 2011's Social Gaming Summit at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge reported a general air of discontent, with the shift away from web-based play to smartphones leaving developers a mite unsure as to which direction they should go.

Facebook claimed to have the answer: "Bet on mobile, HTML5. This is really the future of gaming for us. Mobile mobile mobile."

One major player in the mobile social scene, however, had more than harsh word or two to say its rivals.

Speaking after the unveiling of the firm's partnership with Tapjoy on Android, CEO of social gaming platform PapayaMobile Si Shen said both Japanese giants GREE and DeNA are losing their way.

"At least for the time being what we've seen is that the acquisitions have actually slowed down our competitors," Shen said of GREE's move for OpenFeint, and DeNA's acquisition of ngmoco.

"GREE thinks the current product is not working, that's why they're revamping everything, and why the CEO left. In regards to DeNA and ngmoco, it took some time for both firms to figure out their direction based on what they have."

Go West(minster)

There are wider issues at hand than the state of social gaming, however, if trade association TIGA to be believed.

After a policy meeting with the government, we were able to catch up with Neon Play CEO and TIGA member Oli Christie, who said he's worried those in charge aren't taking the plight many startups in the gaming industry are facing seriously.

"The creative industries, from advertising to film to music, make a huge contribution to our country's output, but I feel that the perception is that those three industries are taken more seriously than games," said Christie.

"Yup it's fun, but it’s serious fun and the British are seriously good at it and it contributes over £1 billion to our economy."

There are, of course, plenty of studios having a good time on mobile without the government's help.

Indeed, this was the week when developers aplenty came out with stats. First up was ustwo, which pegged Whale Trail's downloads on iOS to date at the 100,000 mark.

The game's break even point, said the studio, will come at 300,000 downloads, but in yet another exclusive interview, CHIEF WONKA mills said goal one – to create a game the developer could be proud of – has already been achieved.

Not that Whale Trail is perfect. An update is incoming that will add new challenge modes to the standard endless approach, which mills believe ustwo misread, to a point.

"Phil Larsson [of Halfbrick] said to me, 'mills, I got to 300,000 points and realised that to beat that score I'd have to spend about 10 minutes playing. I don't have ten minutes'," he explained.

Pirates at play

Also enjoying a strong week was Spilt Milk Studio's Hard Lines, which has seen total iOS downloads surpass 270,000, while NaturalMotion's first freemium release – My Horse – currently draws in 500,000 users each and every day.

But if they're what we call 'positive statistics', a rather more negative number came from My Star studio Mobile Pie.

In a – you guessed it – exclusive for PG.biz, creative director Will Luton revealed the game is being hit by piracy, despite being free to download.

A new tool dubbed iAP Cracker enables owners of jailbroken phones to unlock in-app purchases (IAP) for free, and it's hitting some of My Star's IAPs hard.

When it comes to the game's top IAP – 200 Star Cash Credits for £26.99 – the piracy rate currently stands at 93 percent.

"It certainly isn't pandemic like paid app piracy," said Luton.

"Also, we know who the players are that are using the hack so could easily delete their characters or ban them completely in some instances. We haven't exercised this yet. We will update the My Engine to shut the practice down."

It seems even going free isn't enough to keep the pirates away.

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


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