The success of the iPhone App Store is bringing out a lot of pontification about what is wrong with the market and how to fix it, but I think many of the ideas are dead wrong. Develop Magazine’s interview with developer Nnooo finally pushed me to write this article to debunk some of these ideas before they become dogma.
On 3/3/2009, 148Apps announced that the App Store had over 25,000 apps and games in the marketplace, prompting Develop Magazine to interview Nnooo, WiiWare developer of the product Pop. Pop is a nice looking game, and there is some great information in the interview about the juxtaposition of development on the Wii vs. the iPhone, so it is definitely worth reading the article. However, a good portion of the interview was spent with the founder of Nnooo explaining that the ease of development on the iPhone is causing crowding in the market, and that a lot of bad product is making it onto the system thus lowering the sales of the good games. Wow! Yesterday I had a fairly polite response written, but thinking about it last night really pissed me off, so I changed it.
All of this elitist non-informed bullshit needs to be debunked. Crap like this, along with developers complaining that they cannot make $80,000 per year just by making iPhone games is so far from the truth that it is laughable. The bottom line is that markets owe you nothing. If you can’t survive in the market, there will be a hundred other guys that want it more and will take your place.
First of all, get used to the crowding. If there are over 25,000 apps today, there will someday be 100,000, then 200,000, etc. It won’t end. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. This is a marketplace, and you either break through or you don’t, but don’t blame other people that want to make games on your problems. Another marketplace, the Internet, has millions of products and games available. It is an open marketplace, and you should be glad for this.
I can tell you with conviction that you don’t want a closed market. If Apple were to close off the market by putting up slotting fees, a big sign off process, etc., only the largest of companies would be able to afford to put games in, effectively cutting off the small guy, probably even the company that gave the interview. This kind of closed distribution system is very similar to the box market, and was what caused the big publishers to evolve to what they are today, i.e. he with the most money wins.
Huge publishers used to kiss Nintendo’s ass to be allowed the honor of paying for development, marketing, cost of goods, plus a big royalty to the NIntendo just to bring their products to market. Today, if you want your game to go on XBLA, you first need to spend the money to make most of the game, then beg Microsoft for a slot, which is worth a lot less than last year due to MS arbitrarily dropping the royalties. Do you want to take your game to the box channel? Then get ready to play the extortion game of paying slotting fees, co-op marketing and selling fees (essentially kick backs), etc. if you can even get an audience with the channel. Again, he with the most money wins.
Making a great game is only part of the process. Marketing is the other part, and developers never really want to acknowledge this fact. We are in a unique period of time right now where new markets are opening up, and some lucky developers have hit the jackpot without giving any thought to how to sell their games. This will not continue. If you only know how to make games, it might be in your best interests to hook up with somebody that understands marketing and sales. That can be in the form of finding a partner that can work on those aspects or even considering finding a publisher that will handle those efforts for you.
I say that open markets are best. Sure a lot of bad games will be made, but they will quickly fall off the new release charts, and they will never be heard from again. If you are counting on the featured lists or the best sellers lists to market your game for you, you might as well pack it up now. That is a naive business model and, while lightning may strike a lucky developer once in a while, you need to have a better plan than relying on pure luck.
-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
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