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The outlook for small/indie games developers….not so good?

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The CoronaLabs Blog featured a guest piece written by Paul Simons, developer of Plasma Pig (iOS and Android). The article is a honest and worrying illustration of how difficult it is for small/indie mobile games developers to get user traction for their games. Game discovery is an issue I am particularly passionate about and Evil27 Games is currently exploring ideas about how to tackle this exact problem (see www.everyonesplaying.com).

In the meantime, I wanted to post my thoughts on the subject to this blog. We are seeking to engage with social/mobile games developers and publishers to share and discuss our ideas. If you are interested in having a chat please drop us a line.

In response to “Guest piece: For the love of game development”, I posted the following response on the CoronaLabs blog

I think your experience is extremely common and not just for one-person developers; it is just as hard for small studios that spend $100k, $250k or more on a game.

I was Studio Manager at a mobile games developer in the UK last year and joined just as they released the first version of a side-scrolling RPG. Whilst I couldn’t claim that the game – at v1.0 – was earth-shatteringly good, it was nonetheless a pretty compelling game (cost us approx $250k) and was free (FreetoPlay at least). We spent in the order of $25k on incentivised installs in order to get AppStore chart visibility in the hope of getting that ‘organic uplift’ that we’re all conditioned to aim for. The reality was that the game hung around the top 50-75 for about a week then fell from view. I recall that we got 50k or so downloads from that but the install rate fell off dramatically once we were no longer in the charts.

My point is that the whole app/game ecosystem is now geared in favour of those with deep pockets and the companies that control access to the player audiences (offers, incentivised installs, in-game promotions, paid-for cross-promotion, paid reviews etc etc). We have ‘free’ distribution as small/indie devs but we do not have free access to players; far from it.

I see ‘services’ that claim to be able to deliver a top 10 chart position for $100k and I regularly hear of developers/publishers who are spending $100k on week one burst advertising. The larger publishers are reportedly spending between $1m-$5m on marketing some titles. This isn’t a level playing field and is rapidly pricing all but the big boys out of user acquisition (read; “commercial viability”). IMHO this is failing not just the smaller dev community but consumers. That’s a broken market in my view. The correlation between product visibility and product quality is, generally speaking, highly distorted and that is not good for the wider industry as a whole.

Its unrealistic to think that marketing isn’t important in a maturing competitive industry, but when success is so highly-dependent upon AppStore visibility (or, for example, Facebook App Centre visibility) and, in 99% of cases, this is only achieved through huge advertising/incentivised installs, then the outlook doesn’t look too rosy for small devs (and, by extension, tools makers like Corona ).

Apple have just started incorporating user reviews into their ranking algorithm but all that means is that companies (cough..Zynga) go and pay 250 people for a 5* rating and bingo they rank in the top 20.

Personally I think there needs to be a better way to connect GOOD games with players that might want them. I’m working on an early-stage concept for a discovery platform that can surface visibility to games that are engaging their audiences irrespective of the volume and velocity of installs or the current revenue levels.

I’d dearly love input from smaller/indie mobile games developers along the way. I’ve set up a launch site for devs and players alike to register their interest and am currently (separately) in the process of raising some seed funding to get an MVP of the platform together.

If the potential platform/service is of potential interest to you please do visit http://www.everyonesplaying.com and tell us your email address so we can let you know how things progress.

It’s no longer good enough to “just have a good game”….but it should be!

Kevin

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