In an industry as dynamic as mobile, its volatility is one of the key drivers of innovation. Companies compete with one another trying be disruptive rather than iterative: the race to create something new and unexpected, to create the next global phenomenon is something which all developers dream about.
Being first to find 'the next big thing', so the belief goes, means adulation, downloads and lots and lots of profit. But could the increasing number of game development funds, accelerators and incubators be creating an unsustainable bubble that will hurt the same developers they are meant to help?
It's undeniable that the past 12 months has seen a big increase in the number of governments, industry bodies, VCs and mobile games publishers creating their own funds and incubators aimed at game developers. Search for 'mobile game development fund' and just the first page of results details initiatives from MocoSpace, CrowdStar, The9, Intel, Box and W3i. It seems that you risk being a nobody in the mobile industry if you don't launch some kind of fund or competition aimed at 'fuelling innovation', to quote just one of them.
My concern is that if the industry continues on its current course and becomes over-saturated with game development funds, the result will be the exact opposite of the innovation and commercial success that they are meant to generate. The over-supply of risk-free funding available to developers actually creates less pressure to innovate and to develop high quality apps, leading to an increase of average-to-good content or existing games ported to yet more platforms. With close to a million apps already on the market, do we really need more versions of the same thing?
While we all want to be involved in finding, creating, or porting the next blockbuster mobile game, as an industry we have to acknowledge it's going to take more than just a pile of cash and a few SDKs. The approach of many of these funds presumes that creating compelling games can be boiled down to a formula, or that it's a simple case of applying X game to Y device. The reality is that a well-crafted game takes vision, skill, talent, capital, timing, and plenty of luck if it's to go above and beyond the competition and become a breakout hit.
This is important. Typically, an incubator or VC vehicle will expect a return of at least ten times their initial investment. But with ever more competition on the app stores creating a sustainable hit is much harder, the chance of a game not hitting that magic 10x becomes ever greater. So as more funds and incubators are launched, there is more expectation of significant returns, and the chances of not delivering on those expectations increase.
Perhaps the issue is that too often revenues are seen as the only benchmark for success. This has a tendency to create a view that the acquisition of a proven hit is a safer bet than launching a new and unproven product. This can work very well for the handful of developers that have a truly global product (think Angry Birds, one of the few mobile games successful enough to launch on every mobile platform currently available), but by filling app stores with multiple versions of the same game the end result is that it becomes much harder to find those few games that truly have the X factor.
So what is the solution? Perhaps part of the problem is how we measure success: often the games industry can be guilty of forgetting its own heritage in its rush to keep creating something new. Despite being less than a decade old, there are many mobile gaming veterans who have a huge amount to contribute back to the developer superstars of tomorrow, and its this idea of collaboration that I believe will make a lasting difference to how mobile gaming will evolve. Rather than yet more funding, we at PapayaMobile have launched the Games Academy as a way to foster a new approach, rather than simply a new game.
The Games Academy is focused on providing developers and studios the tools they need to create the next blockbuster social game not through funding, but by bringing together a huge amount of experience and gaming talent with a mandate simply to help developers to think, learn and innovate. By taking a workshop approach, developers are also able to learn from each other, sharing ideas and collaborating right through the development process. Of course, we hope - and expect - great new games to emerge from the Academy. But more than that, this initiative is about changing the way in which developers and the industry work with each other.
I really believe that collaboration is the missing piece of the mobile games industry puzzle. For us, the Games Academy is an attempt to create a significant new shift in mobile game development -- the rise of game optimization through group collaboration and professional mentorship. I sincerely hope that what we have started in San Francisco goes global: if it does, then it will because the developers themselves agree that collaboration is a better route to success than little more than an expensive I.O.U.
To find out more about the PapayaMobile Games Academy, visit http://papayamobile.com/academy/index.html