When it comes to developing smartphone games, the smart money is still on the iPhone. Games for the other smartphone platforms are more likely than not iPhone ports. And, say those in the know, it's likely to remain that way for some time to come.
Budgets simply aren't there for original games for the Blackberry, Palm, Android, Windows Mobile, and so on, whose installed bases are considerably slimmer than the iPhone's. Instead, developers have taken to cherry-picking the best-selling iPhone games and then porting them to just one or two additional platforms.
Take the case of Seoul, Korea-based Gamevil. For the past few years, the 10-year-old mobile game developer has built approximately 10 games a year for the Korean market. Of those, six or so are brought to the U.S. for the iPhone and, of those six, the three or four best-selling titles are ported to other smartphone platforms.
"If you're developing from scratch, the only platform that makes sense right now is the iPhone," says Kyu Lee, president of Gamevil USA in Torrance, CA. "It has the largest installed base -- perhaps 10 times that of Android, the runner-up -- and one single point of distribution.
"That's not to say that the other platforms aren't growing at a rapid pace, but not enough at the moment to justify development costs from scratch. Porting is a different matter; those costs are significantly less and may justify a port for each of the other smartphone platforms depending on your budget."
Developers with tighter budgets are significantly more selective. At Manhattan-based Area/Code, for instance, the developer made the decision to create only an Android port of its hit game Drop 7, which originally launched for the iPhone last January.
"It seemed to us that Android offers another type of standardized platform, like the iPhone, that is powerful enough to deliver a quality game experience and, at the same time, wasn't going to be fragmented and fractured the way the rest of the mobile market is," says Frank Lantz, co-founder and creative director.
Building the Android port, which released just a few weeks ago, wasn't necessarily a simple task. "I don't think there's anything inherently easier in going from the iPhone to the Android than from, say, the PC to the Mac or from one console to another. It's definitely a different language and requires a different code base," says Lantz. "It's got all the issues."
Nevertheless, he reveals Area/Code may eventually do a Blackberry port as well, but none for Palm or Windows Mobile. "Our sense is the scale just isn't there," he says. "That the audience for those devices just isn't large enough."