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Stardock boss says mobile games 'not a viable business model yet'
Stardock boss says mobile games 'not a viable business model yet'
June 4, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

June 4, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
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Stardock's Brad Wardell has released his latest annual report, and in it, the outspoken CEO reveals that as far as he's concerned, developing mobile games is "not a viable business model yet."

"That isnít to say money isnít being made on those platforms. But a viable business model requires that someone be able to reasonably project that an investment of $X will result in a return of $Y within a margin of error," Wardell writes.

"iOS and Android more closely resemble a lottery system. If you win that lottery, you can stand to make millions. If you do not, you will not likely even come close to recouping your investment."

It's clear from reading the report that Wardell is used to a PC game business that's based on dedicated fans, reliable genres -- his company concentrates on strategy games, such as Sins of a Solar Empire -- and consequently a predictable return on investment.

That's not the only challenge, however: "Once a game or piece of software leaves the very, very top of the sellers, the income fall-off is severe. Our poorest-selling DLC for PC games generates more income than nearly ever iOS or Android developer app we've gotten numbers for," Wardell writes -- notably, he's not speaking only of Stardock's mobile apps here, but those of other developers he's spoken to.

He notes that lower-position games on PC sell much more reliably than those on mobile, which he puts down to factors including "terrible" discoverability, consumer price sensitivity, and the fact that players don't "expect to spend a lot of time actively interacting" with mobile devices, which would necessarily impact the gameplay of time-intensive titles Stardock produces.

Notably, 70 percent of Stardock's existing audience owns a smartphone or tablet, according to statistics in Wardell's report, gathered by surveying his players.

Still, the problem will fix itself in the future, he reasons: "Lest someone take this quote out of context, let me also emphasize that I donít think this will be a long-term problem," he writes. "Stardock will be supporting iOS, Android and Windows Mobile in our future titles but we are doing so as an investment in the future when we think that those platforms will become viable."

Elsewhere in the report, Wardell declares PC game retail dead, writing that the shift to digital distribution is total, and that "Retail disappeared even faster than our tech-savvy customer base imagined it would." Only 6 percent of survey respondents still prefer to buy games at retail, with another 5 percent ordering boxed copies. Steam captures an unsurprising 43 percent of sales, with other digital delivery options making up another 43 percent (3 percent of respondents chose "none of the above.")

You can read Wardell's full report at this link [PDF download.]


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Benjamin Quintero
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duh... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flea_market

Alan Barton
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and when its curated, it becomes a high value ...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antique_mall

:)

(The funny thing is, they use the same shop picture on both wiki pages :) ... but then like the old saying, "One Persons Junk is Another Persons Treasure". Which means it makes sense to have like minded people curate their own collections for others like them to find stuff they too will like.

Benjamin Quintero
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All true, but few make a living from either; whatever you call it. Most people lease a table at a Flea Market as a weekend gig outside of their day jobs. They sell their things for beer money, not rent money. Most games aren't made in weekend and require MUCH more effort than Picking in someone's back yard for old Coke signs and Precious Moments figurines. And yet the sum total return on investment for 3-6 months of sleepless nights, working on a mobile game, is about the same as selling one chair that you reupholstered in a couple hours...

Alan Barton
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Improving the stores based around curated lists is one way to help filter out so many games, but the core problem is frankly too many games are being made and the old games don't die out on the stores, so we are drowning in games on sale.

So I do agree, the income we can now make as an indie games programmer is a big worry and its getting worse. Its become so hit or miss and fewer and fewer games will be a hit in the future, as the numbers of games going on sale keeps increases, so its going to get ever worse and all markets are going to go that way, not just mobile, because the engines are going to allow ever more games to be made for all platforms.

I wish I had the answers, but I don't. I'm going to give it a try again, and if that fails, maybe I should be thinking about getting out of games into other industries. I don't know what to do for the best. I think the damage to the games industry has already been done and there's nothing thats really going to fix it but maybe I'm wrong. I keep hoping I can find an answer but earning a living in this industry is frankly blood hard work and its getting ever worse.


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