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State Of Game Development Survey Reveals iPhone Support Surge, Wii Lull
State Of Game Development Survey Reveals iPhone Support Surge, Wii Lull Exclusive
February 5, 2010 | By Staff

February 5, 2010 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Gamasutra sister service Game Developer Research has debuted its latest report, the 2009-2010 State of Game Development Survey, revealing among other things a surge of iPhone developers and a lull in those making games for the Wii.

The 100 page report is a result of a survey of more than 800 video game professionals from North America and beyond who read Gamasutra, subscribe to Game Developer magazine, or attend Game Developers Conference. Those complete results are available as a 100-page report from Game Developer Research, and more information from the survey is also available in the February 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The results of the comprehensive 55-question survey help to illustrate which platforms Western game creators develop for, which market sectors they work in, which tools they use and how much they spend on these tools, and sheds light on which factors determine the target platforms for game development.

As a reflection of recent economic difficulties and resulting layoffs, this year’s survey reveals that many experienced developers have founded smaller studios, or have begun developing games on their own.

This trend is marked by a 7 percent growth in the proportion of developers employed by companies of 50 employees or fewer, while in sharp contrast, the proportion of developers at companies of 500 or more employees has fallen by two percent since last year’s survey.

As shown from the results of the survey, another increasingly prevalent trend has been the growth of the mobile space. Due in large part to the success of Apple’s iPhone software platform, mobile support shot up to 25 percent of developers, more than doubling last year’s 12 percent.

Of these mobile developers, nearly three quarters of that group are targeting iPhone and iPod touch development, a number more than twice the reported support for traditional handhelds like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

Meanwhile, the choices of development platform showed relative stability. Just over 70 percent of developers said they were developing at least one game for PC or Mac (including browser and social games), rising slightly from last year; 41 percent reported working on console games. Within that latter group, Xbox 360 was the most popular system with 69 percent of console developers targeting it, followed by 61 percent for PlayStation 3.

While those console figures stayed within a few percent of last year's results, the change in Wii adoption was much more significant: reported developer support for the system dropped from 42 percent to 30 percent of console developers, supporting numerous publishers' claims of a recent softening of the Wii market.

When it comes to choosing target platforms, more developers cited ease of development and market penetration as incentives, more than any other factors. Other important considerations included team members’ existing skill sets, portability of code to a given platform, and the acquisition costs of development kits and materials.

“Like any other medium of entertainment, video game development is subject to change with the ebb and flow of the economy and any hot new trends, and this year’s survey continues to reflect this evolution,” says Simon Carless, global brand director of Think Services Game Group (and publisher of Gamasutra).

"The full, detailed survey document, with its plethora of raw data and wealth of insight, is an important resource for any industry-watchers looking to navigate the changing seas of the games industry."

The full 'State of Game Development 2009-2010 Survey' includes dozens more data points about the preferred software, hardware, and tools of game developers across game engines, AI tools, production machines and beyond, as well as game genre and sector statistics, geographical breakdowns, budgetary information for the past year, and upcoming product purchase intent.

The survey was conducted with a sample of 814 users of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra, and attendees of the Game Developers Conference, and can be projected to the overall game development community with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

Those complete results are available as a 100-page report from Game Developer Research, alongside numerous other reports delving into the key facts and trends that define the modern game development industry. More information from the survey is also available in the February 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine.

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David Wesley
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Several things are going on here that have little to do with the ebb and flow of the economy.

First, Wii development is driven by two opposing forces. On the one hand, the Wii's simplicity reduces both time to market and costs relative to other consoles. On the other hand, it also limits the ability of developers to be as creative as they would like. On the business side, Wii development has been driven by market share, which has been declining lately.

PlayStation 3 development poses the opposite challenge. Most developers have had a hard time understanding the Cell's SPEs and until recently, the PS3's low market share did not justify the time or effort. That is changing in a big way as new development tools become available and more developers begin to grasp the PS3's unique architecture. For example, the PS3 is ideal for distributed programming, which is emerging as a new standard in game development. Finally, Sony's increasing market share should attract more investment in software development.

Last (but not least), Xbox was always the easier platform to develop games for, and 360 development has recently gotten a big boost from XNA and the XNA development community.

Carl Chavez
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Hmm... David, I would disagree with your second point about Wii development. The Wii's simplicity limits the ability of developers to add skin pores, incidental animations, and special effects as they would like. The creativity you speak of is in graphic details, not in game design. Isn't that, if you'll pardon the expression... a performance trap? It is relying on horsepower to provide the illusion of innovation while actually providing the same core gameplay experience as older games. Game design creativity is limited by developers' imaginations and fear of trying new ideas (usually due to the cost of developing a risky game), not by the power of a console. If one is a developer who is more interested in making a new --but risky-- idea, would not one consider developing on the lower-cost system to minimize loss (if unsuccessful) and maximize ROI (if successful)?

It's true that most traditional game designs are not selling well on the Wii, but non-traditional games like "Just Dance" and "Walk It Out!" are. Traditional developers and game critics decry those games as shovelware, but let's face it: Ubisoft's and Konami's investors are probably happy with the ROI, and those games' target markets disagree with the critics and give those games high marks. Furthermore, now that they have proved that a market exists for their types of games, they act as springboards to new and hybrid gameplay ideas.

The Wii is a platform where a way-out-there game like "Endless Ocean" can sell a million copies and earn a sequel because somebody thought of making a weird game, and the market liked the idea.

Chad Wagner
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XNA and Xbox Live Indie Games are showcasing all kinds of crazy and wacky ideas in terms of gameplay, controls, goals, etc. It seems like the Wii would benefit the most from this kind of creative outlet -- letting the little guys come up with risky and rewarding new ideas. Is there such a community for the Wii?

David Wesley
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@ Carl

"The creativity you speak of is in graphic details, not in game design. Isn't that, if you'll pardon the expression... a performance trap? "

In terms of graphics detail, you are absolutely correct. In fact, my most recent blog post on Gamasutra is about how (in some ways) constraints help developers to be more creative (the blog is about financial constraints, but it can just as easily apply to hardware constraints). However, too many developers have voiced concerns about the limitations Wii hardware imposed on their creativity in other areas of game development. Rightly or wrongly, many of them have chosen other platforms to work on. It is just a fact that can't be ignored in the context of the news article I was responding to.

One example from the book that supports your point about graphics is Shaun White Snowboarding, which was developed by Ubisoft Montreal. The Wii version was vastly superior to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, despite the fact that the latter has far more appealing visuals. At the same time, Ubisoft is leading the way in developing new distributed programming models for the PS3.

@ Carl

"It is relying on horsepower to provide the illusion of innovation while actually providing the same core gameplay experience as older games."

In some ways, you are right. However, the issue is far too complex to say that incremental innovation does not have an important role to play in game development. One needs to apply the right strategy at the right time. Building on successful "core gameplay experiences" is just as legitimate a strategy as designing a radically new technology that will provide alternative gameplay experiences. Innovating for the sake of innovation is usually a bad idea. Successful innovations need to solve real world problems.


"XNA and Xbox Live Indie Games are showcasing all kinds of crazy and wacky ideas...Is there such a community for the Wii?"

As far as I know, Nintendo has no plans to offer anything that is even remotely similar to the XNA development community.

Matt Allmer
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I wish browser and social games were not bundled into a single PC category. I understand the difficulty in dividing the PC platform because it is so many things to so many people, but browser and social games have very little in common with core PC games. I'd like to see how each shift over the years. Does this survey throw Zynga and Valve in the same boat?

David Wesley
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The App Store has been a godsend to Apple (and it will continue to be for some time), but for developers it could easily become a trap. On the surface, the iPhone and iPad would seem to be ideal platforms to develop games for.

1. Large install base

2. Growing market

3. Easy to learn and readily available development tools

4. Inexpensive distribution

Yet, the very reasons that make the iPhone attractive make it almost impossible for developers to get noticed. Even if you create an ingenious program, with 140,000 apps to compete with, it will be almost impossible for customers to find your game - regardless of price. It is the same problem that has faced musicians who thought that digital distribution would help them break into the big time. Sure, a lucky few have struck gold, but there are thousands of talented artists out there who will never make it professionally.

The other problem is the lack of QC gates preventing low quality apps from getting into the store. Yes, Apple screens apps, but barely. And the approval process focuses almost exclusively on legal issues, like the use of profanity, trademarks, etc., and not on program quality. As a result, lots of buggy programs make it into the store and some well polished programs are rejected. A rating system helps, but who has time to rate 140,000 apps? iPhone users, who are left to wade through a sea of crapware, will just stick to the most popular apps from companies that can afford to advertise them or apps that have been recommended by friends, TV personalities, social networking sites, etc.

Established studios and publishers face different challenges, namely that iPhone users have become accustomed to paying between 99 cents and $4.99 per app. When EA put Need for Speed on the App Store for $10, customers complained that it was too expensive. EA immediately dropped the price to $7. As long as customers are not willing to pay for more polished programs, studios will have little incentive to create them.

Kenneth Barber
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For prospective new game developers or existing developers starting there own indie it is just easier to go XBox Live or iPhone.

iPhone is getting a lot of attention and has a ready made audience to which you can sell your creations. The tools are free-ish and easy to use. The devices spark imagination. The race to .99 is problematic but I think its a matter of store maturity, developer eagerness, and supply vs demand. The current iPhone market is dog eat dog like capitalism is supposed to be. Even larger more established companies with big marketing dollars are humbled by customer fickleness and frugality. Risk has to be taken. Marketing is more important. Marketing strategies have to be different. The costumer base is different so we have to think different.

M$ has the same type of thing going on with XNA and XBox live. Its more tradition in structure but just as accessible. You can download XNA for free and start implementing. You can, if your idea is good, get showcased on XBox live. This can drive publishers to your door.

In any regard, both companies are rewarding risk taking in the indie community. Nintendo on the other hand seems to be completely ignoring the indie element altogether.

I for one was really into getting my WiiMotes to talk to my OS X boxes so I could experiment with them as alternate input devices. Then the iPhone and iPod Touch became a viable indie development platform. In my specific case the idea of legitimate development for a popular device stole a lot of thunder.


I agree that on the app store the floodgates are open and a lot of sludge is getting in quickly. I also believe that this situation will right itself as more and more sludge makers either discipline up or fall by the way side. Once polish and craftsmanship becomes recognized as a revenue increasing factor developers will increase the quality of there product.

Leon T
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@ Kenneth

I found that it was pretty easy to get a dev kit from Nintendo as long as had a place you could call your office. Although the best approach for some is to try the more open options first. I would rather make a PC or cell phone game before I move to DSi Ware, Wii Ware, or XBox Live.

Craig Timpany
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I'm curious to see if the perceptions of the app store being overcrowded are actually bourne out by the figures:

- The app store's total worldwide revenue for 2009 was $4.2 billion

- According to the ESA's 2008 figures, the US games industry had revenues of $11.7 billion.

If I assume:

- 2/3rds of the app store revenue is games

- 1/3rd of app store developers are in the US

- 2009 game industry revenues are roughly the same as 2008

This leaves me with US app store game revenues of $930 million. This would mean the app store market makes up roughly 1/12 of game industry revenue, so it can feed 8% of the developers, not 25%. (Though admittedly, the app store revenues have been growing at $2B per year so far)

Chris Remo
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It's tough to directly compare like that. For one thing, it's certainly true that a certain number of developers who reported targeting iPhone aren't working exclusively on that system--many of them are likely either working on lower-priority iPhone projects at their studios, or even working on iPhone side projects on their own time, and thus aren't actually dependent on the platform for their primary revenue. The same has been true for Unity, which shot up to the #1 engine on this year's survey--it doesn't mean it's the most-used engine in terms of financially-crucial projects, but it does mean a whole lot of developers are checking it out and trying to make something some way or another.

That said, in the case of both of those development environments, it's also probably true that the number of projects being pursued for fully commercial purposes is going to increase significantly.

Craig Timpany
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Yeah, just after I posted that, it dawned on me that the platform shares totalled up to 136%, so there's a lot of multiplatform answers in there.

Jamie Mann
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@Carl: the Wii's hardware limits don't just impact on the graphics: they also impact on AI, physics models and the scale of on-screen activity. Case in point: Dead Rising.

Whether this is an issue or not depends on the game - after all, the Wii is significantly more powerful than the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube, and there's no shortage of games for these platforms with good AI/Physics/NPC count. However, it does make it very difficult to make a gaming experience comparable to that which can be achieved on the X360/PS3/PC...