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iPhone Devs: Rethinking the Art of Making Games
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iPhone Devs: Rethinking the Art of Making Games

April 23, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

This new canvas does indeed provide new and intriguing gameplay aspects, many of which are increasingly social due to the hyper-networked nature of the device. Morrison and Freeverse, for one, have employed various social gaming aspects.

"The iPhone gives us developers a lot of freedom to try new cool things that other consoles and handhelds restrict," he says. "Flick Fishing has sent out over 150,000 Brag Emails since we launched the feature and SlotZ Racer lets you email tracks to friends."

Other social games like Mafia and Parallel Kingdom use email, SMS and location data from Google Maps to enhance gameplay. Nicholas has recently added online multiplayer to iShoot, but contemplates the use of location based gaming.

"I'm thinking about [a location based game] inspired by, say, Tradewars 2002 which pays attention to your real location and has you trading and interacting with other nearby players. One of you guys go ahead and build that, because I want to play it," he invites.

But where social gaming presents a number of avenues for new styles of gameplay it can also aid in promotion and advertising. "Access to contacts allows for social and viral game features, which are especially important when your game relies on being spread by word of mouth," says Marsh.

For a platform that relies on digital distribution instead of traditional retail outlets, word of mouth and viral promotion are a tremendous part of selling iPhone games. Morrison and Freeverse employ a multi-pronged strategy.

"We are lucky to be and older established Mac company with existing relationships with gaming press and online ad agencies," he says. "We do a standard press release, as well as social media. We have a large Twitter following where we frequently post promo codes and discount coupons."

Smaller operations like Marsh and NimbleBit have taken full advantage of social media due to time and budget constraints. "The first few days your app's life are probably the most important. Towards the end of development I start building a buzz on social websites, Twitter, iPhone forums, and YouTube. Plus, all of my games have links to the rest of my games in the App Store, and I try to coincide necessary updates to my other games with any new releases."

Still, there are other unorthodox ways to drum up interest in your game; James Bossert and his game Whack 'em All being the prime example. "Originally, we had 10 sales a day when we released our paid game, but then it was pirated and we saw 400 [illegal] daily downloads."

"When we contacted the pirate and asked him why he was pirating the app and blogged about it, we got a ton of free exposure via articles on torrentfreak, Digg, Reddit,, and more. The exposure we got this way was probably the second biggest reason why our game got into the top 25."

"Cross promotions also work pretty well. We trade about a 1,000 clicks per day with Zynga Live Poker. This type of thing could help the longevity of your app in the top 100."

Breaking into the Top Paid Apps list remains crucial to a game's viability, and as such the App Store, Apple's submissions/digital distribution/reviews portal ultimately holds the keys to the kingdom.

For the most part, upstarts like Bossert and Marsh laud Apple's policy and openness as it allows small operations such as theirs to flourish. "The great thing about developing for the iPhone to us is the relatively low barrier-to-entry. You pay apple to become a developer and you're off and running. No publishers, no agents, no big companies to mess with," says Bossert.

"Prior to the App Store, you needed to go through a long and tedious approval process with each of the [telecom] carriers independently."

Marsh agrees, saying, "Removing concept approval as Nintendo have done with the Wii opens the door for many serious developers with their original and unique ideas." Although he does caution that "it also opens the shovelware floodgates."

With such an open agora, the fruits of success are plentiful for newcomers like Marsh and Bossert, but the laissez-faire game development has an ugly side, Marsh cautions -- and it appears to be shaping the economics of the App Store.

"The simple fact is that if you look at the history of the App Store, the cheap simple content rules the roost. Top spots go to stuff like Koi Pond, iFart, and iShoot rather than epic role playing or simulation games," says Nicholas. "It's difficult to sell even a $9.99 app on the iPhone, and the increasing perception of this has led to shovelware. This is having an unfortunate effect on the iPhone ecosystem, where 90% of the apps out there just plain suck," he concludes.

Bossert agrees: "It's a bit frustrating, really. Keeping things simple is good though, I think Ian does a fantastic job with his games in that respect, but hopefully the better apps will rise to the top and set an example."

And yet that may be exactly the problem. "It's really interesting to me that at this point in time, Whack 'em All and Rolando are competing against each other. We never intended to compete with a game with the complexity, depth and production values of Rolando."

To combat this race to ninety-nine cents, however, Simon Oliver, the creator of Rolando, contemplates bracketing off the Top 100s into separate dollar amounts: "The primary factor in sales and exposure is of course the top 100 list, and while the price cuts that people are willing to make to get into that list are understandable, they are definitely having a significant effect on the perceived value of Apps. High-budget games are clearly going to struggle on this platform."

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