Apple’s App Store is growing leaps and bounds with over 1 billion apps downloaded and the single largest app category is games. While Apple has not broken down the # of downloads per category, based on a quick look at the top rankings, I’d guess that the majority of downloads on the App Store are, in fact, games.
In running a large iPhone gaming site, I have a somewhat unique perspective into the market, and there’s been a notable shift in the market in the past month or so.
To give some background, the iPhone app market is competitive. There’s been a lot written about what it takes to get to the top of the App Store. In the end, it’s all about exposure. Whether that exposure is through the App Store itself or through review sites, it’s a pretty key component in a developer’s success. While several small “indie” developers have been able to successfully make it big in the App Store, there are, of course, hundreds of developers who have been unable to. Some of those developers have been more vocal than others over the course of the year about issues of fairness about coverage on reviews sites, and whether indies really do have a shot.
In the past, I’ve generally dismissed these complaints, as I didn’t necessarily think they held that much merit. While there were a lot of games being released into the App Store, I felt the majority of them weren’t worthy of coverage and very few really truly deserved to be a success. In the end, I felt that most developers needed to realize that their games were not as good as they thought they were, and their lack of App Store success wasn’t necessarily reflective of a flaw in the system but perhaps of the appeal of their game. I guess I believed the cream would rise to the top.
The reason I believed this was that despite the massive number of games coming out, I felt we could actually keep track of all the games coming into the App Store. Through our forums, and by playing the games ourselves, I felt like we could pick up on the games worthy of coverage. It was a somewhat tedious process, and I think we might have played 20+ games for every game we thought was worth covering. We also would try to play every game that would be sent in to us.
So what’s changed?
Well, clearly the volume of games appearing in the App Store has increased. But that’s not necessarily an insurmountable issue. While I don’t feel I can personally play every game that comes out, this is the sort of thing that more manpower can be thrown at, and we’re making adjustments to try to address that.
The biggest change, however, is the influx of mid-sized to large developers who are invading the App Store space. Companies like EA and Gameloft are really ramping up production of their App Store games. In March, EA announced 14 games coming in 2009. That’s a new EA game every 2 and a half weeks being released. Gameloft has ramped up their production as well and seems to be releasing games at least as aggressively. And these are high quality titles.
Ignoring those big players, a number of other serious small to mid-sized development firms have turned their attention to the iPhone. Glu is a mobile gaming company that has started releasing original titles for the iPhone as well. They’ve announced 5 at GDC and are planning more. The list goes on. Ngmoco, Freeverse, Digital Chocolate, Artificial Life, IUGO etc… all have multiple titles coming to the iPhone this year.
So What’s The Problem?
Well, for the serious gamer, there might not be a problem. The number of high quality games coming to the iPhone is increasing by leaps and bounds. For the smaller developer, however, it introduces a number of issues.
First of all, the quality level for gaming has been continuing to increase while the prices of games continues to drop. Major developers have been adjusting their prices downward in order to find the right pricing. At this point, I see $4.99 as a bit of a ceiling for quality no-name brands. If you price yourself above that you’re competing directly against Gameloft and EA titles. And the problem is that margin is getting narrower.
I think the bigger issue, though, is one of exposure. There’s only so much attention that gamers are going to have, and they are going to be naturally drawn to the big name titles.
From a news and review site perspective, you’re competing for attention against some major titles. This past week alone we saw the releases or news of Boulder Dash, Need for Speed, Sims 3, Top Gun, Star Defense, Mass Effect, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Myst, Siberian Strike and more. Those are titles that occupy the time and space of gaming sites. While story posting volume can increase to some degree, I don’t believe it can (or should) go up too high, as otherwise you’re losing the attention of the people you want to be exposed to.
That’s not to say all hope is lost. Fortunately, the iPhone gaming audience continues to grow, which means the absolute amount of exposure for a smaller game may actually be higher today than it was 6 months ago. However, since the numbers are up across the board, that may not help as improve App Store rankings as much as it has in the past.