The State (and Growth) of the iPhone Gaming Market

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.

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15 Responses to The State (and Growth) of the iPhone Gaming Market

  1. Pingback: NimbleBit » Inside the Indie War Room

  2. Kris Jones says:


    Thanks for giving your personal perspective on this matter. As a “micro” independent developer, it is increasingly becoming a larger concern for me to explore the best possible routes of exposure. The problem with this is that it takes vital time away from focusing on the game itself. The biggest benefit these large companies have is their dedicated marketing teams along with development teams.

  3. Nicolinux says:

    Hi Arn,

    thank’s for the insider scoop. One thing I keep asking myself though is if the history will repeat regarding the computer (and console) games market. While playing quite some games until now, I feel that the development of the games industry took a wrong turn. Big players (like EA for example) are always aiming to score even better graphics bringing out the XXth same shooter. Since they are now porting the same old stuff to the iPhone and are trying to push the platform to it’s limits (hardware wise) – that’s even good news for small developers. They can still create a quality product “simply” by producing something new. Uniqueness is here the key.
    As a aspiring game designer I really hope that the “masses” will appreciate this.

  4. Ryan says:

    nice scoop. Gamers have really high tastes, so it is a job for developers like us to heed the call of quality and cool games. Nicolinux is right, Uniqueness is the key.

  5. Pingback: StevieB’s Shared Items - May 7, 2009 at Lost in Cyberspace

  6. Pingback: Antair Games » Blog Archive » Weekly Update

  7. changsoo yun says:

    Dear Arnold Kim

    I’m a journalist of Seoul Daily, Korea and leaving a comment to ask you an interview.
    Actually I sent you so many mails but all of them were returned. Could you please check you e-mail address?
    I prepare a feature story on the Blog which is making profits and has a success.
    The title of our feature series is “Searing for the new growth power of the Blog and newspaper.”

    First I know your blog from the New York Times article and then have interest in your life.
    The Seoul Daily in which I’m working for is the oldest, 105 years old newspaper in Korea and one of top 10 national daily.
    Now I’m working at the online news department and try to find out how to overcome the crisis of old-fashioned newspaper.
    I plan to visit the United States at the end of June or beginning of July.
    I hope to see you face to face and have a lot of talk about your successful blog.
    Please give me your reply to

    Best Regard,

    Changsoo Yun
    Online news department
    The Seoul Daily News (
    Tel: 82-2-2000-9828
    Cell: 82-11-9768-1241

  8. changsoo yun says:

    Dear Arnold, please check my previous reply.

  9. changsoo yun says:

    Dear Arnold,

    I could know you’re so busy with blogging, however would you please share some time for an interview with Seoul Daily, Korea?
    I would like to visit the USA in coming JULY and have a face to face talk with you about your blog.
    Please let me have any answer.
    Thank you in advance for your time.

  10. changsoo yun says:

    Dear Arnold

    I will go to the LA in 21 June for the feature series “Searching for the new growth way of blog and newspaper” and stay in the USA until 10 July.
    During 4~10 July, I am going to be around the New York. I hope to have a chance to talk with you. please refer to my previous replies.

  11. changsoo yun says:

    Dear Arnold

    Please let you know my phone number 82-10-8768-1241.
    I can get my cell phone anytime and really hope to have a talk with you during my trip in the USA, 21/6~10/7.

  12. Josh Rosen says:

    Hey Arn,
    I don’t know why I haven’t read your blog before, glad I discovered it today 🙂

    I enjoyed reading this post because these issues are always on running through my mind.

    The difference between the AppStore today and the AppStore just a few moments ago is incredible. The AppStore’s #1 is notorious for having some random game superglued onto it by some viral or controversial characteristic (i.e. iFart and etc.).

    If you look at traditional gaming markets, like the XBox, this isn’t the case at all. Even on casual markets, like the Wii, the level of demand for fully featured games is huge.

    Today, the iFart era seems to be slowing down – if not over entirely. Just looking at the top 25 now, there’s simply not a single game that’s anywhere near the simplicity of iFart. There are a few that might not be truly large scale, but even the ping-pong game is in 3D! 🙂 With games like Sims 3, F.A.S.T., Peggle and Let’s Golf nearing the top, the AppStore is definitely capable of sustaining large scale games which may make thriving a challenge for small developers. As you mentioned, getting exposer is much much harder now days, and is getting harder every day.

    My original game, SciFly: Dogfight, was able to stand out enough to get some coverage on a good amount of review sites (including TA even). But, if I released it today, I doubt I’d get a single mention. Why should I when there’s games like FAST on the store?

    When I started drafting the design for SciFly 2, I realized I had to scale things up a huge amount to stay visible in the store. Developing on that design has been extremely though. And the funny thing is, as fast as I can develop the design, the AppStore’s expectations grow even fast. It’s like swimming upstream, basically.

    At this point, I’d be very happy if I’m able to develop SciFly 2 fast enough to stay noticeable on the store. And after that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s simply impossible for me to be successful as an independent developer.

    Haha, sorry it took me so long to get to the point.
    In all honesty though, none of this bothers me at all. I absolutely love the entrepreneurial game, and I’m very happy to have been able to join when I was 16. Analyzing where things are, and where they’re going is what makes business exciting!

    Thanks for the great read,

  13. Pingback: Normalkid:Arnold Kim » Blog Archive » Followup on the State of iPhone Gaming: The $0.99 Economy

  14. Alexander says:

    Excellent article, I must agree…

  15. I am completly Agree with you! Great Article!

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