At first glance, the reams of recent reports — specifically the 2015 State of Apps snapshot from ad tech provider Millennial Media, which stresses that more developers and publishers are "looking to take their apps further" by creating new apps and investigating new models to monetize them — sends a sure signal that the App Economy is going strong.
Dig a little deeper, and the app marketplace is not just expanding. It's also evolving, shifting from an over-dependence on legacy titles and 'rockstar' players to create opportunities for savvy and smaller developers.
It's part of what Mark Mulligan — Research Director of MIDiA Research, an analyst firm focused on the business of paid content — calls a "recalibration of the Superstar App Economy" which potentially shuffles the cards in favor of an emerging middle-class of app developers.
Although top line numbers don't reflect a seismic shift (yet), conditions in favor of an emerging middle-class of developers are multiplying. Mulligan, who observes that new audience flow is slowing down for big titles, also notes that a "correction" of the App Economy is not only inevitable; it could well result in a more level playing field for smaller developers — particularly since his research shows the supply of new hit games from the incumbents has slowed over the last months.
Whether you call it realignment or readjustment, change is underway. App analytics reports, including the 2014 Retrospective from App Annie, reveal app revenues are no longer so completely concentrated among a small number of app companies. In fact, they highlight new areas of opportunity, such as Super Casual Games (a category that includes short session, single-tap games), where smaller developers and publishers have been able to make their mark.
As the marketplace for games matures (and users distribute their app spend more widely), more opportunities open up for a middle-class of app developers. But the real news is the increase in the number of options opening up for smaller developers and publishers determined to build an app business on their terms.
It used to be the way to market was to sign with a publisher or make a deal with a VC, giving away a sizeable chunk of your revenues in the process. Now, mid-size developers and publishers are 'doing it their way', embracing new routes and new models to bring their apps to market — and to the next level.
A good example is Mobile Game Partners (MGP), a company that broke onto the scene during last year's GDC to provide an alternative to the traditional mobile game publishing model.
Founded by mobile industry veterans Adam Flanders (Glu Mobile, THQ Wireless, and Z2) and Kevin Flynn (Kabam and Z2), MGP is already working alongside developers like Ember Entertainment, Pixelberry Studios, Zhurosoft, and Uken Studios.
In practice, MGP enables developers who don’t necessarily want or need full publishing for their mobile game to still tap into customized publishing services. In this scenario the developer maintains control of the IP and all aspects of payments and analytics, and MGP, which operates under a success-based model, only receives payment when it meets the goals of the developer.
Comparing the app marketplace to the music business, Flanders argues developers want more choice. "There are many independent, creative and talented developers in the games industry that aren't ready — or don't want — to sign with a traditional publisher," he says. They don't want to give up 40 to 50 percent of their revenues as a rev share, and they don't want to go it alone. They want a new way to unleash, and monetize, their talents.
As Flanders puts it: "There are a growing number of developers who are not making Candy Crush numbers — but making enough to support their business. And they want to have fun doing it."
The growth of a company like MGP not only confirms the emergence of a middle-class of developers and publishers, it underlines the requirement for new models and players that empower developers to take more control over their app companies (and their destiny).
Clearly, developers and publishers will come to have more options to choose from to bring their app to market. However, MIDiA's recent research reminds us that the time to maximize marketing opportunities still remains limited. This is where a model that allows faster access to app store and in-app revenues would help developers to grow their business — their way.
Everywhere you look the App Economy is maturing, marked by new movement and new models. It is change that feels long overdue. But it's also change that will pick up the pace as the industry recognizes sustainability demands an environment that encourages the Long Tail to thrive, not be starved of oxygen.