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Why I'm Not Worried About The Mobile Race To The Bottom

As a PC developer, talk of the mobile "race to the bottom" can be quite worrisome. In this post I dissect the anomaly and figure out how it affects other markets.

This post was originally printed on the author's blog, Think Small

A year ago, the casual and handheld gaming market was all a buzz about the possibilities of casual games. App store games were selling like hot cakes and casual games like the ones you find everywhere on Facebook were making huge piles of cash. The entire market was in a boom.

But with any boom there’s also a bust, and these days the market isn’t quite so hot. Facebook shut down the “viral” marketing channels for its games and game prices are currently engaged in what’s been called a “race to the bottom.”

It’s an issue of too much supply and not enough demand. During the boom, just about everybody and their brother was making games for the app store. I even looked into it for a while, because I heard from four different people that “Everybody’s making a lot of money on the app store. You’re a smart guy, you could make millions!”

Despite trying to explain to them that only a small minority of games actually make any money on the app store, I still got tons of people hearing about iShoot making millions of dollars and insisting that I too could get rich making an iPhone app.

Hell I even tried it for a while before I realized I was wasting my time competing with millions of other people trying to do the same thing. A friend of mine made a respectable tube shooter for the iPhone and I think only barely managed to collect back the Apple developer fee.

Part of the issue with iPhone apps is that they cater to a different audience. The PC or console gamer generally wants an engaging and good looking game that they can spend a lot of time with, but a mobile game consumer I think only wants to fill in the time waiting for the bus.

There’s also a huge discrepancy in the expected quality level of the product. The kind of people who buy World of Goo simply aren’t the same people who buy an app that makes farting noises.

The result is that you have a market of consumers who don’t want to pay a lot and don’t expect a product of any significant quality. Games on that market therefore tend to become commodities, in the sense that they’re interchangeable in the eyes of the consumer.

So in the end I think it doesn’t affect me much. I’m a PC developer, and although I have my eyes on a distance port of Digitanks to the iPad, I’m not really involved in that market. I chose to stay away from it a long time ago and I think that was a wise choice.

The markets are essentially different and cater to different kinds of people, so there’s no real threat to my price points for the time being. The essential takeaway is, stay clear from developing mobile games unless you know what you’re doing.

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