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Developing Video Games for BlackBerry

With over a million BlackBerrys sold per month in the United States, the platform presents a large market for games. But one that has unique difficulties and an inability to be overshadowed by the iPhone.

As I approach the release of my second game to the BlackBerry platform, a few thoughts developing for BlackBerry in general. How the BlackBerry application market compares to other smart phone operating systems, and the differences in the many very different BlackBerry models.

While BlackBerrys have had support for third party applications for a long time, currently all development for BlackBerry is done within the shadow of iPhone's app store. This is especially true for games. While neither platform was originally designed for gaming, the iPhone has since become considered a very serious gaming platform.

BlackBerry meanwhile shipped with the very popular Brick Breaker, but without an official application store, leaving very few users to know that any third party games were available. With distribution limited to mostly the MobiHand storefront until recently there was not a large enough market to support independent game development on the platform.

Now while games consist of a third on BlackBerry AppWorld the platform still lacks the publicity of iPhone games, and very often, also the quality. Too many of these games are old J2ME games, which while supported by BlackBerrys, do not look good and were obviously not developed with BlackBerry in mind. The non-standard fonts and menus, as well as non-optimized graphics make these games easy to pick out. For the most part game buyers have been wise to this, and these ports have suffered in both reviews and sales.

In the first 10 months of 2009 BlackBerry phones outsold Apple and Android phones combined in the United States, making the potential market for games very large. Yet it is not a unified market making development further complicated by the fact that there are six distinct BlackBerry form types. The smallest two, the BlackBerry Pearl (8100 series), and the BlackBerry Pearl Flip (8200 series) really can not be considered to be serious gaming devices. Fortunately these two devises are not that popular with AdMob estimating the Pearl to account for only 16% of users, and the Pearl Flip at only 2%. My personal data shows these figures to be even lower.

Beyond this the differences (from a game development perspective) between models are based on screen size, operating system and that the BlackBerry Storm (9500 series) is a touch screen and the only BlackBerry with an accelerometer. Some games simply require these features and there for are limited to only a slice of the BlackBerry market, however to do these features right there is simply no way around this.

The other problem is that in the wild there are still far too many older BlackBerrys still around that do not support the newer APIs. Only in the past month have carriers stopped promoting the 8300 series which mostly uses OS4.5 which is two years old and has since been replaced five times. Game developers either have to put in extra work to support these (shrinking but) large segments of the market or instead decide to go without them.

Indie game development for BlackBerry remains a very splintered landscape, that is still deep within the shadow of the iPhone. Concerns for developing on BlackBerry are very different then on the iPhone and also between their application stores (which would be a full post on it's own). Yet it is a rapidly growing market with much potential that developers should not ignore.

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