Could The Bubble Burst?
Looking to history, if this is in fact the beginning of a new golden age, then the end could already be forecast in terms of where these small teams might end up. We might label it as a golden age now, but it could already be the beginning of the end – what will happen when these small teams are so successful that they outgrow the market?
‘You had the ZX Spectrum days where people were back-bedroom coders - they probably know each other, and they're selling cassettes by post, but those guys are now execs of the Sonys of the world,
’ says Byatte. ‘That’s how they started out.
Amor agrees, with a hopeful eye on how this rush of mobile developers could reshape the industry: ‘I’d like them to continue making games, but why not have those people be the people that run the Sonys of the world in the future?
However, is this just marketing bluster to state that we’re on the brink of something new and wonderful? Byatte and Wee see the market moving towards the social market, and they're seeing a lot of social elements cropping up in the games on which they work. Although this is not necessarily a negative factor, could this be the beginning of a new medium entirely? Rather than a golden age of gaming, could this be the birth of a social media/gaming hybrid? It’s something Chillingo is carefully considering.
Titles such as Angry Birds have proved a runaway success for small developers
Not only this, but it could be that the App store has reached a point where innovation could be arguably as less prevalent. In recent weeks there have been cases of games being submitted that are entirely based on someone else’s work, such as Free Running - a literal clone of Canabalt that has appeared on the App store. It’s also no big surprise that the massively popular Angry Birds is seeing a number of imitators popping up across all mobile platforms, while Cut the Rope has served as a significant ‘inspiration’ for the newly released Spider Jack. Even Minecraft clones are popping up on iOS. In the latter cases, this is perfectly legitimate inspiration, and iteration has always existed in the game industry, but it could also be a worrying sign of what's to come.
Another potential negative that could hold mobile gaming back is the way in which the games are funded. Finding ways to extract cash from players is a new problem for these developers, and it's seen the birth of ‘freemium’ games, or games featuring micro-transactions – a move that some have reacted to angrily and which is prone to exploitation.
‘It’s challenging for developers to basically choose the right model for the game,
’ says Wee. ‘You need it to fit well with how the game plays and how consumers perceive they will deride value from it and indeed pay for it. It’s not necessarily an issue, but there are definitely more opportunities and new monetisation methods with consumers’ desire to play free-to-play games on iOS.
Developing ambitious titles was often difficult on old phone platforms
As for what makes a great game in the new golden age of iOS gaming, the consensus seems to be that it's a near-indefinable feature known as ‘polish’. Byatte says that a lot of the developers with which he works want to get their app released as soon as possible, but he often recommends another three to six weeks of polish and playtesting to help iron out the kinks and identify bugs. ‘It can be a painful process because a lot of these guys just want to start making money, but we say you’ve gone all this way, don’t throw it out to the winds,
’ he says.
Meanwhile, Amor recommends refining the core mechanic of any game and advises against feature creep. ‘People want a core mechanic that they can understand quickly, and I think game developers have a habit of saying “alright, now what could I add?” and most of the time you shouldn’t add anything at all.
The app market provides the environment for a perfect storm of development and it’s possible that the next big innovations in gaming will come from there. In just two or three years, it's already amassed an enormous gaming library, far in excess of that of some consoles, although it still remains to be seen whether or not this is just a bubble that’s about to pop.