During the past year and a half, more than 133 new mobile gaming studios have opened throughout the UK. A massive 80 per cent of these new studios are developing games to run on Apple’s iOS operating system and over 70 per cent are working on apps for Google’s Android platform. The games are built to be specifically optimised for smartphones, tablet computers and other mobile devices. Huge install bases the rise of digital and broad distribution channels have all been attributed to the surge in mobile application development.
The real question is what the actual UK studios have to say about the thriving market. And what place are the bigger publishers in the industry going to take?
Managing Director of Team 17, Debbie Bestwick, had the following to say: “Mobile gaming simply offers the lowest barrier to entry and ease to take to market. It also has the largest and most diverse audience to aim for. It’s no surprise that so many new studios have opened, the real test will be how many succeed.”
This opinion is shared by lots of the studios working in this emerging market for mobile apps. The fact that smartphones are used and apps are popular amongst a very broad market, not just core games, is the reason why this industry is so promising. Besides the ‘gamers’, there are loads of casual gamers and the broader consumer base within the target market, providing a golden opportunity for app developers.
It feels like a gold rush sometimes when it’s phrased in that way. The allure of a more direct relationship with gamers has a lot of bearing, and there’s nothing like being free from outside influence when you’re creating something,” said Phil Gaskell, currently the creative director of Ripstone. “The empowerment that self-publishing on mobile presents is attractive, as is the sheer number of devices currently in use around the planet.”
Regardless of the production studio, whether large or small scale, the main driving force is the same, accessibility. Charlie Southall, the chief technical officer at the Hardlight Sega Studio, said “Working on these platforms is just really accessible and practical for folks who are comparatively small and limited in funding”. However, some believe that it is the fact that the devices themselves are so popular that makes this market so lucrative. Barry Meade, the commercial director of Fireproof Games, said “It’s because the devices themselves are so popular. If Sony and Microsoft could sell 800 million consoles, we’d be making games for them.”
Development of mobile titles provides a two-way path to success. Game producers can provide high quality game at very little cost, with a small team and low funding. At the same time, these games which provide a valuable product are becoming targeted by a large segment of new casual gamers. Mark Baldwin, the community manager for New Star Games summed this up perfectly: “The demographic change recently is toward a younger and a more casual user. Where previously a smartphone was an expensive luxury, it’s now an affordable need. The pricing structure of games in the mobile market means that even people who are not hardcore gamers appreciate the chance of trying out a variety of games, and that means someone who wouldn’t normally play games is more likely to try something.”
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The fact that this emerging market is attracting a new market of players is the reason why the larger firms in the industry are being drawn to take their piece of the action. Major players such as Microsoft, Activision and Electronic Arts have all shaped their operations to have a high mobile focus, as many of their top console titles, such as FIFA and Call of Duty, are now available for mobile gamers.
Baldwin went on to say, “Publishers realise the power of mobile gamers and we are seeing a lot of companion apps that go alongside major console releases. Some of these are really good, but I don’t see many major publishers taking many risks in the market, it’s mostly established brands at premium prices,”
A production by Disney called “Where’s My Water” has been downloaded over 200 million times by mobile gamers and the latest Call of Duty release from Activision made it to the top of the UK app chart within its first week after launch. Even with this blatant evidence, some still remain unconvinced that the console gaming firms are having a significant market effect.
CEO Doug Hare of Outplay Entertainment said “I think the majority of publishers have some degree of presence in the mobile market, though some have been doing conspicuously better than others. That said, if you look at the Top 20 games in the US grossing chart today the only traditional console publisher with a presence is EA, so they’re far from dominant.”