Tablet Wars and The Future of a Mass Market Games Platform
Supercell, ngmoco, Bolt, Playfirst, Rumble and more explore the future of the fast-growing tablet market
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The great tablet war has reached a new height this holiday season, as some of the largest companies - Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft - battle for market share with a dizzying array of hardware and software. Games are a key element of this battle, being the single largest category of apps on tablets. Are tablets going to be the next game console? Which tablet will be the hottest this Christmas? And what's the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for tablet game developers?
GamesIndustry International put these questions and more to a wide range of game developers, analysts and other industry professionals to get a sense of what is happening in this fast-growing market.
Will tablets be the next console generation?
“Yes and no. We may yet be a generation or two away from where tablets are completely dominant. Tablets are growing by leaps and bounds in popularity; three to four years hence they are going to have a very significant role in the gaming ecosystem. More importantly, if you look at the generation that's growing up with tablets today you see how smartphones and tablets are topping kids' holiday wish lists. Think about what that means 8 to 10 years hence for an entire generation who's grown up with their very definition of video games completely and fundamentally altered from those who grew up with consoles.” - Scott Steinberg, CEO, TechSavvy Global
"I don't think tablets are going to replace the next console generation, but they will siphon a large number of potential players away from next generation consoles"
Chris Ulm, Appy Entertainment
“We believe tablets are a first for the games industry, something it's never quite seen before, so it's not really fair to compare them to anything from the past. In our view, tablets are the first true mass market games platform with both core and casual gamers well represented. The next generation of young gamers is definitely being raised on tablets.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
“Tablets will eventually displace a certain portion of the console user base, partially, I think, acting as a combined input device & CPU/GPU platform to replace remote controls and consoles to directly interact with the TV monitor, thus making it a lot more lifestyle-oriented - a mobile/portable experience inside the digital home and beyond. Tablets could also expand console usage by pairing with it to extend the game experience from console to tablets seamlessly, thus making games more portable to attract a wider audience.” - PlayFirst CEO and president Marco DeMiroz
“The short answer is we don't believe they will replace consoles in the near future. But there is no doubt that gamers who have historically dedicated close to 100 percent of their time and gaming budget to consoles will be spending an ever increasing amount of money and time playing games on tablets.” - Greg Richardson, CEO of Rumble Entertainment
“I don't think tablets are going to replace the next console generation, but they will siphon a large number of potential players away from next generation consoles. Tablets will have the effect of luring away casual and semi-casual players because they are portable, have multiple entertainment functions and an incredible number of free or low priced games. Most importantly, tablets can be played as a second screen while watching TV in the background. Core gamers, as always, will be the backbone of support for the new consoles but even they will not spend the same amount of time or money on console games as they have done previously because of the competition with tablets.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
“Not necessarily a direct replacement, but it's certainly going to be a significant game platform. Also there's interest shown by mainstream consoles to integrate tablets within their gaming ecosystem (at least by Microsoft), which shows that it will not only offer a strong stand alone gaming experience, but also a complementary one for the consoles. Once the tablets will allow for an elegant connection to your flat screen television, it will provide users with the possibility to expand their gaming experience to their home entertainment system.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
“Tablets will eventually emerge as a primary gaming device, but not anytime soon. We are forecasting that by 2016 through 2018, tablets will begin to emerge as a primary gaming console. There are a lot of moving parts that must be in place for this to occur. Mainly, there needs to be a standardized controller peripheral that receives mass adoption as the default standard for user input. Additionally, being able to seamlessly stream video to any television is another factor that must be in place in order for tablets to begin its emergence as a primary gaming console.” - Jesse Divnich, VP insights and analysis, EEDAR
“If 'consoles' means 'intense immersive gaming experiences with super high-quality graphics' then yes tablets will be the next console generation. If 'consoles' means 'long single-session 'appointment' gaming,' then no; tablets represent an evolution of how people play games. I believe tablets are a better fit with today's modern lifestyle where total engagement with games is at an all-time high, and usage patterns are broken into smaller, more frequent and more flexible chunks of time.” - Doug Scott, VP marketing and revenue, ngmoco
"For the tablet market, I would classify any game that generates over $100m as a true break out hit - one that hasn't occurred quite yet"
Jesse Divnich, EEDAR
“I think this depends on the type of game and type of experience. There are genres of games that play very well on tablets, especially casual games, puzzle and adventure games, some kinds of platformers, board games, and card games... these games don't play very well on a couch in front of a TV. But the opposite is true for FPS games, where having a large screen and controller really matters. We have a world where not one device fits all, and not one type of game fits all.” - Aaron Isaksen, AppAbove Games
When will we see the first breakout tablet game hit? And what will it be?
“For the tablet market, I would classify any game that generates over $100 million as a true break out hit - one that hasn't occurred quite yet. The market is ripe and I believe in the next 18 months, we'll see a breakout tablet game that over its lifetime will generate over $100m in revenue.” - Jesse Divnich, VP insights and analysis, EEDAR
“Early 2013 but if I told you what it was, I'd be giving it away. Seriously though, you have to look at games like Infinity Blade as the first watershed moment where a title with surprisingly great graphics and intuitive gameplay designed for the tablet interface opened up tablet gaming to 'traditional gamers' and a broader audience at the same time. There are more breakout moments to come as developers embrace the game design opportunities and ever-expanding power of these devices.” - Doug Scott, VP marketing and revenue, ngmoco
“As one of the first games designed from the ground up for tablets, we certainly believe Clash of Clans' number one chart position in 77 countries for multiple weeks on end makes a pretty strong case for why it could be the first breakout hit tablet game.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
“I suspect that there are games available today on tablets that will in their lifetime generate $100 million-plus from tablets, which would certainly qualify as a hit by almost any measure. That said, no one has yet created an experience that fully leverages the power of the tablets. Our view is that will be a game that takes advantage of the graphical horsepower of tablets to produce gorgeous 3D visuals, they will leverage the always on connection to deliver synchronous multiplayer gameplay and they will fully embrace a free-to-play service model to create long term persistence and resonance with players.” - Greg Richardson, CEO of Rumble Entertainment
“Who knows, but many are trying, so we'll see the results in 2013. At this point, this hit could be another Angry Birds, but it could also be a core game which would make tablets a legitimate game console in the eyes of core gamers (as opposed to solely casual). But you can feel a shift in the genre of games you see dominating the tablet markets. I wouldn't be surprised to see a great RTS or RPG title come along in the first half of 2013 and create a strong reaction within more core gamers.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
"I have friends considering buying their 3 year old a tablet, but I don't hear many parents thinking about getting their 3 year old a PS3 or an Xbox 360"
Aaron Isaksen, AppAbove Games
“Due to the current small installed base of tablets there are not many new game development efforts for tablets alone. This may change in two years. If I were to guess, I'd imagine a tablet mega-hit being one of the top console games redesigned to deliver a very rich and unique tablet experience.” - PlayFirst CEO and president Marco DeMiroz
Do tablets compete against against consoles for holiday gifts?
“Totally. Especially this season where there is not much new out console wise except for the Wii U. I would say that for kids a lot of parents are going to be staring at the iPad Mini and the Wii U and figuring out what to choose.” - Dave Walls, president of Funkitron
“Certainly... and I think tablets are a much easier buy since they have so many more uses: web, email, learning, reading, productivity, music. I have friends considering buying their 3 year old a tablet, but I don't hear many parents thinking about getting their 3 year old a PS3 or an Xbox 360.” - Aaron Isaksen, AppAbove Games
“Most families have a limited amount of money to spend on games and entertainment so in that respect tablets certainly compete with consoles.” - Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative
“There's no doubt. The hardware costs for a tablet are on the whole higher but that is changing quickly. More importantly, the upfront investment requirement with console games is prohibitive and the utility and mobility of the tablets clearly outstrips what a console can provide. People are changing the way they consume content and tablets reflect that evolving use case far better than dedicated consoles.” - Greg Richardson, CEO of Rumble Entertainment
“Absolutely, 100 percent. It's a major concern. Shoppers are expected to spend around $260 on average on high-tech gifts this year, so think about what that means. This holiday season is all about value, about gifts that keep on giving. As the public becomes increasingly aware that tablets can be used for a variety of benefits, not just gaming, a lot of households are increasingly looking at tablets as something the entire family can use. It's a changing story that will shift over time, but not in the console's favor.” - Scott Steinberg, CEO, TechSavvy Global
“For sure, tablets are so versatile, everyone wants one. Also Sony and Microsoft are not offering new consoles, so the buzz around consoles will be limited to the Wii U. Tablets should win the competition for most wanted gift this holiday season.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
"I believe there is room for both device types [7' and 10' tablets] to be wildly popular and to find vast installed bases"
Doug Scott, ngmoco
“We anticipate that once again tablets will be more requested this holiday season than all the consoles combined.” - Jesse Divnich, VP insights and analysis, EEDAR
What will be the hottest tablet for this holiday, and for 2013? Will the 7” tablets overtake the 10” tablets to become the most popular?
“We anticipate that Samsung, Apple, and Amazon will once again lead tablet sales. We anticipate Amazon making a much bigger splash this year. By the end of the holiday season, Amazon's Kindle will gain considerable ground on both Samsung and Apple.” - Jesse Divnich, VP insights and analysis, EEDAR
“I have a feeling that the iPad mini is going to be pretty popular because of its smaller size. In 2013 I expect Apple to drop the price by $100 on the first gen iPad mini which will directly compete with that generation's Kindle.” - Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative
“From a game point of view, I think the iPad Mini is great just because it already has a ton of games ready to run on it. Apple was very smart to do that. As far as 7" vs. 10", I think there will continue to be room for both with the 7" becoming on the on the go portable play device, and the 10" becoming the relax on your couch living room play device.” - Dave Walls, president of Funkitron
“I believe there is room for both device types to be wildly popular and to find vast installed bases. They have some fundamental and important differences in benefits which should allow them to find their natural homes. The 7" tablet fits in my jacket pocket and is easier to wield. The 10" tablet delivers a more epic entertainment experience due to its bigger screen size and higher fidelity. In some ways, it is splitting hairs because they are both awesome experiences in their own right.” - Doug Scott, VP marketing and revenue, ngmoco
“I think the iPad Mini will be the market leader this holiday if Apple can make enough of them to satisfy demand. As I write this in mid-November, there is a two week waiting list. Overall, I think the iPad Mini will ultimately be the highest selling tablet followed by the iPad 10". The Amazon, Google and Samsung tablets will fight for the remainder.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
How has game development changed with the tremendous growth of tablets?
“One significant change is the 'return' of fragmentation with all the hardware variances and growing app environment.” - John Joseph, VP of product and engineering at PlayHaven
“We have the happy problem of being able to do much bigger and more ambitious games - at a higher development cost of course. Players play longer sessions and are more engrossed in the game, allowing us to create mid-core games that are easy to play but have a lot more depth.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
“This market reached the critical user base to make it worth developing games made specifically for tablets. That being said, the popularity of mobile phones is so strong that it's slowing the process, as they are strongly incentivizing developers to create 'universal apps.' Being able to charge a premium price for a premium game would definitely be a good idea for the current market.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
“With over 100 million iPads in the market now, iPads and the tablet market have achieved sufficient scale to justify developers making the tablet their primary target platform. In order to be successful on tablets, we believe you must commit to tablets as your starting and ending point. No compromises. That means you don't stop mid-cycle and ask how a particular feature is going to work or look on a phone. You have to go all-in.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
"iPad users play 20% more game sessions per day than Nexus 7 users"
Pepe Agell, Chartboost
“We are designing with both smartphones and tablets in mind which obviously means being conscious of image resolution and greater processing power. The most significant change in game development is the complete shift of thought around user interaction with gameplay. I am not talking about the HUD or screen layout (although those have been affected as well) but rather about how users manipulate the gameplay itself in far more nuanced and intuitive fashions. What the Wii did for console interaction, tablets are doing for mobile device interaction. Tablets are introducing games to a much broader audience through better and more intuitive design.” - Doug Scott, VP marketing and revenue, ngmoco
Who will be the winners next year in the tablet market, and who will be the losers?
“I don't think there will be definitive losers. If you offer a great product and good content, you should have strong growth next year. However, the giants will be untouchable next year and I still believe that Apple will dominate sales both in units sold and content sold.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
“We see tablets like the iPad as the premier gaming device in the mobile space. Our network data shows that iPad users play 10 percent more game sessions in a day than iPhone users. We also see higher levels of gaming engagement on the iPad than on other tablets. For instance, iPad users play 20 percent more game sessions per day than Nexus 7 users. To us, this shows that the iPad mini will successfully compete against other tablets, like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, in the gaming market.” - Pepe Agell, director of business development at Chartboost
“Apple = Winner. I just don't see Android making the same inroads into the tablet market as it did with cell phones.” - Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative
“Apple will be a clear winner with tablets. The rest of the field is too strong to bet against, but it's still not clear to me how they compete. When comparing different companies and tablets, I think it's important not only to look at sales figures but also to pay attention to data and app usage levels. One of the most convincing stats Apple shared at the iPad mini launch event was that iPads now account for 91 percent of all web traffic on tablets. That's a key stat to keep an eye on going forward.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
“In terms of ease-of-use, functionality, and of course application support, Apple is the current front runner. It is there for Apple to lose and we do suspect that Apple will lose considerable ground to Android base devices through next-year. Apple devices no longer provide a significant differentiating experience compared to the other tablets. Apple's services are still ahead of their class, but the devices themselves are not.” - Jesse Divnich, VP insights and analysis, EEDAR
"Costs to produce tablet games are increasing, but there is not an equally increasing willingness from a player to spend in the game"
John Joseph, PlayHaven
“I think the race is locked in right now: iOS and Android will be the winners. Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Google will sell the vast majority of tablets. Nokia, Asus, HP, Dell, Microsoft will have a tougher time. Early indications are that the Surface is a modest seller and we expect that Windows 8 will take time to become a viable third ecosystem. I suspect that RIM's new Blackberry 10 offerings will have a very difficult time gaining traction.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
What challenges are facing tablets as a major game platform?
“A challenge that I see with tablets and game developers comes down to development costs vs. revenue. Tablets generally have bigger screens which means people notice things more. This means that there's an implicitly higher expectation of quality of the graphics in the game. The problem is that higher quality graphics doesn't necessarily equate to more revenue, either from in-app purchases or game downloads for a game developer. In the end, this means that costs to produce tablet games are increasing, but there is not an equally increasing willingness from a player to spend in the game.” - John Joseph, VP of product and engineering at PlayHaven
“The touch interface is great for many games, but it can be a major limitation for some type of games. This comes back to the point of the next mega hit for tablets. With limited controls, it's more of a challenge to create a core game. The developers who can create a set of controls that will allow for more advanced game mechanics will definitely generate a big win for tablets.” - Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations
“The lack of physical buttons is really limiting for some types of games. I think this is the biggest issue to keep tablets from completely dominating the gaming space... if you don't have a two handed controller, it's very hard to play a fast-paced FPS. If you don't have physical buttons, it's really hard to play a 2D platformer. You can certainly design both types of games for touch only hardware, but it's not a great player experience, in my opinion.” - Aaron Isaksen, App Above Games
“Tablets are already a major gaming platform. There are over 100 million iPads sold. That puts it at number four among the best-selling consoles in history. Analysts expect Apple to sell another 30 million during this holiday season, that would put it at number three within easy reach of the Nintendo DS (152m) and the PS2 (153m). So not only is the iPad a major gaming platform but it will be the highest selling game platform in history by the end of Q1 2013. If you don't count the iPhone, that is. Now if 'major gaming platform' means a platform that is the primary focus of Activision and EA, then I would say the challenge is getting their executives to risk creating a AAA title for the iPad. I like what Square is doing with experimenting with premium pricing models, but the actual games are lacking in quality.” - Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative
“Fragmentation outside the Apple ecosystem is a risk. If there are too many different kinds of devices, developers will have hard time supporting them all.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
“Integration with the living room and other portable devices is one key way that tablets need to get better. All platform owners need to do a much better job with game based social networks like Game Center which has enormous potential to allow developers to create new experiences. To better compete with consoles, tablets will have to grow more graphically powerful while keeping ten hour battery life.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
What's the biggest challenge, and the biggest opportunity, for a tablet game developer?
“The biggest challenge is in lowering the risk of development for game makers. Costs are rising, the market is crowded and users expect great software for free. An enormous number of game developers are not breaking even. They need creative services within the ecosystem to monetize and promote their work. Apple, Google and Amazon should be focused on how their platforms can increase developer revenue, as this will allow developers to reinvest in quality games. iAd is a step in this direction, but we need a breakthrough service that takes mobile advertising to the next level while giving users incentives they value in order to support the biggest entertainment software "network" in history. Right now, this effort is fractured.” - Chris Ulm, CEO, Appy Entertainment
"It's very difficult for a developer to make a reasonable amount of money on Android but there is still plenty of opportunity for developers of all sizes to hit it big on the iPad"
Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative
“The biggest opportunity I see for tablet game developers is adoption from a slightly different user segments - more mid-core and hard-core gamers. The new user segment that will be playing games on tablets is the gamer who, five years ago, was playing on a Playstation 3, but no longer has the time to dedicate to this type of game yet still wants a high-quality gaming experience.” - John Joseph, VP of product and engineering at PlayHaven
“It's very difficult for a developer to make a reasonable amount of money on Android but there is still plenty of opportunity for developers of all sizes to hit it big on the iPad. The biggest challenge is staying focused and keeping at it. Don't look at what everyone else is doing. Follow through with your vision and get your game out the door. If it doesn't do well, learn from your mistakes and don't dwell on it. Roll what you learn into another game and repeat ad infinitum.” - Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative
“I think the biggest opportunity is deliver increasingly high quality game experiences, but on the flip side the biggest challenge is how to raise awareness for them. It's not like you're walking into a store where you have dozens of choices in front of you; you're walking into an App Store with over half a million choices, all of which are available on demand, and 99.9 percent of which aren't immediately visible. We hear time and time again about high-quality games for every mobile system, smartphones as well as tablets, and even though they're best of breed or may bring something new and innovative to the table, simply can't make their money back. Either they had to have been offered free to compete with the marketplace and can't seem to recoup based on the business model they've put behind it, or users just can't find them, and they can't get that visibility on the App Store charts they desperately need to survive.” - Scott Steinberg, CEO, TechSavvy Global
“The biggest challenge is handling all these new devices. Being able to create your games for all these devices, and still make it work business wise, will be challenging. But it is also the biggest opportunity, as it only means the market will grow and more devices will be getting into the hands of more players, and all those devices could be playing your game.” - Dave Walls, president of Funkitron
“I currently think it is far too limiting to be a just tablet-focused game developer. The download volumes on smart phones are too big to ignore, and given that the freemium paradigm is the main game monetization model, you'd need a large population to convert from. This could all change in 2-3 years. Now, however, the current install base of tablets are a fraction of smart phones globally.” - PlayFirst CEO and president Marco DeMiroz
“We firmly believe that tablets are the ultimate game platform and the first to deliver a true mass-market audience. The opportunity for developers is still wide open and ripe with possibilities. Next year, there are two major trends I think we'll see emerge on tablets - more games for core gamers and deeper social game experiences. Because so many developers are flocking to tablets and mobile, we expect to see the quality of games take a major leap forward in 2013, which will raise the quality bar for everyone. Consumers will devour these new gorgeous experiences and come back looking for more. The biggest challenge for all of us may simply be keeping up with players' expectations.” - Greg Harper, general manager, Supercell North America
“If a developer can get inside the mind and body of a gamer and find a way to translate the fiction of their game in an intuitive way through the tablet touch interface then great riches await. If the developer falls back on the interface paradigms that worked in older platforms, it is no different than when the original TV shows were just filmed versions of radio broadcasts.” - Doug Scott, VP marketing and revenue, ngmoco