Trip Hawkins deems app stores too crowded, says publishers needed for discovery

Digital Chocolate's Trip Hawkins believes it's become far harder for a developer to directly reach a consumer

Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts and current CEO of Digital Chocolate, says mobile app developers will be forced to turn to publishers once again as app stores become too crowded. In a video interview with BigWorld Technology at GDC 2012, Hawkins explained that virtual shelf space on app stores is already at a premium.

"When Apple launched the iPhone, when Facebook launched their app API, when Android and Google Plus followed suit, you started to see all these offers where 'Hey, if you're a developer, just come to me. You don't need a publisher,'" said Hawkins in the interview.

"I think that honeymoon is ending now because if you have a million apps in an app store, just because your app is in an app store, it doesn't mean it's going to be discovered. So you've got issues about how you're going to bring traffic to it."

Discovery is becoming a problem for consumers and developers. In February of this year, Apple reminded developers that it would not tolerate the use of third-party marketing services to artificially boost App Store rankings. Hawkins explained that traditional publishers could solve the discovery problem for some developers in way that app store owners could not. In fact, Hawkins questioned whether app store owners really deserved the 30 percent cut they take on app revenue.

"I think for developers increasingly, they're going to have to try to then figure out, 'Well how do I get my discovery problem solved?' If they can't finance it themselves, then maybe they need to partner with a publisher that's good at it," he said.

"Retailers in the old days not only solved the distribution problem, they solved the discovery problem. In the very beginning with iPhone, with Android, with Facebook, they also solved the discovery problem because there wasn't much there. As you got up into the thousands and thousands of things that are there, they're no longer solving the discovery problem," he added.

"They don't really in fact deserve 30 percent of the value chain anymore. The 30 percent number is kind of arbitrary. That number makes no sense whatsoever anymore."

[Via Gamasutra]

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Latest comments (13)

Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
An actual discovery system is needed for the app store, not publishers. Retailers never solved the problem, we just had a much higher barrier of entry.

So how can the discovery system actually work? Simple, provide channels for new games, but don't have the same games shown to everyone. So each user may see about 10 new games to sample, once they've played them they are no longer on the list (since they've been downloaded and tried). The users review of the games will determine whether they get pushed further. This would mean that good games that people like will eventually get the exposure they deserve.

Alternatively this could be biased towards social networks, so the first people likely to see the game are close connections to the developer, then they spread according to how much the people rate or play the game. Again, good games that people like eventually get exposure, and games lacking will get some exposure but not that much.

This will encourage people to invest in making good games because they know that if it is good that it will sell and discourage shovelware because they will also know that shovelware can no longer make money and people can no longer be tricked into buying them.
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Matt Walker Production Coordinator, Capcom5 years ago

That sounds like a really excellent idea.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
Amazon's already done a good bit towards a solution to this problem with their ability to show you similar things and show you things you might like based on other things you've indicated you like. App stores really should be doing this.

I would love to see reviewers' channels as well. I'd be pleased to log in to the PlayStation Store and have a list of Eurogamer's top PS3 games along with their reviews, with them getting a commission on each sale. (Again, Amazon already supports this model, too.)
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Show all comments (13)
This has been apparent for well over a year already. And it's the main reason why we chose to seek out publisher for our game. We know it's a great game and we even have one person doing full time marketing, but without publisher you have much slimmer chance of being discovered by users.

We signed with Chillingo and I must say I have been very satisfied with them so far. We retain complete control on the game, but do get suggestions from them and they have great expertise when it comes to mobile market in general. Not to mention the muscles they have on marketing.

Keldon's idea of restricting how many games user would see doesn't make sense. But the idea of list based on user rankings and media channels sounds feasible.

Best option would be that Apple and Google would not accept everything. Like Steam. Steam controls the quality of games in their system very tightly and that means consumers can know that there is no showelware they might accidentally buy. At the very least there should be premium category.
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic keyboard basher, Avasopht Ltd5 years ago
Keldon's idea of restricting how many games user would see doesn't make sense. But the idea of list based on user rankings and media channels sounds feasible.
Very simple, it is not a restriction for all games, but for discovery games. Read it again, it's an approach to tackling discovery, execution may vary. And they don't necessarily have to be limited to a number either (I did say, "may be limited to 10", and that was for an example). The main aim is to give new games real visibility, so it could be achieved by having them randomly ordered with an additional bias for ranking. People's reviews will determine the bias, until it comes out of the new section and into the sea of games that people will search for. Main point is to produce a system where good games that people like get further exposure, therefore encouraging the production of good games, and a system that does not reward shovelware or misleading clones.

Open markets are good, but the discovery system needs to be addressed, then we wouldn't need to rely on a system of publishers for exposure, and games will be judged and succeed mostly by their production values.
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Teemu Haila Studying MProf Games Development, University of Abertay Dundee5 years ago
While our approach to App Store visibility at Wooga will be of course different from small indies, I don't think publishers can't be worth the cut they will take from you.

We all know that the main driver for instant and long term traffic is Apple featuring and they are independent. You have the same, if not better, chances of getting featured as any big company by contacting your local Apple development evangelists and forming a good relationship with them. Beyond that anyone can build what ever means of virality to their game to support off-the-charts growth. For example in Diamond Dash we chose to do Facebook Connect.

I'd still love to see Apple tackle the discovery problem for long term. Keldon's idea definitely is interesting.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
Actually, I would prefer publishers over new technology because technology is mindless and uncreative. Publishers are marketers.

If you hate publishers so much, better to take control of your destiny and simply get a better deal. That's a lot better than meekly agreeing to a poor deal then complaining later.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 7th May 2012 6:21pm

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"So each user may see about 10 new games to sample, once they've played them they are no longer on the list (since they've been downloaded and tried)."

So in effect it would be list of games that are for one reason or the other shown separately (in addition to mass list)? But that's what all the Staff Favourites, New&Noteworty, Game of the Week etc. are already for. And users do not play 10 games from any list to sample them.

The problem is there are so many new games. Thousands every month. Only a fraction will get enough media attention and/or spot in the lime light that they get noticed. For others, no matter how good, it can be instant oblivion.
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James Podesta Lead Programmer, SASimulations5 years ago
A good start would be some basic categories supported on the device app stores.
If I jump onto the app store on my iPad, I just get 'games' as a category and the Apple lists. The apple lists only last a week and then you have no exposure again - I've been on apple lists and sales skyrocket and then dissappear completely when the list period ends.

Why are the individual categories (strategy, arcade, simulation) not browsable on the devices? In fact, just looking now, I can't work out to access them on itunes either. Tried Genius but that felt fairly random.

I don't think you need to do anything clever. Just give the user easily accessible fine-grained categories sorted by rating - possibly with a checkbox to hide games you've already downloaded. Some sort of 'demo' feature might be nice, where you could have the game on your device for 30 minutes before the provision expired. <edit> even 10 minutes would be enough to give the user a sample of quality and content without users being able to exploit the system.

As for publishers/marketting... I'm not sure any traditional marketting is cost effective on a $1 game. If your game is bigger budget and your pulling $10+ from each customer, then sure... go through a publisher and pay to get some visibility. If your pulling 70c from each customer, its just a lottery at the whim of Apple featuring it and it has to be a 100% mainstream title to go viral.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by James Podesta on 8th May 2012 12:36am

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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
The general concept of App Store being able to filter games by genre, and refine your search IN YOUR OWN WAY seems like a good idea.

Not to simply "highlight some apps" and "hide other apps", that would obviously just create another limited shelf space model.

But if you could simply "dig down" into searches more effectively, that could be a useful tool, alongside the current charts and search functionality.

But you also have to remember that if you really are looking for specific content, you have the entire internet to use as a source for reviews, recommendations, people's lists of "the 10 best RPGs on iPad", or "the best rated word games for iPhone".

If you have specific desires and requirements, there are way to discover games other than on the App Store.

The App Store could have a system like iTunes' GENIUS, that will try to find games similar to the ones you already have, or games you play a lot, and highlight the games that other people with similar user statistics to you also play.

Indie Game Developer
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Publishers for apps are inevitable, we are reaching the limit of when an indie can be effective, no matter how good the game.
You can see the steady creep of publisher power if you look at the App Store charts. Increasingly the likes of Chilingo exert their influence.
A publisher servers three purposes, finance, marketing and filtering/moderating what reaches the market. There is no way an indie can compete with an established publisher who is good at these things.
That $99 is the barrier to entry to the App Store is an illusion. Or maybe a delusion.
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In iTunes you have game genre categories, but in AppStore it's harder to notice past the ones on lime light unless you know their name and use search. Then again, good point from Lorren, game reviews are for people to get info on what are good games and what are not.

I think it's not a problem for Apple, at least not yet: for them, a dollar is a dollar, no matter if it comes from Game of the Week or some game no one has never heard about and is bought only once by someone who stumbled upon it by accident.

But when users, like James for example, are getting frustrated that they are not allowed to see past the chosen few games... that might mean less dollars spent as people rather do not get new games at all and that would be something Apple will not allow to happen. So I bet sooner or later we're getting new mechanics or categories to App Store.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 5 years ago
Spoken like a true marketer, Bruce. People who don't actually create the product itself always want to believe that they're somehow essential, but I think that Valve proved that's not always correct.

You know, I wonder if anybody's going to try some sort of subscription model, along the lines of PlayStation Plus, at some point? I'd pay, say, a thousand yen a month for a well-curated steady stream of games for Android.
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