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iPhone 6 brings new but familiar challenges to devs

Fragmentation is creeping into the iOS ecosystem, but most mobile devs will still find it far easier to manage than Android

iPhone 6 is off to a stellar start with over 10 million sold in the opening weekend alone. "Bendgate" controversy aside, the two new models of iPhone offer better processing power and integrate Apple's new Metal architecture, which some developers believe offer vastly improved graphical rendering abilities. Make no mistake, these new phones will attract mobile gamers and devs in droves. It's notable, however, that this is the first time that Apple has introduced two new phones with different screen sizes and resolutions.

Should devs worry about increasing fragmentation from Apple? How do they have to alter their approach to support both new phones? GamesIndustry.biz polled a number of mobile devs, and while the introduction of two new phones may cause some minor headaches, the general consensus is it's still a cakewalk compared to the horrible state of fragmentation encountered on Android, which has thousands of different handsets with different screen sizes, resolutions and operating systems.

"iOS is still one of the least fragmented spaces for games...there are still just a handful of hardware configurations, and adoption for new versions of iOS asthey have been released has always been phenomenal," noted Steve Coallier, senior director of development at Tilting Point, and EA veteran.

"The issue that becomes more and more poignant as time goes on is that the download size has to increase to accommodate the new handsets--but older iPhones don't have much physical memory"

Don Synstelien, Extrafeet

Many developers also anticipated the release of the new phones months in advance, so they weren't taken aback by Apple's announcements. "We have been preparing for this new generation of phones to come out and are working to ensure we support multiple generations of iPhonesincluding the latest and greatest out for the market. From a development and technology perspective, we are very excited to explore better quality graphics through Metal, takeadvantage of newlarger screen sizes, and focus on the devices' faster processing speeds," commented Gree COO Andrew Sheppard.

As with development on any platform, not just mobile, tools are key. Sheppard pointed to Gree's own tools that help it deal with fragmentation across iOS and Android, while Turbo CEO and founder Yohei Ishii noted that Unity is also enormously helpful.

Spotcos co-founder Shiny Yang agreed: "Anyone developing with best practices (or on Android) shouldn't have too much trouble with the new screen sizes. If somehow you've been stuck in the early 2010s and hardcoding screen sizes (960x640?), you've probably already been bitten by BOTH the not-so-recent switch to retina (see: points vs pixels) AND the slightly taller dimensions of the iPhone 5 (0.33 more inches)... anyone using an up-to-date game engine (or anything Unity) shouldn't have any trouble."

It also helps that Apple has done its best to facilitate scaling graphics on its own devices. "The best part about making games for the Apple App Store is that Apple has done a tremendous job of automatic resolution update using Xcode where it automatically scales the app up or down based on the device," said Manish Agarwal, CEO of Reliance Digital Entertainment. "This gives us the opportunity to build using Xcode and as the platforms and products have evolved from Apple, we are able to give our users on devices such as iPhone 6 Plus an enhanced user experience."

Bunnies' Empire creator Dominic Hamelin-Blais points out that anyone already supporting a retina iPad display won't have to worry about any extra effort to support both new iPhones. "You don't even have to produce higher res art since the iPad still has the highest resolution on iOS," he said.

But what about older iPhones and iPads? How far back can developers go in supporting previous generations of iOS products while making games for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? A number of the devs we polled go back as far as the iPhone 3GS, although some believe support for the 3GS and even iPhone 4 will soon be dwindling.

The problem with supporting older devices is that games for newer models are getting more sophisticated and the file sizes are automatically increasing.

"we're stoked about exploring new emergent usage patterns from having the additional screen real estate"

Yohei Ishii, Turbo

Extrafeet CEO Don Synstelien remarked, "The issue that becomes more and more poignant as time goes on is that the download size has to increase to accommodate the new handsets--but older iPhones don't have much physical memory, so the code package someone downloads for a 3.5 inch iPhone 4S is the same code package someone downloads for the new 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus. This means that the next time we updateour app, itwill need to contain additionalimages for any additional resolutions we want to support; these will all need to be included in the same code package--making the download evenlarger for older phones, whichare rapidly running out of storage space."

Any concerns over legacy support or fragmentation are easily outweighed by the excitement over the bigger screen sizes and beefier architecture the new phones offer, devs stated. Turbo's Ishii commented, "We're still keeping a lookout on market trends, but the classic adage, Bigger is Better, usually rings true... we're stoked about exploring new emergent usage patterns from having the additional screen real estate, i.e. more robust user interfaces, longer engagement, etc."

Paul Simon, executive producer at One Thumb Mobile, added, "The major benefit for us a games studio is that the new hardware gives us more scope to continue pushing the boundaries of what players can expect from a full-featured MMO on handheld devices. It'll be interesting to see what advantages Apple's new Metal technology can bring to Celtic Heroes once Unity supports it."

Ultimately, developers see the new iPhones as a genuine opportunity to show how good mobile games can be today. "We are really excited about the new screen sizes. It's a good thing for us as a developer, since it gives us more real estate to show our graphics and especially as we put a lot of focus on production values and polishing," said Saara Bergstrom of Next Games (which is making a Walking Dead game).

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Latest comments (17)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
The biggest challenge hasn't changed - making any money from paid apps.

Actually it has, it's gotten a lot worse. We're making peanuts from paid stuff now - nobody seems to want it anymore, even for throwaway prices. Whenever anyone wants a good whine about F2P games, I suggest you start by addressing why nobody buys paid stuff anymore, it's certainly still there waiting. :(
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
Come across Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or any of their third parties and while they may have wildly different business models, audiences and games, they all have an understanding that their customers have a certain culture beneficiary to all parties involved in their business. That there even is such a thing as gaming culture. No matter how cynical business gets, there is an awareness where gaming fits in with other entertainment media.

Apple and Google? Not so much. They are gaming nihilists, who pray to the god of chance and large numbers. They are not here to convert people to any culture of gaming, they will happily reaffirm every single assumption you have and provide the platform for somebody to exploit you based on psychological modeling. If that is the bandwagon everybody is jumping on, the cliff cannot come soon enough.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
You didn't start by addressing why nobody buys paid stuff anymore... ;)
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Show all comments (17)
Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe4 years ago
Because they are your target demographic, but not your target audience.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
@Paul

Here is my tinfoil theory as to why nobody buys paid apps on the app store:

Most people are trained to pay for games which they sit down and engage with. They take a conscious break from what they are doing and enter the "playing games now" mode. There is a commitment of personal time and 30 years of advertisement have trained you to spend money to upgrade this time. From the chair you sit in to the whiskey you sip. This is what Nintendo does even with its DS line, but Google and Apple do not. This is their nihilism.

My perception of smartphones is that the content they offer is nothing but an endless series of three minute distractions. Read this headline on the RSS reader, check for a message, blurt out a message, play one level of something, etc. Only when you have exploited all free options, do paid options even have a chance.

Very often I see people using smartphones as some device to bridge every sort of downtime that might happen to them otherwise. As if being in a neutral disengaged state was a crime, as if being left to your thoughts was hell itself. In a way, smartphones occupy the space cigarettes once did. The thing to nervously fumble around with ever so often. And the successful games, they monetize that nervous fumbling. Just one more, just one more. Those are not games you are proud of consuming, they are guilty pleasures you toss away at the first sight of somebody frowning on them. Just like you stump out your cigarette when you smoke them in a place where you mustn't, or the chocolate that disappears in a drawer before people are allowed to enter the office. It is real life imitating the old private eye trope. A way to tell if something written in 1930, 1960, or 2014.

Paul hastily...
(a) ...put out the cigarette....
(b) ...pocketed his smartphone...
(c) ...threw the flask in the drawer...
....when Jenny entered the office.

Remember Sierra games having the so called boss key? Smartphones are today's thing which happens, before the real thing happens. (Ok, that and browsertabs with gi.biz) If your game conforms to the standard of a guilty pleasure cigarette-type experience, then congratulations. All you need to do is find enough chainsmokers and cash in on them somehow. This is why Flappy Bird is the Mona Lisa of smartphone games. It conforms perfectly to all tropes. If your smartphone games suggest I put in earphones, then I pity you, you are missing the point entirely.
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@Klaus So it's not just me! Glad to read this :P
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
Some nice prowse, but not sure how you got there from here. There's a ton of good quality games on the stores, won't even plug my own. People USED to buy them and NOW they don't. (Within the last year) That isn't F2P's fault - haters of F2P won't be looking in the free charts etc. to become jaded to that and the paid charts are still full of decent stuff, it's just no longer moving.

Perhaps if you didn't have an axe to grind you might find some. The identical PC build of one of our mobile titles got a BAFTA nomination, start with that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 30th September 2014 5:30pm

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Anthony Chan4 years ago
I think Klaus has pretty much hit it bang on. From a "top grossing" standpoint, there 2 types of games that seem to bring in the $$$.

1. The flappy birds, candy crush, angry birds, and even (remember?) fruit ninja and doodle jump. These are addictive games that are simple to play. The time people play these games can range from 5 minutes to hours. The key is the range in duration played, as these games can be played sitting down, waiting in line, standing on a bus, on the toilet etc. Ideally these types of games have both offline and online capabilities, however with mobile internet becoming so common place this differentiation is rapidly becoming moot. The online components mainly are used to install competion and social aspects (i.e. leaderboards, and chat). If the games become popular enough, social sharing capability helps the game's growth.

2. There are the games that require much more depth relating to gameplay but are still relatively easy to play. Examples include Puzzle and Dragons, Rage of Bahamut, Real Racing, Summoners War, Game of War - Fire Age, Brave Frontier, etc. They mimic a lot of the foudation gameplay of portable handheld games. These games also have a smaller population of gamers compared to the above set of games, however monetize successfully due to the frequency the "whales" buy in. The most definitely require social competition aspects (ie. leaderboards, ranking events) and online capabliities. These aspects combined with deeper gameplay create an addiction that gets people to spend. The trouble is balancing the Premium play against pay to win mentality; and unfortunately, most developers drain a game dry by tipping that scale. Well balanced examples include P&D and brave frontier. Bad examples include any games by Kabam (and that seems to be the consensus of those playing the game in chat).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Chan on 30th September 2014 6:15pm

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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
Amongst all this straw man F2P "analysis", can someone instead tell me why this is happening:

Last year, one of our paid games earned X dollars and had Y chart position
This year, the same game earned X/10 dollars and maintained Y chart position

Here's a hint, the important parts are in bold. This is not just something specific to us - ask any dev about his paid app performance and you will hear the same. If you are hellbent on hating on F2P again as a reason, please do so in a way that explains the death of paid apps this year. Thanks.
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Nick Parker Consultant 4 years ago
I've just been sitting thinking about this Paul and I have a few thoughts which may or may not be the cause of your frustration. You say in your last sentence "that explains the death of paid apps". You may have not intended to say apps instead of games but therein perhaps lies a clue - it's not just games its all apps.

I see more and more people spending time on their phone watching video (movies, TV box sets etc) on their phones/tablets than playing games; competition from other growth areas of mobile media may be diverting cash from games. Larger screens offer better entertainment experiences over and above gaming and it seems that people want a larger screen (see record iPhone 6 launch). The big picture impact of this is that mobile gaming as an industry could only grow in line with the speed of smartphone adoption rather than more and more smart phone owners playing games.
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@Paul - the smothering of paid games in the grossing charts has been ongoing and sustained year on year and is absolutely an outcome of the switch to a F2p digital market. You seem sure it's not the cause of slumped paid sales this time though - why is it not possible that this year it simply got worse than before? Honestly have no idea myself, just wondering how you arrived at that conclusion.

Also, you really reckon paid apps in 2014 are earning 10 times less than apps in 2013? If you're right I'd say that's an important story to investigate right here.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 4 years ago
Last year, one of our paid games earned X dollars and had Y chart position
This year, the same game earned X/10 dollars and maintained Y chart position
Simple. Users have been educated : they dont have to pay if they want a game. "Free" (no up-front fee) games are the norm, there are hundreds they can try with no cost.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
Also, you really reckon paid apps in 2014 are earning 10 times less than apps in 2013? If you're right I'd say that's an important story to investigate right here.
Yes, I am. They absolutely are in our case, but the strong indicator of it being industry wide is that our chart position remained reasonable high and stable the entire time. That means everyone's selling the same number of apps relative to everyone else and we're all sinking together. I can see no other explanation and it's worrisome in the extreme.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
I assume Great Little War Game from Rubicon is the one with the ten times lower sales.

This game might be a good study in the PC vs. Mobile discussion and where both those markets are for an independent studio. There is this game called Battle Worlds Kronos from King Art Games. Being very reductive about it, Kronos and Little War Game are the same. However, one is dialed in on the mobile market, while the other is dialed in on the Kickstarter+Greenlight PC market. As luck would have it, both those games then dipped their feet into the opposing platform, so to speak.

From meeting the developers of Kronos during gamescom and what I have read from Paul Johnson on this forum, these are the two parties I would lock in a room with a tape recorder and have them talk about making what is essentially the same game for two different sides of a very heated Internet argument.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
It's all our stuff tbh in a wide variety of genres, but the game I was referring to above you were close - Great Big War Game.

Not sure what side I'm meant to be on in what argument with that tbh, but I'm not here whining about anything. It's an observable fact that's not real open to personal interpretation and whether Kronos are doing better or worse than us is entirely moot to it.

The one bold underlined part about this that keeps personal circumstances fouling the results is the maintenance of a chart position whilst the sales declined toward zero.

Let's say the decline was down to us. People decided they hate us, a better game came out, ours is getting a bit long in the tooth now. Any or all of that would explain declining sales, but NOT when coupled with a non-declining chart spot. That only has one explanation to my thinking and it's not a pleasant one for anybody on mobile, not just us.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that I have no doubt that the Kronos guys are doing waaaay better than us financially by virtue of the fact that they're on Steam and we're not. Mobile was the right platform choice for many once, but it's simply not anymore. That's gonna leave a lot of people hanging in the wind.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 2nd October 2014 8:53am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
The comparison between Great Big War Game and Kronos is interesting, because those two games start out in such different places, but then move towards each other. Who does better financially is the least interesting factoid. The story here is about two independent companies who take two wildly different paths trying to create a similar experience. Same game, for the same type of player, but from financing to pricing, from where the customer plays this game to how, these two games show the full breadth of today's gamescape.

As for the declining sales, all I can do is speculate, by listing observations about what stands out this year. Amazon giving away apps for free causing some sort of a saturation when it comes to daily playthings. They did it before, but this year, it is way better advertised. Previous games not having enough persuasive power to convert one buyers into regular buyers of mobile video games. Regular buyers of video games on other platforms not being targeted by mobile as much. Novelty wearing off. No paid game being a viral hit so far this year, therefore fewer people in the paid app section to begin with. Visibility diminishing to absolute zero in the face of large f2p games advertising on TV all the time. Paid apps having no customer lobby to speak of; in comparison to console and PC. People already having a library of games they do not play. The few remaining big players (e.g. Minecraft) dominating more than ever. Mainstream media, podcasts and streamers more occupied with new consoles than mobile games. Mobile trends this year being fitness armbands and watches, not games. Not to speak of 2014 only slightly outperforming 1914 in terms of shittiest year a century can have.

Finally, Goat Simulator. Don't laugh, but the sales of this game should be worrisome. Goat Simulator is the kid shouting that the Emperor is naked. Everybody has a laugh, then everybody sees the kid is right, then everybody pays money to reward this good joke. Perfect satire. But worst of all for the industry, people learn a lesson. If you got swag, Goat Simulator is the last game you need to ironically endorse; forever.

It is not one reason, never is. It does not even have to mean that mobile as a whole is shrinking, but there are certainly enough reasons for paid apps to have a very bad year.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
This is exactly my point. :)

Sales are declining across the board at an eye watering level. The odd random mega-success stories don't do anything but muddy the waters a bit when we're talking about trends and so forth.
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