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Developers question long-term viability of App Store

David Braben, Jason Kingsley, Mark Gerhard and Jo Twist debate the rising cost of iOS development

The continuing value of the App Store to developers was under scrutiny at the BAFTA-hosted Games Question Time event last night.

An expert panel composed of UKIE head Jo Twist, Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard, Frontier Developments' David Braben and Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley debated the likely effects of the increasing demand for high production values on iOS devices.

Jason Kingsley agreed that the emphasis for a product to be "as polished as possible" was greater than ever, but that the investment necessary for that standard of execution can still be offset in a way that's impossible on consoles.

"Instead of making 20 hours worth of gameplay, you can make an hour's worth of gameplay, see how people react," he said. "The acid test is what people do with it... That's brilliant feedback for us; actually what people do when they play the game."

However, Mark Gerhard stated that the problem Kingsley desrcibed - of producing what is, "effectively a gold master" - already exists on the iOS platform, and that the "next wave of iterations" of Apple hardware could unbalance the economics of development and "kill the App Store."

"Everything's moving online," Gerhard said. "This is controversial, but the mobile bubble will burst this year and the social bubble will burst, too."

I think that, bar a handful of winners, nobody makes money on Apple's platform. It's great for consumers, not good for developers, and that's going to be the death of it

Mark Gerhard, CEO, Jagex

"There just isn't the money there. The only people that are winning right now are Apple and consumers. Everyone's rushing to make games for the new iPhone, and in that Apple makes a lot of money, but it's a race to zero."

Gerhard noted that Jagex has had four number one games on the App Store, but none made more than £3,000 to £4,000 a month profit. The amount of revenue versus the necessary resources is "a problem" for independent developers, and Gerhard believes that the same is true of all "walled-garden" services.

"I think any closed platform, be it Microsoft, be it PlayStation Vita, XBLA, PSN, the App Store, ultimately are taking such a big chunk that people just aren't making money. Facebook, too."

"I think that fundamentally, bar a handful of winners that Apple is keeping, nobody makes money on their platform. It's great for consumers, not good for developers, and that's going to be the death of it."

Gerhard addressed the widely held belief that the App Store is "the next frontier" for game developers. Like all closed platforms, he argued, the App Store is subject to "lethargy" in the form of approval processes and the need to adhere to guidelines.

Jagex has found a huge amount of success on the open web, and Gerhard believes that improvements in browser technology over the next 12 to 24 months will make it possible to create immersive 3D games.

As a result, the browser will emerge as a "new platform" that offers developers a greater share of revenue and greater control over their products.

"I would say as a survival strategy you want to leapfrog that," he said. "You want to go purely straight to browser."

"Online we can launch and we can iterate hourly. We can use data to kind of tone and shape the content experience. We can be that agile. We don't have to release, see what happens, make some changes, and re-release weeks later."

However, David Braben argued that the biggest problem facing developers is the "route to market," or actually getting the product into the hands of the audience. The App Store may not be ideal in this regard, but it has clear advantages over the open web.

Gerhard had already stated his belief that "new channels" would emerge to aid discovery of browser games on the open web, but Braben countered that any such entities would also be closed systems.

"The advantage of The App Store is that it's a place that focuses you; you're seeing what's coming out," Braben said.

"With the internet it's a lot, lot harder. I think you're right that there will be routes to the internet that will essentially do what you're talking about, but they will again be closed."

"There will be a gatekeeper otherwise there isn't value to it, in a bizarre way."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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