Today is a great time to run an App Store. There has never been such a constant flow of high quality content at such consumer friendly prices. This flood of content has been made possibly by a perfect storm of events that have removed most of the previous Barriers to Entry that some would argue plagued the software world for far too long.
Gatekeepers (and their financial backing) are largely gone The developer can reach customers directly. While the financial profit can be much larger, so are the financial risks. Development costs have plummeted. Software is essentially free, and the only hardware needed: a laptop and a phone, developers already own.
Game Design is now a well-studied field, and even someone who doesn’t enjoy playing games, can follow enough well established rules to design a decent, but likely not innovative game. While today is a great time to make content for an App store, it is a horrible time to make money from content from the App store. There is a great deal of money being made, but it is not well distributed. A lottery ticket set of odds is not a business model.
I am not the only developer to predict that there will be an end to these heady times. Caspian Prince from Puppy Games has predicted it will be “a mass extinction event.” One where the current slate of Indie Devs will be effectively wiped out economically. When there is no financial incentive to continue to create content, many talented teams will move on to financially greener pastures outside of App Stores.
This sort of disruption has happened before in the game industry more than once (collapse of the arcades, then the home market, then the retail market).Simply put, there are so many apps but only a small percentage make money. In fact, the top 1% to 10 % of Apps may account for 90% of all sales (depending on source). This is caused by several issues that are outside the realm of this article.
How To Survive and Thrive With Less Content
This article is not designed to debate the issue, try to prevent it, or give advice to Indie Developers. Rather this article focusses on what an App Store can do to prepare for an end to the current wave of surplus content without becoming a publisher and funding content itself. I looked back on my time as a developer and interviewed nearly a dozen of my developer friends. This document reflects my impressions and results of the surveys. The developers ranged from recent Digipen Grads working on their first professional game to seasoned veterans who have worked numerous platforms and genres.
The over arching goal is to keep an flow of quality content coming into the App Store, even as this once endless well dries up. The platform that crafts the best response for the App Store will come out ahead in the coming years.
I asked a slate of 11 Developers to prioritize from among this list of proposed changes to an App Store Business Development Model Specifically in response to what it would take to incentivize them to ensure they delivered their game/app first to an the Amazon App Store. It was assumed that a paid exclusive or traditional publishing deal would be off the table.
- Better Royalty Rate: All the stores effectively charge 30%, would a lower rate affect get a developer to switch loyalties?
- Discoverability/promotion: More time on front page or better promotions /different design of front page.
- Discoverability via “licensed IP”: What if you could make games based on the IP held by the App Store’s parents (Amazon TV Studios for example) with no royalty hit.
- Access to more Metrics : Take a page from the stock photo industry and give developers open and complete access to what is selling and why. Is there a new Steampunk wave trending up? Are F2P Match 3s no longer monetizing? Don’t make them go to third party sites, give them the data in near real time.
- Dev “kits” and free phones: Seed the field with free hardware.
- Improved Easier to Use SDK: Make supporting the App Store even easier.
- Earlier Access to Upcoming Hardware/Software Features: Inform and reward more developers what new features are coming and when. Given them the knowledge opportunity to decide to support new features.
- Help with F2P Mechanics and Design “Best Practices”: Distill the data into a slate of best practices which are updated quarterly.
- Even more direct support with Unity/UE4 etc.: Ensure that all hardware is just a pull down menu away from support.
What Do Developers Want?
Based on the interviews, it is apparent that developers’ needs change over the duration of their career. Below are the top rated responses from the above list, based on number of titles shipped in an App Store.
- NEWBIE: Support: Software help and access to hardware are the two most popular requests from developers early in their career. Anything that can be done to remove development barriers will help get more rookie developers on board.
- BATTLE HARDENED: Money (royalty): Developers who had shipped a few titles more often want access to a better royalty rate. It would be possibly to gamify this system to both give developers better royalty rates and ensure they use hardware or software systems that represent the current goals of the App Store and it’s parent. Are 3D images important? Give Apps with 3D images higher royalty rate. Upload data to the Cloud is KPI this quarter? Give Apps that upload their saved images to the cloud, a higher royalty. Streaming high performance games impossible on a phone via Cloud Rendering is a top priority? Reward those games that use this feature with a higher rate.
- VETERAN: Discoverability: Experienced developers who have made many games, including a few great games and wondered why they were not successful, all want help with Discoverability. (Even those who had games that were hits, want help with discoverability). Should the App Store reward developers who support key features, such as those listed above, be given more time on the front page? What if developers could auction access to the front page in terms of higher royalties paid to the App Store?
The App Store that recognizes and reacts to the coming paucity in quality content and works to keep developers, will be the platform that shows the largest gains during this period of disruption.