Delving into mobile: An opportunity and a risk

Ahmed Al-Sairafi

   Ahmed Al-Sairafi

When I started the development of my newly released iOS game Cheeky Monkey In Space, I had one thing on my mind: a casual pick-and-play game that would appeal to the majority of App Store customers. I had the idea of creating a simple physics-based puzzle game, which many successful games in the app store such as Cut The Rope, are based upon. As a university student, this is the only type of game that I could create without spending years in development, and the fact that casual games are the most prominent in the app store was just a bonus.

However, with the release of "the new iPad", iOS developers are rushing to get a head start in the new market this device offers. The new and advanced hardware presents an opportunity for developing graphic-intense games that will appeal to hardcore gamers, rather than the usual casual players. This opens up many doors to large development firms who can truly utilize these technological upgrades, but what about independent developers, hobbyists and students? These types of developers do not have the budget or the capabilities to create games such as Infinity Blade. Does this mean that large development firms will control the market?

Past Opportunities

Before the inception of app stores and the notion of mobile gaming began, developing and publishing games was extremely difficult if you were an independent developer. If you wanted to produce a game and publish it to a worldwide audience, you needed to develop for consoles such as the Xbox, PSP and Nintendo DS. This meant that you had to have a large budget that could exceed millions of dollars, and you needed a large team to work on different aspects of the game. You also needed relationships with Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft and access to the different SDKs. On top of that, you also needed to work out distribution deals with big publishers to get the game out. With all these points in mind, it is safe to assume that before mobile gaming, there were minimal opportunities for Indies to develop and publish their games.

Developers now have a wide range of markets and devices that they can enter and publish games for. In addition, the budgets of development can be as low as $25 for Google Play and $99 for the iOS app store, given that all the necessary hardware is already available. In spite of the available options, most developers decide to enter the iOS app market first and then progress to Google Play, mainly because Android runs on many different devices, which could result in complications for the developer. Nevertheless, these are not serious issues that would stop someone from publishing his or her app.

Learning how to program has become relatively easy when you take into consideration all the available resources on the Internet. I did not take any classes to learn how to code games; everything I needed was available online. These resources come in a variety of forms, including videos, blogs, forums and API documents. Moreover, a single person can develop a game within a relatively short period of time. As an 18-year-old student I developed Cheeky Monkey In Space from my college dorm. This is an eye opener to all the opportunities present; it has never been easier to develop a game and publish it to a worldwide audience.

Looking to the future

The newer devices such as the iPhone 4S and the confusingly named "the new iPad" allow developers to develop more graphic-intense games that would be played as smoothly as on a console or computer. It does present a risk to Indies, especially if the larger companies decide to price their hardcore games at low tiers such as $4.99 and less. Even if an independent developer develops a great high-quality game, the developer does not have the publicity and the marketing power that larger companies do. Indie developers already struggle to compete with these gaming giants, and with more advanced hardware, large companies could possibly dominate the mobile market just like how they dominate console games.

Even though the iPhone 4S and "the new iPad" users may not represent the large majority of customers yet, it is inevitable that more devices will be launched with better processers and graphic capabilities, both for the iOS and Android. This means that devices such as the iPhone 3GS will be obsolete very quickly and most users would have very powerful mobile handsets or tablets.

The direction that the advancements are heading is clear, but the market is still a mystery. Casual gamers are unlikely to turn into hardcore gamers just because they have a more powerful device. As of now, the opportunities in the mobile gaming market are still wide open, and independent developers have more opportunities than they ever did before. The barrier to entry is very low, but the barrier to succeed can by high. If you are considering mobile development, especially game development, make sure you are willing to invest time and effort.

Ahmed Al-Sairafi is a first-year Computer Science student at Loughborough University. Recently he released his second iOS game called Cheeky Monkey In Space, which is available for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. This promising physics-based puzzler is available now.

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