I'm not really smart enough to argue with the late Marshall McLuhan, but I'm beginning to think that perhaps the medium isn't the message. For app developers, the message may be the new platform.
A few weeks ago, Kik, whose popular messaging app is already used by 60 million people, launched an in-game app called 1 Word from Zynga. This is not the first time Zynga has tried putting its casual mobile games inside another app, but it's worth noting that video messaging service Tango also recently partnered with a well-known publisher, GameLoft, to offer Candy Block Breaker for iOS on its app.
These kinds of relationships may require everyone to rethink what the idea of a "mobile platform" really means. In the early days, it was about the smartphone operating system: iOS, Android and to a lesser extent BlackBerry or Windows Phone. Then came social services, most notably Facebook, which grew in a few years to a size equal to or larger than some of the largest handset providers. Now messaging, which remains one of the biggest features for any mobile user, represents the place where a mobile game maker's audience is most likely to congregate.
Unlike app stores or Facebook, which opened their platforms to a wide range of both established and indie developers, messaging services like Kik and Tango are concentrating on a fairly limited and controlled set of partnerships. There's a logic to this, given that these are early days and the payoff for such in-app experiments is somewhat unproven. But with Facebook opening up its own Facebook Mobile Games service, the competition for great apps is only going to get tougher.
The benefit to the messaging providers is obvious--if there's more to do on their services, more people will use them. Likewise, opening up their platforms to a greater diversity of developers could inspire mobile games that take particular advantage of their service's key features.
I would love to see Kik and Tango be even more aggressive in bringing apps inside their messaging platforms. Why couldn't these not only be places where well-known publishers extend their reach but also where new and emerging app developer superstars are discovered? Perhaps by setting up a more streamlined submission and review process, messaging app providers could begin to look more attractive than overcrowded app stores.
Until that happens, indie developers are left waiting. Or are they? Maybe the solution is to create apps with messaging platforms in mind, something that's such an obvious fit that Kik, Tango, WeChat or others won't be able to resist reaching out. Don't wait for them to call you. Let your next game's quality call out to them. -Shane