GDC 2014: Big Companies Just Don’t Get iOS Gaming

During GDC, we get to meet with a wide variety of developers ranging from one person outfits to huge companies with hundreds of employees. The big companies are always interesting to analyze because they just never seem to get iOS gaming. We get to talk to them on a regular basis right after talking to small developers, and the difference is quite substantial. Small outfits can change their approach, and tie into the latest trends very quickly, while big companies are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The main takeaway is that big companies are so reliant on their work of the past, that they keep trying to shoehorn in past strategies into their App Store offerings.

We won’t single out any specific companies, but the main idea covered quite a few different ones. Most are now chasing the free to play model simply because it has proven to be successful for others. Not only are they going freemium, but they’re not even trying to come up with their own implementations. Instead, you get to see a new game that uses the payment structure from either Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans, or CSR Racing. All three proved to be high grossing methods, and instead of trying to implement unique freemium mechanics, it seems the goal is to just use what has worked for others in the past. Times, and interests change in the App Store rapidly, and there’s no guarantee that past success will translate into future success. Each App Store success should be taken individually under very specific circumstances that can never be replicated since you’re dealing with changing time, attitude, competitors, and interests.
It’s also amusing sitting back, and listening to these big companies try to sell their latest iOS game. I have seen enough iOS games that I can pretty much spot the payment structure, gameplay mechanics, and similar games in an instant. With that said, it doesn’t stop the PR people from pitching the uniqueness of their latest title while trying to claim that it’s different than was is easily noticeable on the surface. There’s also a big emphasis on making games that are super casual, cute, and trying to cast the widest net possible, even if the resulting game is a vanilla creation that lacks any originality, or reason to stand out. Big companies are also a lot less receptive to what App Store shoppers are looking for, and respond to. These companies are spending tons of money on research, but I don’t know where that money is going, as each new release seems to further miss the underlying trends of the App Store. It takes more than getting a franchise that was successful in the past, throwing in payment schemes that were successful others, and then releasing it on the App Store.

We met with plenty of big companies at GDC, and sadly they simply don’t understand the fluid nature of iOS gaming.


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