I am going to deviate from the main topic of my blog to make an observation on the mobile/social and mobile space. Many so-called “pundits” compare the iOS-Android battle to the DOS-Mac situation in the early days of the PC. It is easy to say to use the iOS-Android analogy since iOS is also an Apple product, but that is really where the similarities end.
As a 19-year veteran of the game industry (with the scars to prove it), I have noticed a much more appropriate analogy: The battle between console and the PC for gamers. In the early 1990s, most of the best-selling games were released on the PC, with PC game sales representing well over 50 percent of the industry. Publishers like EA, THQ, and Acclaim were focused on the PC space. While they made console titles, PC games had a much higher margin and were widely distributed at big box retailers (e.g, Walmart and Best Buy) as well as specialty game stores. If you look at the core gaming space today, it is a very different story. When there is a PC version of a major game (and there often is not), its sales are orders of magnitude lower than the console versions. The number of games for the PC has also decreased dramatically, with very few value ($19.99 or $9.99) titles available, while there are hundreds of value console games released.
As someone who lived through—and participated in—this evolution, the underlying dynamics are very similar to what game developers are seeing in the mobile space (and I will focus this post on mobile and mobile/social games). What brought down the PC gaming business was a combination of a highly variable consumer experience and increasingly complex development requirements. These two core issues now suggest that Android gaming will suffer a similar fate as PC gaming, with iOS becoming the dominant mobile gaming platform.
Consumers spent a lot of money and suffered many disappointments in the 90s (and even this century) buying PC games that sucked. The focus was more often on creating a great box that the retailers would stock (and few if any retail buyers would actually play a game). Nintendo changed the face of console gaming by creating a closed platform; any game on a Nintendo system had to be approved by Nintendo. Other console makers, Sony, Microsoft and even SEGA, followed this strategy. Although this was often frustrating for developers who were occasionally unable to monetize their projects, it meant consumers usually got a decent, if not great, game.
The frustration of wasting money on PC games coupled with knowing you were going to have a quality gaming experience on console led many consumers to quickly dismiss Facebook gaming. The PC experience was all about a cool box and a thoroughly awful game so even people not making a major financial investment felt cheated, and anticipated a similar low quality on Facebook. Although Android users do not have the same financial investment, they do have a time investment, and people overall just don’t like bad user experiences. Without consistent quality, people will abandon gaming on Android.
From the developer/publisher point of view, it also was increasingly difficult to create good product for the PC platform. Developers had to test and optimize for multiple graphic cards, input devices, output devices (monitors), etc. Even worse, cards and devices launched virtually every day and there was no way to ensure a game would be forward compatible with them. Thus, many games did not work well on systems, including top-end gaming systems (where the tech was newer than the games) or older machines that could not support the tech. So you had a combination of much higher dev costs (since you were building and testing for many devices) and an often worse consumer experience. With the proliferation of different Android devices, this same problem is inevitable.
After 19 years of witnessing the evolution of the game industry, I have seen many of the same patterns repeating themselves. With a little analysis, it becomes clear how the Android versus iOS battle will end for gaming (I specifically avoided other apps, as the dynamics in that business is different). With social gaming as the next huge opportunity, knowing what platform(s) to be on could be the difference between failure and success.