Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Coming App Stores

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 26, 2010

Due to the success of iTunes and the iPhone / iPad App Stores, I assume. we’re soon going to be seeing them everywhere. Apple has announced an app store for the Mac that will mimic their mobile app store, and rumor has already linked that Microsoft is planning an app store with Windows 8.

This has some indies more than a little concerned. They remember all too well how the big portals in the casual space were effectively an extinction-level event for smaller, boutique casual games shops. If you were a casual game developer, you either joined the Borg collective, or were destroyed.  And even now, indies face potential customers who say things like, “I won’t buy a game unless it’s on Steam.” Or worse, said would-be customer ask in all sincerity, “So why isn’t your game on Steam?” as if it was 1) As simple as filling out the paperwork, and not an enormous crap-shoot even for a quality game, and 2) any guarantee of financial success.

And now, we hear that the O.S. providers are going to be providing / sponsoring the portal…

That’s about like being a small mom-and-pop store and finding out that not only is a Wal*Mart superstore going up across the street, but that everyone on your city council has a significant portion of their investment in Wal*Mart stock. The cards are stacked against you, big time.

What are indies to do?

The option to roll with it and join the ol’ Borg collective again may be an option. Too early to say, but it’s likely. We indies should have seen that coming, once the press and industry in general caught whiff of the potential and the success of certain games.  Now, what kind of games these portals will allow, what requirements exist, how difficult it will be to be sold through the portal, what price points will be… that’s all TBD.  There could be a huge flight to the kinds of extreme low-budget titles that thrive at the sub-$3 pricepoint like we see on XBox Indie and iPhone. Or we may see something more akin to what’s available on Steam currently. We don’t know.

Another option that may be valid will be to fight back, keep doing our thing, and keep being indie. Use ’em if they make sense, eschew ’em otherwise. Do not forget that if the Windows 8 portal thing turns out to be true, it’ll be Microsoft’s second attempt to replicate their XBOX 360 success with the PC. The first, Games 4 Windows Live, was been pretty much universally regarded as a failure. When you can’t control access to the platform like Apple and Microsoft do for their proprietary platforms, it becomes a lot less trivial to gain the advantages of a monopoly. And attempts to put new Operating Systems under lock-and-key would probably earn far more ill will from consumers than it would be worth.

So this means indies may still be in the game, operating successfully independent of these upcoming 800 lb. (363 kilogram) gorillas.

To help out, Cliff Harris explains how indies are to survive without becoming dependent upon the app stores. It’s pretty much a reiteration of everything they should be doing RIGHT NOW, anyway.

Filed Under: Biz, Game Development - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Greg Tedder said,

    Apples app store isn’t bad, but it hurt me more than it helped me market my app. There is so much that goes on that you can’t see that it is very difficult to figure things out.

  • getter77 said,

    GFWL is supposed to be wrangling some manner of reboot in the nearish future IIRC, but yeah pretty much. The dev of Minecraft was likewise concerned on his Twitter a few days back about Apple’s potentially looming “No Java and such” stance as he’d not be able to redo the entire game to match such a policy which would be bad news on all sides.

    Cliff Harris pretty much has it, that and casting a relatively wide net for support. Otherwise, I dunno, some bizarre future where only Linux and Menuet resemble the old days before Walled Garden AppStore dealies?

  • David W said,

    Ultimately, though, if I may borrow a quote, “the more you tighten your grasp, the more will slip through your fingers”.

    The fact is, the whole value of an OS is in the programs it lets me run. Which is what I pay Microsoft for, in the first place. If they decide to extract their value instead by nickel and dimeing every purchase, they’d better start giving away the OS. There’s a certain amount they can get from me in exchange for the ability to run stuff, and they can choose whether they want it in one lump sum or over time, but they can’t really get more from me than that.

    There’s an article here: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/APIWar.html that talks about the situation from Microsoft’s perspective, but basically it amounts to this – Microsoft’s value is that every developer wants to make a version for Windows, and therefore if I buy a Windows computer, I can be confident that I can run any software on the planet. If they break that central tenet, they could wipe themselves out.

    All it takes, after all, is enough people to switch to Linux (or Apple, or Android, or…) to make that the market everyone develops for, and if I can ever get all the software on Linux that I can get on Windows, well…why am I paying Microsoft again?

  • sascha/hdrs said,

    The upcoming OSX app store has already been criticized by some that it will make non-appstore apps like second class apps on the Mac.

    Some years back I was criticizing that everywhere individual shops and supermarkets are pushed away by cheap discount stores. The same scenario seems to apply to the software world now because such app store apps are targeted toward the “lazy consumer” and are generally very cheap. There will be a handful of developers at the top who can make enough money through these channels but the rest will have to realize that they aren’t appealing enough for the broad mainstream of consumers and so they will not make money worth bothering much about, in particular after Apple/Microsoft/whoever gets their cut.

    Personally I’d recommend to anyone to not rely too much on these app store markets.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    Plenty of people jailbreak their iPhones and get apps form other sources than the official App Store. One well-known estimate says 10%. And the iPhone had an app store from day one. Mac OS X and Windows never had one. Guess how well it will work now.

    Supermarkets never managed to drive corner stores out of business. Indie game developers should be fine as well.

  • houser2112 said,

    I’m quite the opposite from the people you mentioned in your 2nd paragraph. I refuse to buy from Steam, and have eschewed buying games that require it. This means I’ve missed out on some good games, like HalfLife2 and Civ5, but it has allowed me to focus more attention on indie games and oldies I missed the first time around from gog.com.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, gog.com, in spite of their annoying stunt a few weeks ago, remains the king of the app stores for me – I feel absolutely decadent with all of the games I’ve picked up from them. I bought Recettear via Impulse so I could avoid running Steam any more than I have to. I’m a L4D fan, though, and I plan to pick up F:NV soon. So I don’t avoid Steam entirely – it’s just not my first choice. I’d rather spend an extra $1 or $2 on a game from GOG.COM to avoid it.