Ex-EA man schools iPhone game makers

Ask yourself 'What would Nintendo do?'


GDC 09 With an average of 165 apps released for the iPhone each day, it seems like everyone and their Aunt Mable has suddenly become a mobile developer - and all for a platform less than a year old.

Apple created an exceedingly easy path for independent game makers to enter the ecosystem with its iTunes App Store. But for developers looking to create something beyond the iPhone's daily heaps of shovelware, it's a golden opportunity tightly wrapped in a complete clusterf@$% of competition.

Ngmoco, the iPhone developer behind successful game titles like Rolando, Dropship, and Topple is among the platform's shining successes. Founded by former EA executive Neil Young (AKA: not that Neil Young), the company recently secured $10m in a second round of funding just nine months after the startup opened for business.

Young was at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today to pimp the platform as well as advise his fellow game makers how to rise above the iPod's rubbish.

The man obviously has a crush on the device — made quite clear by tender recollections of waiting in line to purchase the phone to describing a "love affair" at first touch. Young even goes so far as to claim the iPhone beats modern handheld consoles as a games platform.

"Don't let the haters tell you it sucks compared to the DS or PSP," he said. Young believes the iPhone is more than a match for the game-specific competition because "it's connected, always on, and always with you."

And that's exactly why mobile-game developers should take a page from Nintendo when figuring out how best to tackle iPhone development, according to Young.

"Look at the epic battle between the DS and PSP," Young said. The PSP was easier to port, played music, had a great screen, and had the support of every publisher out there. "On the surface, it looked like the PSP had it in the bag."

Yet despite the advantages, the DS went on to crush the PSP. Not by competing on specs, but by taking advantage of unique features and functionality, Young said.

"If Nintendo made the iPhone, what would they focus on? I think they would build games that could only be on the iPhone," he said.

Young said Ngmoco takes advantage of this mindset by promoting games that take one or two of the iPhone's native functions and drive them into the heart of gameplay.

With SDK 3.0 on its way, that means games taking advantage of new toys like push notification, VoIP, and micropayments. Young illustrated with a demo of Livewire, an upcoming first-person shooter from ngmoco that allows you to invite friends to join a match on the fly and purchase content like additional levels.

Young also advised developers keep in mind that the lifecycles of games on the iPod are fundamentally different than on a game console. The company plans to keep customers interested in Rolando over the next few months with free updates that will eventually ad 20 new levels to the game. They hope the plan will entice players to purchase Rolando 2 in June, which will use the roadmap of free updates leading up to the release of Rolando 3 in November.

Of course, Young's complaints of "clutter" in the iTunes App store is a convenient opportunity to pitch the idea that developers still need a publisher. "With over 25,000 games, it can be difficult to get your games in front of customers," he said.

"The App Store has revolutionized distribution, but not game publishing. It's like having a Walmart in your pocket, but every day hundreds of new apps are dumped at your door."

The solution, according to mgmoco, is to let a publisher such as itself take control of PR and management and toss the game on a network-wide promotions engine. They'll take a cut of the profit, but with more than $10m behind the firm, they claim it's a reasonable way not to be buried by the 165 new fart and boob giggle-based apps released each day. ®


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