Forecasting Cross-platform Networks and Mobile Games

Editor’s note: During the upcoming Inside Social Games Conference on June 6-7, Bret Terrill, the Founder of 12gigs.com, will be moderating two panels on the future of social apps, “Gambling Games: The Promise of Real Money,” and “Platform Opportunities for Social Apps.” InsideSocialGames.com had the opportunity to ask Bret two important questions on the future of social and mobile games.

 

bret_200x200InsideSocialGames: Is it possible to build a cross-platform gaming network? Is this something the world wants?

Bret Terrill: A cross-platform gaming network is something that a lot of people were chasing last year as the next big thing. The idea was: Similar to Facebook owning the social graph, a company could own the “gamer graph”, connecting people who liked certain genres across platforms and games. As it stands today, Facebook is really the only company that has been successful in creating a cross-platform (PC and multiple mobile environments) gaming network , one that has largely fed off their immense social network.

Other large games companies, such as DeNA and Gree, have had success in the Japanese market, but they have moved toward a publisher model in the last year. It is an open question on whether Clash of Clans players care about what other games the people they “friend” within the game are playing. I suspect the gameing industry itself cares much more than the players, who are more interested to see what is in the top charts of their phone’s App Store.

 

What are the upcoming tech challenges in mobile?

The problem with mobile is that, upfront, small developers have to make a rather large bet. To increase versatility, they have to develop across platforms. But to deliver the best possible experience, companies have to go native: For iOS that means writing code in Objective C, for Android apps that means using Java.

More recently some companies are opting for tech solutions such as Unity, which is expensive if you want to use the Pro version, or HTML5, which promises the ability to “write once, use anywhere,” only it does not really work that way. While HTML5 works great in a web browser, it is difficult to create a high-quality game that stacks up against most native apps (unless you are using the latest iPad).

If developers want to create social, HTML5-based experiences, such as the Bingo game we built at 12gigs, they will have to cut many corners to make it run on older mobile devices. That really hurts the player experience.

Another huge pain point for mobile developers is third-party SDK integration. Each one of our apps has at least ten SDKs built in. In many cases, developers find their game crashes because of a bug in one of these SDKs. Fixing the issue requires close collaboration with development partners. If you are used to developing for the web, it can be a very unpleasant, unplanned surprise.

 

Is building a game for cross-platform worth the effort then?

It certainly is not necessary. Clash of Clans, one of the top grossing games is only available on iOS. Its maker, Supercell, did not need to develop an Android version to become one of the most successful mobile gaming companies of all time. The fact that they have not developed an Android version, even though that is a huge untapped market, highlights the technical challenges of porting natively developed games across platforms.

Having said that, if you want to create social, turn-based games, such as Words With Friends, you definitely want to go cross-platform. Games that require interaction grow much faster if they are available on all the devices that your friends are using. Fortunately for developers, you can hit 90 percent of the smartphone market by targeting just iOS and Android.

As for building games for mobile and web, most companies are moving toward mobile-only development. Here is why: If you believe industry experts, including Mary Meeker, mobile is already surpassing the web in terms of user base. Also, Richard Firminger, the Managing Director of Flurry, says that 80 percent of mobile usage is not through the browser, but through apps. The point is: the world is moving away from the PC and connecting with phones instead.

Considering that Zynga just laid-off 18 percent of their employees because the revenue from their web games declined much faster then predicted, mobile-only seems like the smart play. It is where the momentum is headed.

 

 

To hear more from Bret Terrill and the future of social and mobile gaming, attend our Inside Social Games conference on June 6-7 in San Francisco.

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