Some numbers came out recently that reinforce what a lot of people would just guess based on their intuition. Game Developer Research (GDR) recently released its 2009/2010 survey of game developers. The numbers empirically prove the notion that the iPhone dominates the mobile gaming market. According to the survey, iPhone game developers outnumber Nintendo DS and Sony PSP developers two to one. I’m sure there are many reasons (read excuses) Nintendo and Sony would give for this dominance in developer numbers but the numbers don’t lie and I would suggest a couple of counterpoints to those reasons.
The first reason I’m sure Apple’s competition would give is for the ease of entry into the developer market. Nintendo and Sony would say that their developers are highly trained professionals with years of education and experience in their craft. iPhone developers, they would claim, are largely an untrained lot; not schooled in the complex and rich world of proper game development. I would take that argument however and turn it on its head. It is the ease of entry into the market that has made the iPhone gaming platform so successful. There are no artificial barrier to entry into the development marketplace. Anyone with a hundred American dollars and the time to invest in learning the SDK can become a successful game developer. How many otherwise unappreciated talents have become successful game developers because of the openness of the iPhone platform?
It is a revolution in the gaming industry that is comparable to the breaking of the Guild system in the Middle Ages. When skills like carpentry or masonry moved from being secret, inherited knowledge to knowledge any one could acquire through learning, people flourished based on their skills and merit, not on their ability to be initiated into the secret knowledge. Similarly, now that any one can learn the secrets of game development, the schools, corporations, and development houses that guarded that knowledge must now give way to any one who has the time and talent to learn it.
The second reason I’m sure Apple’s competition would give is for the types of games under development. Nintendo and Sony would say that their games are large, feature-rich multimedia experiences. iPhone games, they’d argue, are small and crippled lesser cousins to their creations that are easier to develop and push out. That of course is a ridiculous notion. Anyone who’s played some of the larger gaming experiences on the iPhone like N.O.V.A, F.A.S.T, or Field Runners knows they rival any title available for the DS or PSP. And usually at a tenth of the price! The quality (and quantity) gaps between iPhone games and its mobile gaming competition has largely been filled since the release of iPhone OS 3.0. The notion that iPhone games are somehow lesser than DS or PSP games is one that may still be part of popular wisdom but it simply has no basis in fact.
What do you think? Is the fact that there are twice the number of iPhone game developers just a statistical abberation or an indication of which way the mobile gaming market is moving? Is this the end for purpose-built gaming devices like the DS and PSP? Weigh in with your comments below.
By: Erin Peterson