Back to the Future: The iPhone Sparks a Resurgence in Classic Games

Over the last year, the number of retro and classic console and arcade games on the iPhone has dramatically increased, often providing these much-beloved chestnuts with a new lease on life (and great success for their publishers). Classic characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, Guybrush Threepwood and Dirk the Daring are back in full force, with more characters set to make a comeback on the horizon.

Sonic the Hedgehog for iPhone
Sonic the Hedgehog for iPhone

How have these once-antiquated characters found new relevancy on a new medium? Beyond the obvious nostalgia factor, it all boils down to gameplay, fun, and interesting game design. The most popular games from the 80s and 90s still resonate with gamers today. In the “golden era” of 16- and 32-bit graphics, game designers couldn’t rely on whiz-bang visuals, environmental physics and detailed rendering to impress gamers. Games were distilled down to their simplest elements: pick-up-and-play ease, addictive fun and compelling gameplay.

Venerable games publisher Sega has recognized the importance of the iPhone to classic games, and is bringing back some of their most successful and celebrated games to the platform. The upcoming Sega Genesis Ultimate Collection, which will enable gamers to purchase classic Sega Genesis titles (such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Shining Force and more) presents a new opportunity for gamers to relive their favorite gaming experiences, and introduces such franchises to those who may be too young to have ever played them.  Sega is not alone.  A quick Web search on “retro iPhone games” provides hundreds of options for the classic gaming enthusiast, including arcade superstars Pac-Man and Space Invaders.  For those looking for the console classics, Touch Arcade has provided a handy list that includes personal favorites Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and the PC mega-hit Myst.

Furthermore, developers inspired by classic games are bringing new titles to the market that have familiar influences. The upcoming Slug Wars from Republic of Fun draws its inspiration from the Worms series (originally released on the Amiga in the early 80s). iPhone publisher Super Happy Fun Fun’s Mark Pierce, the original designer of 90s arcade hit Klax, incorporated similar game principles on the match-three puzzler Star*Burst.

With a plethora of opportunities for both classic gamers and new gamers alike, the iPhone has resurrected old franchises, as well as inspired new ones.  These “snackable nuggets of classic delight” can be devoured by consumers young and old, truly making the platform a gaming haven that anyone can enjoy.

Google’s Nexus One – Changing the Mobile Gaming Market?

While the iPhone has taken the lead in attracting development for the mobile gaming genre, and development for the Android has been trailing behind, many folks are currently wondering if the Nexus One will be the device that truly changes the mobile game development market around in favor of the Android open source mobile operating system.

The Nexus One is Google’s latest smartphone to hit the market – releasing just a few days ago during CES on January 5, 2010. The phone runs on the newly released Android 2.1 operating system, which features a number of significant enhancements such as Live Wallpapers that are animated in the background and react to different user inputs, an Application Drawer that can be pressed to access the list of applications installed on the phone, and a Media Gallery that provides several new features allowing users to browse, edit, and share photos and videos on the phone with just the swipe of a finger.

Aside from these dazzling enhancements, the Nexus One features some real meaty upgrades such as a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, on-chip graphical capabilities and a 480×800 resolution screen (ideal for gaming) that truly set this device apart from the iPhone. And the kicker…..Adobe has confirmed that Flash Player 10.1 will be coming soon to the Nexus One, and they promise that it will provide a consistent, cross-platform runtime across desktop and mobile devices.

This news is particularly significant because Flash-based game development is so widespread in the gaming industry, yet the iPhone doesn’t support Flash. Highly-trafficked and popular entertainment genres including social games (via Facebook, MySpace, etc.) and virtual worlds monetizing through the sale of virtual goods and microtransactions are primarily Flash-based. The opportunity to additionally monetize from the Nexus One platform is significant news for mobile game developers as well as the many Flash game developers who have held off from developing for the iPhone SDK due to these limitations.

As it stands now, the Android Market has about 18,000 apps available while the iTunes App Store features upwards of 100,000 apps. It is yet to be seen whether Google’s Nexus One will be a game changer for the mobile gaming space, but considering how fast this market has moved in the last year, it won’t be long before we find out.

2009: The App Store Starts Paying More Attention to Female Mobile Gamers

Though the mobile industry has successfully marketed specific phone features towards women, for example, the Samsung Egeo, the mobile app industry continues to lag behind the rapidly growing market of female mobile gamers. Studies show that there are currently more female mobile gamers than male mobile gamers – a point the mobile app industry began adapting to later this year. However, despite some changes, mobile app markets, like the App Store, have not adequately scaled themselves to meet the changing demographic profile of mobile gamers.

In March 2009, one third of the games available in the App Store were action themed and catered mainly towards male consumers. By July 2009, the number of games on offer had doubled. Puzzle games had become the largest genre, accounting for 16.4 per cent of the App Store’s games, with action and arcade titles trailing behind with 11.2 per cent and 11.1 percent respectively.

As the number of apps in the App Store soared past the 100,000 mark, mobile app developers slightly shifted their target markets creating more gender-neutral hit games such as Wheel of Fortune and Trism. However, the shift has been slow, and the App Store continues to overlook the market potential of female mobile gamers.

Canadian and US women rank Apple as their favorite technology brand and ranked the iPhone and iPod Touchnyt2 as their second favorite portable gaming device, after the Nintendo DS. Apple has a stronghold on the mindshare of the female consumer, particularly in the mobile marketspace, but it has yet to completely take advantage of this mobile game market opportunity. Not all female groups are quick to pick up the iPhone though. A survey of US mobile gamers indicates that there are more female mobile gamers than male mobile gamers between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four.

If the App Store targeted these particular female mobile gamer demographics, they could solidify their place as the leading mobile games market. The App Store’s success relies on their ability to play to growing market demands and how they counter the flack they’ve received from mobile app developers recently. Female mobile gamers are already playing, maybe to the surprise of the developers. The more the mobile app market comes to realize this, the sooner the mobile app industry is in for another growth spurt.

Don’t Throw in the Towel for Google Just Yet: Android vs iPhone as a Gaming Platform

boxingWho hasn’t heard of Android lately? Chances are you have at least heard of Verizon’s DROID (running Google’s Android 2.0 OS) since its massive ad campaign started a little more than a month ago. DROID does a whole bunch of stuff that the iPhone may struggle with doing, but there is one thing in our industry that DROID just doesn’t do well at all: act as a viable and profitable gaming platform—at least not yet.

Android is an appealing gaming platform for developers. It offers open-development whereas iPhone has a proprietary, closed system. The app approval process for Android Market is a walk in the park compared to the iTunes App Store, and Android Market’s registration fee costs $25 against Apple’s $99 SDK requirement. So why aren’t developers jumping on the Android bandwagon by the boatloads? Simply put: consumers aren’t paying for apps on their Android handsets like they are on their iPhones.

Econ 101 will tell you that money lies with the market and at the moment, there is not much of a gaming market for Android. Developers have openly discussed the dismal revenues being generated by Android when compared with iPhone’s shining profits for the same apps. Gameloft recently stated that they sell 400 times more apps for the iPhone than they do for Android. Gameloft even went on to announce that they were cutting back investment for the Android platform (yet a few days later rescinded the statement and reaffirmed support). Why the sudden move to reinvest in Android? Possibly because market trends suggest that Android devices could be a serious contender in the near future.

AdMob recently released statistics showing that 75% of U.S. web traffic browsed on smartphones were from either an iPhone or Android device. Of that 75%, Android is holding on to 20% of the web traffic and shows signs of gaining a bigger market share. Android devices are now being distributed by multiple handset manufacturers and available on most wireless service providers, whereas Apple is the sole manufacturer of phones with the iPhone OS and has an exclusivity deal with AT&T for the moment, therefore limiting its rate of growth. With these factors in mind, it will only be a matter of time before the number of Android users starts to catch up to the number of iPhone users in the U.S., therefore building a substantial base market for Android Market.

With the Android install base set to massively grow, here’s the big question: when are all the sweet Android games coming out? The audience will be there, Android Market is equipped to handle app purchases with ease, what’s the hold up? Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to Android becoming a worthy adversary in the mobile gaming arena is the operating system itself.

Android can only run apps from its onboard memory. On DROID, that’s 512MB. On every other Android device, it’s only 256MB. The Android OS also runs off this same onboard memory, leaving even less space for apps. Furthermore, SD cards can’t be used to store apps on Android either. iPhone can utilize most of its hard drive for storing apps, currently ranging from 8GB-32GB of capacity. Sega’s Super Monkey Ball was one of the first apps launched for the iPhone last year, weighing in at 36MB, and if you could play it on Android, that would already take up a good size chunk of the app space available to you. Fast forward to today’s apps where graphic intensive games like 2XL’s ATV Offroad are 100MB+ and you can already see the problem with porting these bestsellers to Android. Sure there are much smaller apps available but the capacity, or lack of, in Android devices is what ultimately hinders it from being a major player in the gaming space. Even at only 10MB per app, just a mere handful could be purchased and kept on any Android device. How can a featherweight compete against a heavyweight?

Android has a lot of potential for the mobile game arena. If Google addresses some of the OS technicalities, Android could pack on some serious pounds and add gaming to the list of things DROID does.

Developers Gone Wild! iPhone Gold Rush Uncloaked: Q&A with Rock Ridge Games

The iTunes App Store is a booming marketplace, full of opportunity for independent developers. At an Apple press conference earlier this month, Steve Jobs said that over 30 million iPhones and 20 million iPod Touch devices have been sold to date. There are over 100 million customers on iTunes, and they’ve been busy – downloading over 1.8 billion apps since the App Store launched in July 2008. But with over 75,000 apps and counting (more than 21,000 in the game category alone), it’s a sink or swim space. The unique iPhone platform is luring talented designers from top names in the traditional video game development industry – ambitious artists, code-monkeys and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes looking to try their hand at a new medium, and take on whatever responsibility necessary – including new shoes they’ll learn to fill along the way.

There are already more than 100,000 third-parties in the iPhone Developer Program, and the App Store marketplace has created a community mindset among many of these smaller independent companies, who are willing to share some of their “secrets” and learn from their competitors to further their cause and to coexist symbiotically, if you will. One such indie developer is Rock Ridge Games. I had a chance to pick the brains of Rock Ridge’s president and VP, Mike Mann and P.J. Snavely, on what it takes to make the transition from licensed, big-budget console game development to the DIY world of iPhone app development – here’s what they had to say…

RRG Western Wind iPhone

Can you give us a little background on Rock Ridge Games and your experience in game development?
Rock Ridge Games was started in April of this year with the goal of developing interesting and fun original  games for the incredible new smartphones hitting the market. There are only two of us (Mike Mann and PJ Snavely) but we’ve got almost 30 years of combined experience in game development, having come from the console side of development. We’ve worked on everything from multi-million dollar licensed sports games to small independent titles for XBLA. The iPhone is our new frontier.

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