Game Development Reference
Mobile Application Stores
The mobile app stores began with a traditional near-retail models of sales. The
user would buy a product with a credit card or PayPal, the vendor would take
a portion (30 percent in the case of the Apple iTunes App Store), and once pay-
ment cleared, the virtual good would be downloaded to the purchaser's device.
A complicated legal agreement would cover what rights to the product the user
would actually be purchasing. No one ever reads it, and the transaction is fairly
straightforward. This is still the way the iTunes App Store works for games that
players might purchase for their iPad, iPhone, and so on. This is also the basic
model for Android, though Android applications are (currently) far less central-
ized, far less controlled, and subject to truly appalling rates of piracy.
Currently, the major problem with these types of marketplaces is getting
enough user mindshare to break through the white noise created by all the com-
petition. There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps available on the iTunes
App Store, with the number increasing every day, and many of these applications
are games. Finding a particular game on the target device (your mobile phone,
iPad, tablet, etc.) is extremely difficult, if the customer doesn't enter the market-
place with a particular name in mind. The desktop version of the store makes it
slightly easier to browse the marketplace, but with such a terrific array of soft-
ware available, developers are forced to claw their way towards the top of the “fea-
tured” or “Top Apps” charts if they hope to garner much attention. It's the overly
crowded storefront problem all over again, just a few orders of magnitude greater.
There are a number of ways to manipulate this system to your advan-
tage. There are tales of publishers buying enough copies of their own game
to get it into the “Top Sellers” lists. Other games make deals with third-party
companies who give users in-game currency in exchange for downloading a
game. There's a shadowy world of quiet relationships and legal graft that has
been known to help get games onto various “featured” lists, as well. Taken
in aggregate, this all boils down to a strong likelihood that you will need to
spend money, perhaps on several complex and indirect forms of advertising,
in order to acquire users your initial set of users.
However, designing a social game properly can help keep this spending
under control. If your game is socially infectious by its very nature—such as,
say, Words with Friends —you may be able to drive user awareness through
word of mouth. Or better still, if your game has built-in mechanisms for invit-
ing friends to play, and rewards current players for doing so, you can poten-
tially increase your user numbers without having to “purchase” them through
expensive and unreliable marketing, and eventually work your way into the
coveted “Top Paid Games” lists.
Although an examination of iTunes is necessary, if a bit depressing, it is
important to remember that iTunes isn't the only application store out there.
Devoted mobile companies like ngmoco have opened up Android phone app
stores (theirs is called Mobage) that seek to impose a bit of order on the fairly