Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Monday, February 28, 2011

GDC Day 1

Day 1
Partway through my first day at GDC, and I'm already finding some very interesting things even without attending any seminars yet. There are a handful of booths outside of the seminar area, and the vendors have some products of great interest for developers. Here's a quick rundown and some initial reactions to what I've seen so far:

kontagent. This is an analytics platform for social application developers, or so their literature says. What it really is: Analytics for marketers, that tells you about the demographics of the people playing your games. Your dashboard can give you data on the age of your player base, and where they are spending time and money in your game.... invaluable data for a marketer attempting to sway judgments on how to proceed with design or business. Probably not going to give you sufficient good info unless you have thousands of users, but at that point it seems like it's offering data I haven't seen from other analytics programs.

ideasystem. What is it with companies lower-casing their product names? Seems like an affectation to me. Regardless, this is an interesting middleware play: An entire set of tools and back-end support for creating your own social game or MMO. It's a true 3D engine (using the HeroEngine, no relation to any old company of mine) and the package offers free hosting, free billing and free marketing. They take 70% of your revenues, which seems pretty fair considering what they provide. Of course, if you are doing this through Facebook, Facebook takes 30% when people use Facebook Credits, and then ideasys takes 30% of what Facebook gives you. But it's still a pretty good deal for no hosting fees. Their tool set looks pretty robust... If you want to try some innovative game design or setting ideas for an MMO, this seems like a good place to start to minimize your risk. You could get a game to market much faster than building your own back end, and at far less cost. Hey, if the game takes off you could always build your own back end while still booking revenues from ideasys, and then switch over when your back end is built out.

blue noodle. Yet another lowercase name. Makes me want to type IN ALL CAPS. Sheesh. Despite that, it's an interesting idea: you can add a Clickstrip to your social or mobile game, and if the user clicks on it they watch a high-quality video ad. Why would the user do this? You give them an in-game reward... more smurfberries or the equivalent. Advertisers know they get a user to actually watch an ad. So you get more money with a different type of ad... this sounds like an interesting way to monetize, assuming they have enough advertisers on board.

adknowledge. OK, everybody is lower case now. I guess there's a new graphics rule for logos I wasn't aware of. Will this be overturned by the Supreme Court? Anyway, these guys have what they bill as the 4th largest advertiser marketplace, and it's a way to monetize your apps with a variety of advertising techniques. Worth a look if you're trying to figure out how to get money for your games, and ads are one way you're considering.

Aside from those vendors, I've had a number of very interesting discussions with a lot of people. This looks to be an excellent show for getting business done, and coming up with new ideas and new twists on business, and finding excellent people to work with.

Tomorrow will be even more interesting...

Marketing Is For Sucky Products?

Yeah, marketing can be like this.
This is what one venture capitalist believes... you only really need marketing if your product isn't good enough to get viral attention. Of course, he's talking about web sites that have a service on them, such as Flickr or DropBox or any of a zillion others. His point is that for such things, you're better off putting the effort into making the product exceptional rather than trying to market something that doesn't have enough traction to get very far in the marketplace.

His comments don't apply to games or apps, though, which have to compete in a market with tens of thousands of other products. Many excellent games go unnoticed, and marketing could certainly help those. Sure, going viral is great, but very few games will have that particular lightning strike them.

But you should certainly strive to have an excellent products, because that will make marketing so much easier. And your chances of becoming a huge hit depend on the excellence of your product. Excellent marketing on a mediocre product won't get you very far, not in this era of instant reviews that go worldwide the moment your game is available.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How To View GDC

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) takes place this coming week in San Francisco, and as usual I expect a great deal of news and insights about the gaming industry from the show. Close to 20,000 people involved in some way with the gaming business will be there, and there will be a spate of announcements, news, and rumors about gaming. I'll be blogging about my impressions of the show, and the information I gather, and my analysis of that information.

If you're attending this show, here are some thoughts about how to get the most from it. Most of these tips are useful for any trade show or convention.

See who's exhibiting, and how much space they have. You can get a very good feel for where things are headed in the business by seeing what types of businesses are paying for exhibit space, and how big their booths are. See lots of businesses catering to console developers? Looks like console development is going to be expanding. Lots of vendors talking about payment services? Look for lots of small companies, many trying to get bigger, who will need payment-related services.

What positions are people hiring for? At GDC the Career Expo is a major section, with all sorts of companies looking for employees. The kinds of employees they're looking for can tell you a lot about the state of the business and where things are headed. Sure, programmers are always sought after... but what type of programming? Is it C++, or is it Javascript, or Flex, or iOS, or Android, or HTML 5? You can get a fair idea of how much interest there is in any market segment by seeing what employees are most wanted.

When you chat with people, what are they saying about the business? Is it bad, good, changing? Have they changed jobs? Working at a smaller or a larger company? If you talk with a large number of people, and a good cross-section of the people, you'll get a sense of what's important to them about the business.

What are the seminars/lectures about, and how well-attended are they? Sure, the really popular speakers or the talks about a hit game will have a good crowd. But just looking at the list of talks can tell you what people are interested in, and seeing which talks are SRO gives you an indication of what people are interested in. For instance, talks about sales figures in mobile games a year ago were packed... because numbers are so hard to find, most of the companies being private.

You can learn much more from these indicators than you can from most keynote speeches. Marketers need to be tuned into these kind of indicators to get their own feel for where things are headed, and how fast they're likely to get there.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Onion Takes on Digital Distribution

In their usual way, The Onion points up digital distribution's advantages. Here's the headline:

Netflix Switches Over To Convenient New Physical Locations

Could Steam be far behind?

Ebooks on Android Market

This bag now carries books.
The Android Market is expanding its reach... they have added ebooks to the offerings. Soon, we'll probably see music and movies, too on the Android Market. That's kind of cool for phones, but of course with the flood of Android tablets coming this year it will be really useful.

More places to sell ebooks probably means even more ebook sales. Ebooks have been on an amazing trajectory lately, after more than a decade of existence on the fringe of publishing. This year looks like a transformative year, when ebooks really become the most important aspect of publishing. The revolution is really occurring among authors, as they realize that self-publishing is more than just a viable option, it's usually the best option.

It's not all that easy, though. Ebooks still need to be edited, and most especially they need to be formatted. Ideally, you should make sure your ebook looks good on each platform. For novels, that's not as hard, since most ereading software and hardware does a good job of flowing text into the constraints of the device's screen. If you're dealing with charts, tables, illustrations, or a particular format (such as a rule book), it's quite a different thing entirely. Sure, you can take a file that you would ordinarily send to a printer and convert it to another format... but the result almost certainly won't be optimal. And it may be unreadable.

Then there's preparing a cover... creating blurbs... a web site... figuring out how to deal with various places you can upload your ebook to... marketing your ebook... There's a lot of things that an author will have to deal with as a self-publisher. Services are springing up to help authors with these things, but it's still a market in flux.

Android's announcement is good news, but it just makes it more urgent than ever that authors figure out self-publishing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Game Developers Can Make Toys, Too

A software toy, it draws millions of downloads.
The definition of a game has been broadening in recent years, and with it, the different ways for a developer to make money. Here's an interesting variation... an app that its creators call a toy, not a game. It's the Talking Friends series of apps, by Outfit7, and they have been enormously popular (millions of downloads). Basically, you speak and the character repeats your words. Pretty simple, but good enough for 72 million downloads so far.

The apps have some interesting social aspects, such as letting you upload clips to YouTube. Of course, some of them are free, which is part of why they are so popular, but Outfit7 also charges 99 cents for some of them. They expect 100 million downloads this year... and it doesn't take too many of those at 99 cents to add up to a lot of money. These apps are on iOS, Android, and iPad, and they will be expanding the lineup to include other devices, I'm sure.

The key thing here is that any game developer can build something like this if they can build an iPhone app. No, it's not a game, but you can have a lot of fun with it. Game developers should be widening their horizons to think of other types of apps they can build that would have a low investment and a high return. App toys are an interesting idea, which can even build off of other IP you create as a game developer. There are many ways you may be able to leverage that artwork and animation you create, to increase your brand awareness and generate some revenue.

The app market means a whole different approach to game development and marketing... and maybe making some things that aren't games.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Amazon App Store

It seems likely that Amazon will take a leading role in selling Android Apps with their upcoming App Store. One of the nice features: You'll be able to buy your apps online even before your have your Android device, in fact. So when you get your device you can have a full slate of apps ready to go.

The real news here, though, is that unlike Apple and Google, Amazon knows a thing or two about online stores and how to optimize sales through them. And how to help customers find products in a virtual environment. As in, "Customers who bought this also bought..." applied to Apps will be a huge way to get potential buyers to find your app. Think about all the customer reviews and how you can sort them, the customer lists, the wish lists... the tools and capabilities are endless compared to the crudity that is the current Android Market or the iTunes store (which is better than the Android Market, but that's not a high bar).

I look forward to Amazon's store debut, whenever that might be. Let's hope it's soon.

This is one of the nice features about Android that hasn't really been taken advantage of yet -- that anyone is allowed to open an app store. I'd like to see a game-specific app store, one where you could find games in the proper categories... rather than publishers sticking every tag possible on a game so they show up in all categories (see the iTunes store for examples too numerous to count).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Android App Revenue: Barely There

You might think, looking at the number of Android phones out there (10 million new ones per month) , that Android app sales would be significant. You would be wrong... Check out the chart above, from UK research firm IHS, as reported by TechCrunch. Sure, Android app sales have grown 861% since 2009... which sounds like a lot until you realize it's because they started so small. The iOS App market topped $1.7 billion in 2010; the Android app market barely cracked $100 million. That means iPhone apps made 17 times what Android apps did in 2010... no wonder app developers are still developing first for iOS. Even if they may be annoyed by Apple's policies, it's where the money is.

Interesting to note is that Blackberry's app store made more than Android, as did Nokia's store. App development proceeds apace for Android, but Android phone users aren't buying all that many apps, it seems. Of course, the situation will probably change as in-app payments are put in place for Android. Still, app developers need to be conservative about how much they could make from Android versions of their apps. Hardware sales alone don't tell the whole story; the demographics of the buyers, and the details of the market itself, are obviously important.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Are iAds Struggling?

Apple's major foray into advertising is struggling to succeed, according to insiders. They're not able to fill all the slots available, and it doesn't look like it's just a post-holiday downturn. Apple conceived of these ads as an alternative to TV ad spending, and he thought they'd be able to convince companies to redirect ad dollars to iAds instead of to TV. Well, that worked for a bit when Jobs was the one doing the arm-twisting, but when the task got handed over to rank-and-file Apple employees the revenue has dried up.

As a consequence, ad revenue for game developers is not where they'd like it to be. A purely ad-supported model is a difficult thing to achieve on smartphones.

I think part of the problem is the screen size; when you put any kind of advertising on the screen you're taking away a substantial amount of usable space. Or you're taking away the whole screen for some period of time, and with mobile apps you usually have less time you want to spend on using an app than when you're sitting at a desk.

Of course, another big issue for iAds is that Apple wanted you to throw at least $1 million at a campaign... which certainly excludes a lot of potential advertisers. Apple might be open to lowering that threshold in order to try and bring in more advertisers. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

Meanwhile, game developers are likely to keep exploring in-app purchasing as a revenue model, since that seems to go over really, really well -- since it accounts for more than half of App revenue overall.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nintendo Wouldn't Do This

I guess Sunday is wacky posting day. This is a very clever video, and a game that looks like a hoot and a half... one that Nintendo would never do. If you enjoyed yourself some Super Mario action once upon a time, and you liked The Godfather, you'll get a laugh out of this.

Video Games & Great Literature, Together

NES games... don't you miss them?
Well, this is just too weird not to pass along: The Great Gatsby as an NES game. You can read the real origin story here, and be on the lookout for Waiting For Godot: The Game.

Who says videogames can't be art?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure Books Find New Life

My interactive novel... I still have a dozen copies.
A very nice article recounting the history of the Choose Your Own Adventure books can be found here. I was not aware of the story behind these books; I was much more aware of interactive fiction in the game industry. TSR had a number of them, the Lone Wolf series was a classic, and of course the solo adventures from Flying Buffalo were a wonderful example of how to do it right. I even wrote an interactive novel (choosing a path, yes, but with dice rolls) for Iron Crown Enterprises, Treason at Helm's Deep (yes, it was set in Middle Earth).

The interesting part is that both of the creators of CYA books (who are no longer on speaking terms) are both trying to bring these back to life, one as Apps and the other actually reprinting the books.

Seems to me that ebooks are a perfect venue for CYA books, especially if you can jump right to the page you want. No flipping required! It's another interesting possibility for the classic pen-and-paper RPG to explore, and one that shouldn't cost a lot to develop. Interactive ebooks could be a useful marketing tool to spread the word about your RPG setting, and one that makes money in its own right. Marketing that makes money directly is my favorite kind of marketing...

Digital Distribution: Will Games Face The Music?

Will games follow a similar path?
The chart above, reproduced from Silicon Alley Insider, shows the progression of the music industry through time with different formats, and how digital distribution has taken over. But the sales overall have dropped, which may be a reflection of how piracy affected sales, or perhaps it just says something about the quality of popular music in recent years. Perhaps it reflects the difference between being forced to buy an entire album to get one or two tracks you like, and the ability to just buy those tracks.

Digital distribution of products is in the process of transforming the book publishing industry, as ebook sales continue their meteoric rise and authors discover they may not really need a publisher after all. Digital distribution now accounts for about 25% of EA's revenue, and it's growing rapidly.

The missing factor is just how much this may change game development in the future. THQ has already said they will try releasing a new title for a lower price, seeking to make up the lost profit by selling DLC. I expect this model to catch on for several reasons; it can lower the cost and time for developing titles, and lower the risk, too.

The trend is clear for all sorts of media: Digital distribution is the future. Companies that fail to make the shift fast enough risk being left behind.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sony's Gaming Tablet

This sketch purports to show how Sony's tablet might look, but I don't really get it.
Sony's really stepping up their game, after spending the last few years trying to revamp the corporate structure. We'll get to see just how successful this effort is in the next year or two. Apparently they have decided to cover all their bets in the gaming hardware category. They've got the PS3, so the game console spot is covered. The PSP has really done very well, but more in Japan than in the USA, and it's time for a new handheld gaming device if they expect to get revenue from that market. So the NGP is scheduled for shipment later this year, and it seems like a very powerful handheld gaming device.

Perhaps surprisingly, Sony has said they will also keep the PSP around, too, perhaps to keep the lower-priced end of the market covered. That's really not such a bad idea, if they can keep software development going for it. I'd suggest revitalizing with an additional price reduction, and some new software to help it play music and video. Open up development more, and create a zippy online store for purchasing all sorts of content. If you can make it easy to develop and publish new PSP software, the device will keep selling.

Ah, but this strategy ignores the mobile phones, so what will Sony do about that? The Experia, also known as the Playstation Phone, is Sony Ericsson's entry there: A powerful Android phone with full access to the new Playstation Suite.

So what's left? Why, a dedicated Playstation Tablet... an Android device optimized for playing games. It would come preloaded with some Playstation games and Sony's Qriocity (music, games, and media on demand) service. No word on the specs yet, but you can probably bet on a dual-core processor and some nice graphics on a 9.4 inch screen.

The sketch shows an impression of how it might look... I guess that's the backside, showing a thick curve you can use to hold onto it more easily than a standard tablet. Be nice if that was a flexible cover... but we'll see when Sony gets more formal about the release. Right now, it's just being floated to get some initial response.

I believe tablets are going to be a huge market segment, so there should certainly be room for one optimized for gaming, if the price is right. Ah, the price... the ugly reality that can shatter dreams. Let's hope Sony comes up with a good price point.

Once again, game developers may have yet another platform to develop for...

January Game Sales Down 5%

It may be 3D, but the sales line is still pointing down.
Some NPD figures for January are in, and after the boosted November and December numbers (thanks to Kinect and Move, primarily) the traditional console game business is back where it's been the past couple of years: the basement. Overall sales are down 5% over last year, with hardware down 8% and software down 5%... accessory sales were strong enough to make the overall decline only 5%.

Of course, NPD tries to polish up this news by referring to the sales they don't track (digital distribution, used games, subscriptions, mobile, in-game purchasing) and inferring that there may be positive news there. True enough, but that doesn't help the traditional publishers who aren't investing in those areas.

As more and more of the industry revenue heads off the radar, it will be interesting to see how these data-gathering firms respond. Are they trying to get private companies to disclose revenue numbers for various categories? I wish them luck in that. All of us would sure like to know more about sales numbers for games, especially the newer types where there's little sales history to draw on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cross-Platform Game Development Made Easy?

This announcement caught my eye: It's for Game Closure, a cross-platform SDK that lets you create a game in HTML 6 and Javascript that runs on Facebook, iOS, Android, and in any browser without plugins. They claim to have a compiler that uses OpenGL and other APIs to get solid performance out of these games.

Now, this may or may not be worthwhile for games that have high performance requirements. But for games that really aren't based around pushing pixels as fast as possible, writing one game and having it be ready to ship on Facebook, iOS, Android an web browsers is a pretty cool idea.

Time-to-market is an important factor, and one of the most important things about mobile and social games is that they are not a singular event, launched and never touched again. Instead, these games are a process; you put something out there, you gather data from users (harvested automatically by the analytics you embed), you analyze the data, make changes to the game, and see what the effects are. Did it work? Great, keep it. Not so good? Change it.

Given that model, being able to get a game out quickly is important. It establishes your brand, you build an audience, you make some money... and you get the data you need to improve it.

A New Game Development Model

If only sales rose as fast as game development costs.
Electronic game development has undergone many changes over the years since the early years when a lone programmer could create a game, put it in a zip-lock bag and bring it to a store to sell. The lone programmer became a team that sometimes can be over a hundred people, and budgets are routinely in the tens of millions and occasionally go over $100 million... and that's before you count marketing costs, and the cost of manufacturing and shipping out games.

Now we've come full circle, in a way, and once again a lone person can create a game for a computer, or a smartphone, or even a console. The huge up-front costs of distribution have largely disappeared, and the need for a dedicated sales force has too. Sure, many games are still done that way... but there have been a lot of new games being created by individuals and small teams for all platforms, and some have seen big successes.

Which is perhaps why a long-time industry veteran, Peter Oliphant, is proposing a new way to structure a company to produce games. He's trying to put the focus on the creators of the game, not on the company. It's a fascinating concept (based on how the movie and comics business structure projects), and worth your time if you're interested in developing games:

Borders Declares Bankruptcy, Offers Ebook Publishing

Expect signs like this at many of your local Borders stores.
Borders is declaring bankruptcy, but that hasn't stopped them from pushing their new ebook publishing "service" for authors.

Michael Stackpole, a best-selling fiction author and self-publishing guru, has an exquisite takedown of Border's offering here. It's worth a read... the gist of the matter is that Borders is offering to take 25% of your ebook sales for merely preparing your ebook for publication and then offering it to various ebook publishers. Pretty much something you can do yourself, or hire someone to do for a flat fee. It's your classic all-around bad deal, and I fear it's not the last one we'll see offered to authors unsure of how to proceed into the ebook publishing realm.

Of course, with Borders entering bankruptcy, there's the question of whether you'd actually ever see any of your royalties. All in all, this is one to avoid.

What will happen to Borders? I think a merger with B&N is a strong possibility. In any event there will be many fewer retail bookstores around, and many publishers will have taken a hit from the books they shipped to Borders that were never paid for. It's all going to drive business to the remaining stores, and even more strongly boost the burgeoning ebook market.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Smurfs Encounter Bad Apple

Smurfberry pusher.
Sounds like Apple isn't too happy about Capcom's The Smurf's Village iOS title, which has been occupying the #1 slot for a while now. The issue is smurfberries... and kids buying hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of them, without understanding that they are spending their parent's money. Oops. So Apple is calling Capcom on the carpet, in what must be some uncomfortable conversations. Apple may end up changing their 15-minute window where you don't have to re-enter your password to authorize purchases. Which means Capcom may be making life more difficult for people who don't even know their app exists. Good one, guys.

No official word from Capcom about this... I hope they don't plan to use the "We only do it for adult power users" defense again. Will they make changes to the game? I doubt it... not even if Apple says they'll hold their breath until they turn blue...

Update: Capcom says they haven't heard any complaints from Apple. Well, if indeed they haven't, perhaps they should...

Google's Subscription Plan Plus

Google's new plan... no frills on the logo, at least.
It didn't take long for Google to respond to Apple's new subscription plan; one day, in fact. Google announced their One Pass system yesterday, and it looks like a direct shot at Apple's plan. Apple's been gathering some criticism for their plan for several reasons: Publishers don't like having to give up 30% of their subscription revenue, and they want all the customer data (Apple allows the customer to decide whether or not to give that data to the publisher). Streaming music services are complaining about the 30% cut because they don't have that much margin to give up; effectively Apple's plan means they can't offer their services. (Gee, I wonder if Apple's rumored new streaming music subscription plan might have something to do with this?)

Google now steps in with a streamlined plan that offers a very light footprint, both technically and financially. Google promises that it's easy to implement and doesn't weigh down your web site or application, while the financial cut is rumored to be only 10% instead of 30%. Plus, with Google's One Pass you can offer all sorts of payment plans:

"Publishers have control over how users can pay to access content and set their own prices. They can sell subscriptions of any length with auto-renewal, day passes (or other durations), individual articles or multiple-issue packages. Google One Pass also enables metered models, where a publisher can provide some content or a certain number of visits for free, but can charge frequent visitors or those interested in premium content based on the business model that the publisher prefers. It also allows publishers to grant access to existing subscribers through a coupon-based system — so it is easy to give full online access to current customers. Publishers can give their customers codes verifying their subscription status, or can seamlessly offer content to existing subscribers via solutions enabled by Google One Pass."

So the battle is joined. Android tablets and phones will have a competing option to Apple's. Better still, Google's One Pass works on web sites as well, offering a comprehensive solution. It's not clear if this takes in micropayments as PayPal's plan does; Google intends it to be used for subscriptions, but it's flexible enough to handle other types of content. Read more about it here

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

iPhone 5 Vs. iPhone Nano

What the iPhone Nano might look like.
While we've all been speculating about the iPhone 5, it looks like Apple has another idea gestating: a smaller, less expensive iPhone, at least according to the Wall Street Journal, which has been very accurate in the past. This sounds like a deliberate rumor float to counter all the various new Android and Windows Phone 7/Nokia news out there... the Big Dog lets out a low growl to keep its presence known.

Here's how the plans shape up: The iPhone 5 will have a 4" screen, but keep the overall form factor the same, and the new A5 dual core processor with about 4x the graphics power of the current A4/PowerVR combo. They might bump the RAM up, too, and maybe the storage space, but I'm inclined to doubt that because of what they plan for MobileMe: Making the $99 service free, and encouraging people to store stuff there instead of locally on their phone. (Though given how difficult bandwidth can be to find and maintain, I don't know about this idea.)

The iPhone Nano will be about half the size, with an edge-to-edge screen, and a significantly lower price point. The current iPhone 4 will probably get a lower price point, and maybe push the 3GS off into the old products graveyard. I expect the iPhone Nano will probably have similar specs to the iPhone 4.

The main idea here is that Apple needs to get a sexy lower-cost iPhone out there to counter the hordes of less expensive smartphones on the way (as I discussed earlier, the $99 smartphone sans contract will happen this year sometime; you can already get a $149 model).

What does all this mean? It means Apple is serious about not just maintaining its iPhone sales, but growing them even in the face of enhanced competition. The time is certainly right for Apple to move to the lower end. This mirrors their successful strategy with the iPod, which once was a single model... now it covers a range of form factors and prices and capabilities. Expect the iPhone line to grow the same way, especially when you consider it's about 40% of Apple's total sales. They're not going to stop pushing on that any time soon.

Expect Apple to continue selling a lot of iPhones... I expect they will move close to 100 million this year. Whoosh.

For developers, though, it's yet one more form factor to worry about, and something else to test on. And  you'll have to think about continuing to support the A4, as well as the A5 going forward. Here's the opportunity ahead, game developers" Be the first on your block to support the A5 with an awesome A5-only title, and garner enhanced press and some good cross-marketing for other titles.

Apple Subscriptions, Finally?

The future of magazines and newspapers may finally be arriving.
Here's some late-breaking news: Apple has finally agreed to allow subscriptions through iTunes. It looks like it's not everything publishers were looking for (they want complete info on subscribers), and the news is so new reactions haven't come in yet. But it looks promising. This has been the biggest hangup in getting magazines onto the iPad... each issue had to be purchased individually. Which also meant you couldn't connect the iPad editions to the print editions, nor offer a combination subscription.

This should open up a new era of magazine development. How long until Google gets something like this? I hope not long... it's going to be a huge reason to get a tablet, I'm thinking. And the gold rush commences...

Playstation Phone Vs. iPhone vs. NGP

The Playstation Phone looks cool, but will it sell?
The Playstation Phone is finally on its way, and the specs have been revealed. Here are the details, taken from Ars Technica's article:

The system features a four-inch capacitive multi-touch screen running at 480 by 854 resolution, and you'll be able to play 3D games for an estimated five and a half hours. There will be both black and white hardware at launch. Here are the rest of the specifications:
  • Size: 119 x 62 x 16 mm
  • Weight: 175 grams
  • Phone memory: 400 MB
  • Memory card support: microSD™, up to 32 GB
  • Memory card included: 8GB microSD™
  • Operating system: Google™ Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • Processor: 1 GHz Scorpion ARMv7

There will be a number of games included with the phone, such as The Sims 3, Asphalt Adrenaline 6, Bruce Lee, Star Battalion, and Tetris. Games will be delivered through the Android Marketplace, but there's no word yet on pricing. The phone itself should be available from Verizon this spring.

How does this stack up against the iPhone? Pretty well, I'd have to say, at least against the iPhone 4. The nod probably goes to the Playstation Phone for its processor power and dedicated gaming controls, but the iPhone 4 has a better screen resolution and a huge library to start with, as well as a vast array of free and low-cost games.

The NGP is clearly a major step up in processing power and gaming utility, with its full array of sensors and dual analog joysticks (which look to be better than the Playstation Phone's flat versions). The bigger screen of the NGP, its backside touchscreen, shoulder buttons, and raw horsepower will give it a clear differentiation. Of course, the NGP lacks straightup phone capability, too, and is a larger form factor.

I see this as a good strategy for Sony. I'm not sure how many of the Playstation Phones they will sell (much depends on the pricing, and how good it is as a phone... though it seems like it will be a reasonable mid-to upper range Android phone). But this plan means it shouldn't impact the NGP, and along with Sony's stated intent to keep the PSP around, means they'll have a range of products to cover different price points and user profiles.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Search Optimization, The Evil Way

I'm shocked, shocked that SEO could occur here.
Interesting article here in the New York Times about search engine optimization, and how J.C. Penney ended up as the #1 destination on Google for a whole bunch of search terms over the holiday season. Kosher? Not so much... Google is now in the process of punishing them for gaming the system. Though Penney's claims they have no idea how such a thing could have happened. Uh-huh.

Basically, some unknown entity put links to J.C.Penney's site on thousands of other sites, for terms like "area rugs" and "cocktail dresses". I'm having a hard time figuring out why someone would do that unless Penney's was paying them to do it. Of course, it's just a coincidence that Penney's fired its SEO firm after this came to light.

SEO can be done a right way, and then there's the way that will get you pushed down in the Google rankings or even completely erased from Google search results (AKA "the death penalty"). If you're marketing something, you'd be well advised to know the differences... and how not to cross the line.

PayPal Opens Up Micropayments

PayPal's got some interesting developments for game developers and ebook authors: They've rolled out a micropayment system along with a digital goods payment system. Yes, you could sell digital goods and use PayPal before, but now you can take advantage of a special rate structure for charges at $12 or under. If you're selling a digital good (like, say, an ebook) PaypPal will charge you using their standard rates (30 cents per transaction plus 2.9% if your volume is under $3000 per month, lower percentages at higher volumes) or their new micropayment rates of 5 cents + 5%, whichever is lower.

Before, you obviously wouldn't want to sell digital goods for less than a dollar or so, because the fees would become to large. Now, a digital good costing $1 costs you only 10 cents in fees, which seems pretty reasonable. Heck, you can charge 50 cents for a short story and still do OK, losing only 7.5 cents for the transaction.

I'm not sure if consumers will go for this sort of nickel-and-diming for all types of content, though. It would be pretty annoying if you were looking at a web site and going to read interesting articles only to encounter little mini-paywalls. "Oh, you want to read that interview? 50 cents please."

Still, it would be an interesting experiment for a writer to charge separately for short stories, as well as a single price for a collection of short stories, and see what sells.

Of course, I think PayPal's really trying to get a piece of the in-game purchasing action, especially when you look at their examples of micropayments (which are all gaming-related). They have APIs to let you neatly integrate their micropayments into your game (browser or PC based). They are also touting the fact that they are enabling these micropayments for Android in-app purchasing. So if you've been waiting for Google to get around to in-app purchasing, you can go ahead now with PayPal's solution.

From my review of various payment processing methods, PayPal is the obvious choice for anyone at the low end of the sales volume (a few thousand a month or less). When you get into $5,000 or $10,000 a month volumes, then merchant card processing starts to look better since the transaction costs are cheaper (depends on you transaction size, too, though). But that does come at some added costs which have to be factored in. When your volume gets high enough you can afford some accounting help to sort this all out and deal with the ongoing issues of high sales volume (chargebacks and the like).

If you're a small developer or a writer looking to sell things on the Internet, PayPal is where is you should start off. And they've just made things even easier and less expensive, and opened up some new options.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sign of the Apocalypse: Cyborg Monopoly

Monopoly, complete with unnecessary electronics.
Hasbro has figured out that they can make more money selling a $50 version of Monopoly instead of a $15 version. How do you justify a $50 price tag? Why, by adding an electronic tower in the middle that watches your every move, keeps track of all the money, and rolls the dice for you. They've even changed the rules a bit to take advantage of the fact that all the random events are stored in the electronics. The tower uses infrared to track the pieces, and you "roll the dice" by cupping your hand over your piece. The tower then makes fake dice rolling noises and tells you the result.

I have nothing against a $50 board game; some of my favorites are in that category. But what I like to get for $50 is high quality: Nice components, amazing artwork on the board, miniatures, an array of visual and tactile sensations. This monstrosity seems to be the worst of both boardgames and electronic boardgames, rather than the best of each.

On the other hand, it did get a mention in the New York Times, and on this blog. Really, is this the best Toy Fair can produce? I hope not.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Star Wars MMO: WoW in Space?

Han looks... different, somehow.
From the DICE summit in Las Vegas, as reported on, come some interesting comments from BioWare's Greg Zeschuk. Money quote:

"It is a touchstone. It has established standards, it's established how you play an MMO. Every MMO that comes out, I play and look at it. And if they break any of the WoW rules, in my book that's pretty dumb," Zeschuk told the audience.

Now, that does sound somewhat like they intend to make a WoW clone in the Star Wars universe. Which might actually be sufficient to make some money, but perhaps not to the level that EA would like to see. I wonder if the market really needs another WoW, though. Part of the reason new MMO's have a hard time pulling players away from WoW is the group effect. Playing an MMO is fun with a group, and if you're in a guild and enjoying the experience it's not really fun to leave and go into another world. And how many people would want to pay $15 a month for an MMO... then add another $15 a month for another one? Which is all part of why F2P (free-to-play) MMOs are the fastest-growing segment of the market.

If you're looking to get players away from WoW, F2P seems like the only thing that gives a glimmer of hope. Sure, a hot license can help... though I don't know if Stars Wars is all that hot, or even warm, these days. I hope EA has a plan to transition to F2P... and they better have some sharp designers working on that if they hope to pull it off.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is supposed to be launching in the 4th quarter this year. I'm not sure whether it will soar like a Millennium Falcon, or blow up like a Death Star... but it will be interesting to watch. The results, either way, will surely affect the future of the MMORPG industry.

Microsoft & Nokia: Windows Phone 7 vs. Android vs. iOS

Now, it would be cool if they actually used this logo.
Two foundering giants have found each other and bonded in cross-cultural matrimony to create a serious competitor in the race for smartphone dominance. Nokia announced today that it's dropping its Symbian operating system over the next year or two, and going full speed ahead with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 as its smartphone OS of choice. Nokia plans to have its first device out by the end of this year, with high volume in 2012.

The partnership makes a great deal of sense for both parties. Nokia's been watching its smartphone market share crumble, despite rather nifty hardware. They could never get their act together on software and interface and an ecosystem. Evidence of this was their efforts to get the N-Gage going, which was just kind of sad.

Meanwhile, Microsoft desperately needs Windows Phone 7 to get moving.

Microsoft's smartphone marketshare continued to decline in the 4th quarter, dropping to 8.4 percent in December (down from 9.9 percent in September). Since Windows Phone 7's debut in September, Microsoft confirmed on January 26 that they have now sold 2 million phones.. .to retailers, not customers. Which works out to around 500,000 a month. That may sound like a lot, but not in a world where iPhones are being sold at a rate of 500,000 every 4 days, and Android phones are selling 500,000 every 3 days or even less.

Microsoft has been successful at getting a storefront up and running, and selling some games at least. The most successful game is Fruit Ninja, which has sold in the high tens of thousands at $3 apiece. Microsoft has been trying to attract developers and has just announced a program to buy Windows Phone 7 handsets without contracts, so developers can get a device to work with. Oddly, though, their price is higher than what you can get the phone for sans contract from AT&T. Brilliant.

What does all this mean for game developers? A significant new market supported by a company that actually has experience working with game developers. Nokia will be selling Windows Phone 7 handsets around the world; they are the largest cellphone maker in the world, after all. Nokia will find ways to hit all the market segments they can. Microsoft will take over the Ovi store duties, so  you won't have to worry about that. You can expect some pretty powerful hardware from Nokia, and now it will have a slick interface and some interesting cross-platform links (hello, Xbox Live!).

Windows Phone 7, at the stroke of a pen, has been transformed from a nice idea into a real competitor. Sure, it'll be well behind at the start, but by 2012 it should be significant enough to be worthy of strong support (and there's always some advantages to early support... heck, Fruit Ninja has shown that already). Now we'll have a three-way race between iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7. HP has a shot with WebOS, though they will need to line up some serious marketing and partnerships in order to get anywhere in a crowded field.

Which leaves poor old Blackberry to shrivel on the vine... unless maybe they get smart and partner up with someone... hello, HP? Have I got a deal for you...

Riot Sold To Tencent

I found it interesting that there were two big acquisitions last Friday, of nearly equal size, that were covered very differently in the press. One was the acquisition of The Huffington Post by AOL for $315 million; the other was the acquisition of Riot Games by Chinese Internet company Tencent for just north of $400 million. AOL's acquisition was headline news on the television and in the news papers, covered extensively with plenty of speculation about what this might mean to the future of the media business. Tencent's acquisition was covered by a few gaming websites, but otherwise caused nary a ripple.

Riot Games is the creator of the amazingly successful game League of Legends, a real-time strategy game that's free to play. They make money by selling you different skins for the characters, and additional characters that you can use in the game. This model has been a winner for them. Not that they've released any revenue numbers, but I deduce this from the fact that they have 100 job openings (!). Tencent was an early investor in Riot, and they are positioning this as just a further investment in Riot Games. Tencent plans to leave Riot Games management alone, according to their press release. Why mess with success?

Tencent's totem creature apparently lays gold coins.
If you're wondering who the heck Tencent is, this article has some interesting facts. The most interesting tidbit: If you ask the question "Who are the top three Internet companies by market capitalization?", the first two companies to leap to mind are Google (#1) and Amazon (#2). The third one... is Tencent. They apparently do very well in social networking in China (no doubt the Chinese ban on Facebook has something to do with this).

What's more interesting is what this acquisition might mean for the future. We'll no doubt see other games from Riot Games at some point, and they'll probably use the same basic F2P (free-to-play) monetization scheme that's been working so well. I'm sure Tencent, who has other game studios in the US, will be using F2P in their games as well. How long will it take big US publishers to figure this out? Well, it could take a while. Converting an existing game is not easy; you can't just take Call of Duty and make some weapons cost money, not without unforeseen consequences to gameplay. A whole lot of testing and tweaking would have to happen, and even then it's not clear that existing players would go for it in a console game. Then there's the sheer guts it would take for a game publisher who gets the majority of their revenue from physical goods sold in retail stores to take one of those franchises and try to get the same revenue without selling it in stores... or without pissing off the retailers they depend on.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apple TV Games On The Way?

Hopefully the games will look better than this mockup.
The code doesn't lie, folks. And the clues are buried in the latest firmware release from Apple, showing references to online gaming, a controller, and a storefront. (See the link for details.) Google has at least come out in the open, with talks scheduled at GDC about games for smart TVs.

When might this occur? As far as Apple goes, it could be any time. Logically they want to see it well in place before the holiday shopping season, so you might expect it to come this summer... maybe September. It might require a new release of Apple TV for the hardware to really support the kind of games you'd want to see. Maybe there would be more storage space, or storage options.

Google TV is undergoing a rethinking right now, and the implication is the hardware will be revised along with the software. Again, release before the holidays would seem like a bright idea, if the engineers can handle it.

GDC should be a good place to find out rumors. Apple and Google should be there looking to gain support from key developers.

In-App Purchasing Boosts Profits, Burns Parents

I think Gargamel must have designed this scheme to have kids rob their parents.
The in-app purchasing boom that has taken the App Store by storm continues to cause problems with parents. Apple's default 15-minute window for the iTunes password means that if you hand your iPhone or iPad to a child, they can make in-app purchases without entering the password if they do it within 15 minutes after you entered it. And if they keep doing it, or if they happen to know the password (or get an older sibling to use the password)... you can end up with $1400 in smurfberry charges on your credit card, like this mother of a second-grader.

It does bring to mind the ringtone boom, when so many unscrupulous vendors were getting people to buy subscriptions services when they just wanted a little ringtone. It eventually led to the downfall of the ringtone business.

The game industry should be concerned about what children's games with in-app purchases could be doing to the industry's image. And to the image of in-app purchasing, and the perception of game companies. Yes, perhaps Apple should be making the parental controls more obvious or even the default. Perhaps there should be more oversight by Apple on children's games, and requiring them to make in-app purchasing more difficult or more under the control of parents by default. And perhaps Google should be taking notes before in-app purchasing enters the Android market.

Saying that "Oh, it's just a few games that have a problem" or "It's only some kids games, not MY games" is like thinking having a No Peeing section in a swimming pool means that the whole pool will be kept clean no matter what somebody does in some corner. All game developers are in the pool together, and we should make sure nobody's smurfing things up.

TouchPad Vs. iPad: Real Competition?

The HP TouchPad.
HP has introduced new WebOS devices, including an interesting tablet, the TouchPad. It looks a lot like an iPad, but with snappier specs: 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, a front-facing camera... it's supposed to be shipping sometime this summer. No doubt the price will be announced around then, too, giving HP ample time to figure out what Apple's doing and decide on their price in response.

Unlike Motorola, who just went ahead and slapped an $800 price tag on the Xoom, thereby consigning it to market irrelevance.

Apple's probably going to release the iPad 2 well before the TouchPad arrives, and it will probably be reasonably comparable with TouchPad's hardware specs. I'd expect it to be introduced at the current iPad price points, so that's really the price points that HP should be trying to hit. We're going to have to wait for HP to announce its price, no doubt until after they have more information about what Apple's doing.

The real key feature, though, is the software. The iPad already has thousands of titles written specifically for it, and hundreds of thousands when you count iPhone apps that can run on it. HP has lined up some of the usual suspects for WebOS, such as Skype. But they're going to have to work hard to get developers to support yet another platform.

Which is why, no doubt, they hired former Apple developer relations VP Richard Kerris to run their developer relations program. Kerris was most recently CTO at Lucasfilm, so he knows his way around technology. He's got his work cut out for him. Which makes it surprising that I don't see HP on the list of exhibitors at the upcoming GDC; Google's there, and Blackberry, but no HP. (Apple? They know they're the big dog everyone has to support if you're in the mobile space, so why waste their $60 billion cash hoard?) Seems like someone should tell HP that games are the number one application on smartphones. If you can attract game developers, other developers should follow.

Interestingly, HP did score one big victory: They inked a deal with Time to get Time, Sports Illustrated, People and other magazines to the TouchPad, enabling subscriptions. Which is something Apple has been unwilling to do, and it's a missed opportunity for them. Perhaps they'll be more inclined to make concessions to magazine publishers before they get completely left behind. One other interesting feature: A subscription to the regular magazine will get you access to the TouchPad edition as well. Now there's a useful feature, especially when you look at paying $3.99 for each edition of a magazine on the iPad.

For now, it's too early to say whether the TouchPad has a shot in the marketplace. Let's see what the price is, and how big a push HP intends to make. The other WebOS products they introduced today were the Pre 3 and the Veer, two smartphones that look quite interesting and useful (the Veer is the fisrt small form factor smartphone, which may well be appealing to the right market segment). HP's going to have to spend some serious money on marketing if they want to get people's attention. Good luck! More competition means better products at better prices, and consumers win.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cheap Androids Are Here

If you were waiting for smartphones to get cheap enough before they started to really take over the market, the wait is over. You can now get the LG Optimus V, a decent enough Android smartphone will all of the basic features  (3G, WiFi, touchscreen, Android apps, web browsing) for $149. That's the total price; no long-term contract. You can get monthly plans with unlimited broadband from Virgin Mobile for $25 per month with a limited amount of minutes.

This means we'll probably see no-contract smartphones for $99 this year. At that price, expect to see a huge wave of adoptions. Only the Luddites will hang onto their dumbphones. And all of those users will be looking for apps... especially games. And music, and e-books, and video... digital content in hordes.

Which begs the question: How do RIM and Nokia maintain any kind of market share in such an environment? At what point do they change course to stem the rapidly retreating market share? When does reality overcome stubbornness?

Perhaps Nokia will use its new CEO, freshly hired away from Microsoft, to cut a deal to adopt Windows Phone 7. Or maybe RIM will adopt Android before the Blackberry becomes a symbol of an executive mired in the past. (I still don't see what the downside is to RIM taking on Android... it's not like they have to pay a license fee. Their differentiator would still be their bulletproof email system. But RIM has to decide what business they are in... phone OS sales? hardware? Or service contracts... I bet I know where the most profit comes from.)

I wonder how long it will be before we see the iPhone on other carriers besides Verizon...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Smartphones Outsell PCs

The 4th quarter of 2010 marked a historic milestone: Smartphones outsold PCs for the first time, 100.9 million units to 92.1 million units. The PC will never catch up... at least not unless they start including tablet numbers in the PC totals.

For game developers, this is a good thing. It's not like PCs have stopped selling, but smartphone sales are growing rapidly. Smartphones offer a reasonable gaming environment that continues to get better over time, and most importantly it doesn't require a huge startup cost in development hardware. Or navigating a big bureaucracy to get products published. The biggest hurdle is marketing, and at least that's all under the control of the developer.

OnLive Goes Android

OnLive is looking to spread itself far and wide, it seems. They've just gotten a $40 million dollar investment from HTC, the Taiwanese titan that's been making some killer Android phones. This could be an interesting move if it brings streaming games onto Android phones, and that's what HTC is looking for. First OnLive has cut a deal to get into Vizio TVs, now getting into smartphones. If they can't use this to leverage some more content deals with game publishers, they should just give up.

Of course, there are many practical issues to deal with when considering games being streamed onto smartphones. It's not clear at all how OnLive will deal with them. First off is bandwidth; OnLive demands a pretty healthy bandwidth for its service through a TV set, but then again that's at high resolution. With a phone screen they should be able to dial it back to a lower bandwidth requirement... but how will that compare to 3G? Will it require 4G?

Second, the control requirements will mean some degree of workaround. Phones won't have joysticks, analog or otherwise, nor control buttons or D-pads. Mapping those onto a small touchscreen is possible, but certainly not optimal or practical for many games. Will they need to provide some kind of Bluetooth accessory to handle this?

Finally, is this going to be something just for HTC phones? Will it require additional hardware, or is it just a software add-on that can be updated for existing phones that meet the specs? And what kind of pricing will this have?

Some of these answers may emerge at GDC. Until they do, it's hard to say what impact this will or will not have. Potentially, though, it could allow big publishers to have some games seen on smartphones that might otherwise never make it there.

NGP Vs iPhone 5: How Apple Can Win

Sony's NGP has set a high mark for hardware, with its quad-core processor, 5" OLED touchscreen, dual analog controls, and a full sensor array. It certainly bests the current crop of smartphones, even the latest dual-core Android phones. The NGP is clearly a hard-core gaming machine. But how does it stack up against an iPhone 4? And What about the iPhone 5 rumored to be arriving this summer?

Against the iPhone 4 the NGP has clearly superior processing power. The sensor array is similar, though the NGP wins extra points for having a backside touchscreen. The dual analog controls and buttons of the NGP will bea a familiar and easy interface for gamers, clearly superior to the iPhone's reliance on its multitouch screen. True, some iPhone games have used the screen very cleverly (such as Infinity Blade), but any NGP game could duplicate any iPhone interface tricks. Compared to the current iPhone, the NGP is a far better gaming platform for traditional games. The iPhone's advantage right now lies in its vast library of free or inexpensive games. The NGP will likely never get such a huge array of games, not even if Sony were to make developing and publishing as easy on the NGP as it is on iOS. (Which would be a fine idea, actually, but it may be hard for Sony to go that far from their current business model.)

What about the iPhone 5? How will it compare to the NGP? All we know right now is rumor, but that's enough to give us some interesting comparisons. The iPhone 5 is rumored to use Apple's new A5 chip, which uses a dual core ARM A9 processor and a next-gen PowerVR GPU. This is rumored to have 4 or 5 times the graphics processing ability of the current iPhone, which is a mighty leap. It's still not enough to get it to the quad-core NGP level, though. I would expect the iPhone 5 to have about the same size as the current iPhone, which means the screen can't really be much larger. I'd expect the screen to remain unchanged from the current one. The iPhone 5 will probably have more RAM in its base configurations than the iPhone 4, but that shouldn't make a big difference to most games. I can't see any way the iPhone 5 would have any sort of external gaming control; Apple's designing this to be a generally useful device, not one specific to gaming.

So, the bottom line is that the NGP is well positioned to compete against the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 5 as well. It won't be until an iPhone 6 or 7 that the raw horsepower of the NGP is beaten by a phone.

That doesn't mean Apple can't compete against the NGP; it will do very well, thank you. Apple should try to encourage a few high-profile exclusive gaming titles for the iPhone. Apple has $60 billion in cash in the bank; they can afford to pick up any license or exclusive they want, and it would be a small part of their marketing budget.

Apple will continue to have a far bigger selection of games than the NGP, and it should continue to encourage that and market it heavily. Apple should push its games that don't appear on the NGP, and especially ones that provide a very different gaming experience. The NGP will likely have its initial games targeted at hardcore gamers; Apple should push its alternative gaming types.

Finally, Apple can push its utility as a non-gaming device, which the NGP will likely avoid. If the iPhone 5 could handle browser-based games it would be an amazing feature... but thanks to Flash, that seems unlikely.

Still, I expect that while the NGP will be a core gaming monster, Apple will notice no effect on their sales at all, with a little bit of effort.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tips For Maximizing App Revenue

Making money from iOS or Android games is not easy, and there are several different ways developers are achieving that goal. This article has some good advice on ways to make advertising pay, which is especially relevant for Android games.

Games are good at generating clicks, but you can boost that by doing frequent updates and by allowing your game to share info with Facebook and Twitter. Those are great marketing channels for getting friends involved with games... just ask Zynga.

Motorola's Xoom Falls Flat

I guess Xoom refers to the price.
Talk about disappointment... Motorola's Xoom tablet seemed like the first iPad competitor that would provide a worthy challenge to the market leader. The Xoom will have Android 3.0, the first version actually designed for tablets, plus some really powerful hardware: a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, a front- and rear-facing camera, a good quality 10.1" screen and Nvidia graphics. The only thing left out of the CES announcement was the price, and now we see that in a Best Buy ad: $799.99.

Which might be reasonable, if the iPad didn't start at $499.

But, wait, it gets better. Apparently the Wi-Fi connectivity on the Xoom isn't enabled unless you buy at least 1 month of a data plan with Verizon. Now, this model is a 3G beast, so apparently Motorola and Verizon don't want you to shun the 3G feature until you've tried it out... for $25. Perhaps there will be a WiFi only version at some point, but it's yet to be seen.

Yes, the specs are beefier than the iPad. Of course, the iPad 2 seems likely to be introduced soon, and when that happens it'll probably be at the current iPad price points (while the old iPad gets even cheaper). Which will make the Xoom look really lame, at least pricewise. Which is something Apple loves to do.

Motorola, I know you've got bills to pay and all, but you could at least have introduced a WiFi only version of the Xoom at something approximating a low-end iPad price.All you've done with this is make the iPad look even more attractive; before its Android tablet competition was generally lower priced, and the iPad was more expensive.

Sigh. Well, sooner or later someone will introduce an Android tablet to compete with the iPad. I guess it's later. Not that I hate iPads, mind you, but when there's serious competition Apple will get more aggressive with pricing and features, and that benefits everyone.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tablet Sales For 2011: Huge

Motorola's Xoom tablet running Android 3.0 looks to be a winner.
Apple's iPad brought the long-mythical tablet market to life in 2010, selling over 15 million units. Some competition showed up late in the year: Android-based tablets, running a version of Android designed around smartphone usage. None of them really took off, which was not surprising given the compromises made to get them to market quickly. Now the situation is different: Over 40 tablets were shown at CES, most of them based on Android 3.0, the new version of Android designed specifically for use with tablets.

The forecast for tablet sales in 2011 is somewhere around 55 million, with total sales expected to hit over 200 million in 2014. Apple's share of sales next year will be about 36 million units. So the total size of the tablet market in 2011 will be somewhere over 70 million, counting those iPads and Android tablets already sold. That's a pretty reasonable market... more than the number of PSP's sold, for instance. About half the number of Nintendo DS units sold so far.

But tablets aren't just from Apple and Android; HP will be introducing its new line of WebOS tablets and phones, based on their purchase of Palm. The operating system was pretty slick, and with HP's size behind it they have a chance.

And then there's Microsoft... poor guys, they just can't seem to get on board these trends fast enough. They're working on a new version of Windows that will run on ARM chips, and supposedly Windows 8 will be able to run more nicely on a tablet... if you really are interested in running Windows on a tablet. Maybe they'll instead scale up Windows Phone 7 for tablets, though that has just seemed to lie there despite positive reviews. If Microsoft is going to get serious about these markets, shouldn't they be spending some serious dough on marketing? You'd think so.

I haven't even touched on dedicated e-reader sales for 2011... which will probably be upwards of 20 million units. Between tablets, e-readers, and smartphones, there will be many ways for people to read e-books. The e-book market will continue to grow rapidly.

Developers who have titles soon for Android 3.0 tablets will likely see solid sales, as new buyers look for something that will show off their new toy. Games will no doubt continue to be one of the top product categories for tablets. Gaming is going to be in even more places than ever before... do you have a plan for this?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2011: The Year Android Takes Over

If you have been watching over the past year, you've seen Android making enormous strides. Here's the numbers to really drive that home: Android has just displaced Nokia as the top smartphone seller, as of the December quarter. Android sold 32.9 million handsets in three months versus Nokia's 31 million. Not bad when you consider that the year before Android had about 4 million handsets sold in that time. Zoom. The trend for 2011 is looking even healthier; you can expect somewhere north of 150 million Android phones to be sold this year.

Which is a great market... if the market is a good one. Which it hasn't been, to this point. The Android Market has lacked many of the basic tools for finding and promoting apps, even the relatively crappy ones the iTunes store offers. Well, Google's finally had a press conference, and guess what: The Android Market finally gets a web store. This is going to really help move Android Apps, because up until now there has not been one official place where you could see information about all apps. Individual developers would have to rely on their web pages, which is just not as good as getting traffic through the place you know every Android user will venture.

Not only that, Android will finally get in-app purchasing, the feature that's now accounting for half the revenue in the iPhone market. Hopefully this and other features should start to narrow the gap between iOS and Android app revenue for developers. Heck, even Google has not been happy with the Android Market's purchase rates.

The news just gets better for Android, as Google showed off their new Android 3.0 Honeycomb release, which has (finally) been designed to work and play well with a tablet form factor. Here's the short review: Android 3.0 for tablets rocks. The consensus seems to be it's the first serious iPad competition, at least when looking at a Motorola Xoom tablet running Honeycomb. After a whole bunch of lame tablet efforts, we will finally see an Android tablet worthy to compete with the iPad.

Which just means that the iPad 2 announcement must be coming up soon. Nothing seems to delight Apple more than to have their competitor show their hand, then lay down theirs and take the pot. I expect Apple will announce the iPad 2 in the next month or two, and it will put them firmly in the leadership position. Which just means that Android tablets will have to be reasonably priced to compete, which is good for everybody (since it will help hold Apple's prices down, too).

That's not even the end of the Android news: If anyone had any doubts that Google TV would eventually sell games, the fact that there's a Google seminar about games on Smart TVs at the upcoming GDC should dispel any doubts. I'm sure the current lame implementations of Google TV will seriously improve this year, and hopefully Apple has been working on making Apple TV better, too. This is the year console games need to step up their efforts, because some serious competition is coming.

Related to that, more Flash developers are looking to develop Android games, according to this report. Notably, only 5% of the Flash developers they surveyed make more than $500 a month from their games. No wonder 52% of them plan to make Android games this year.

Overall, it looks like a good year for Android. Not so good for Nokia and RIM, who continue to wander aimlessly in search of strategy that works. (Note to RIM: Producing a tablet, even a pretty cool one like the Playbook, that requires a Blackberry with it in order to access email, means you'll never sell one to someone who isn't already a Blackberry owner. Aren't you interested in expanding your market?) And poor Microsoft, whose Windows Phone 7 is out there with no one paying attention... and HP, whose WebOS is about to be re-introduced... will they find a place in the market?

2011 is going to be a very interesting year.