Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Playbook

RIM has a need for speed in bringing this to market... time's a-wastin'.
With a name like that, it has to be for games... right? And yet it's from RIM, makers of the Blackberry. Who are busily losing market share as Android and iOS eat their lunch. But they were at GDC, with a large booth, trying to entice developers to create games for the Playbook.

I got my hands on a Playbook at the show, and it was impressive. Kind of small, compared to an iPad, but zippy game performance with high-quality graphics (at least, Need For Speed looked good and played well). True multitasking with no apparent slowdown, although when asked about battery life (especially with all sorts of apps running) the rep was suddenly extremely vague.

They were trying hard, though, offering a free Playbook if you could get your app up and running before March 15th. Seems like a pretty short time frame even if you already had an app done for iOS or Android... but perhaps they have some amazing development tools.

Still no announcement of price point or release date, and that's why it's hard to judge how well the Playbook might do. If it's $399... it could do well. At $699, the iPad 2 looks like a far better deal. Hanging over the whole thing, though, is the shadow of the development environment. Will developers really want to spend time and effort on yet another platform, when iOS and Android already have such a large base?

Which is where this story takes an interesting twist... according to this rumor from Bloomberg via TechCrunch, the Playbook will run Android apps. More than that, supposedly they are porting their Blackberry Messenger to Android (that's the crown jewels of RIM's empire).

Seems to me if RIM did this, the battle for developers would be over... who would develop specifically for Blackberry when they could get it just by doing an Android app? Nobody, especially when you hear just how messed up their developer program is (it's worth a read). Of course, if RIM still insists that the Playbook can't do email without being connected to a Blackberry, this is all academic. No one except a Blackberry owner will even consider getting a Playbook, and I bet damn few Blackberry owners would buy a crippled device.

Still, RIM is working hard to get games on the Playbook. Which is puzzling, unless they really feel they can sell it to everyone, not just Blackberry owners. Look, Blackberry is dying; their hardware just isn't competitive with iPhones or Android phones. Maybe the email is a little better, but that's not enough to overcome all the other advantages. Now RIM has to decide if they are a hardware company or a software company, and step up their game. Half-measures won't cut it when you're facing an existential threat, which is the situation they are in if you look at their market share numbers over the past year. Nokia realized they had to do something dramatic, and they did just that by embracing Windows Phone 7. RIM either needs to pull dramatically better hardware out of nowhere, or team up with a winner. Android seems like the obvious choice; RIM could embrace Android and say "We have the very best phone for business, and tablets for business or fun, too."

But time grows short for them. If we don't see something dramatic from RIM this year, I think it will be too late.

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