Apple denies paying EA to delay Plants vs. Zombies 2 on Android


Plants vs Zombies 2

Apple paid EA a “truckload of money” to delay the Android version of Plants vs Zombies 2 according to Frank Gibeau, head of EA Labels, reports gaming site Giant Bomb.

With the exception of China, Plants vs Zombies 2 has not launched on Android yet — the fact that the game is iOS-only is a big win for Apple.

“Apple gave us a truckload of money to delay the Android version [of Plants vs Zombies 2],” said Frank Gibeau, head of EA Labels.

Giant Bomb confirmed the quote with several sources who watched the presentation today.

 

It is unclear what a “truckload of money” means, and we have no further details on the apparent agreement between Apple and EA.

Apple, for its part, categorically denies the report, saying that no money was exchanged. It’s also possible that there was some sort of marketing agreement between the companies where the app was launched on iOS first in exchange for prominent placement on the App Store.

If the report is accurate, it would be the first known instance of Apple paying developers outside of the standard App Store revenue and shows how important AAA-level games are to the App Store. It also shows how important Apple is to the developers of AAA titles, with the App Store on par with other consoles with regards to exclusive launches. Apple has a tendency to show favoritism with regards to App Store placement and promotions to developers that release exclusively on iOS.

Plants vs Zombies 2 is a free download for the iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link]

 

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Game devs ditching mobile in favor of PC, console?


“I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole” – we chat with several devs about the challenging mobile market.

The mobile and tablet market has grown tremendously in the last several years. The number of apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play is downright mind boggling, and if you’re an app developer… well, best of luck to you. As the new survey from App Developer Conference organizers revealed this week, piracy and discoverability are making it incredibly hard to succeed. Nearly half of the app developers surveyed made no profit at all.

So the question has to be asked: after years of flocking to mobile, are developers actually retreating to the PC and console space? Devs GamesIndustry International spoke with were torn on this, but none would deny the massive challenges of developing apps today.

“I speak with lots of mobile devs regularly and most are moving away or at least thinking of it, either to other platforms or out of the trade completely,” Paul Johnson, managing director and co-founder of Rubicon, told us. “Having to give your game away for 69 cents a throw (after Apple’s and Google’s cut) and then competing with 1000 new apps each day is hardly a draw for anybody. We’ve reached a point now where even those slow on the uptake have realized the goldrush is over. It’s actually been over for a few years.”

Jeffrey Lim, producer, Wicked Dog Games, agreed: “The mobile space offers certain advantages, like having the largest customer base and relatively low development costs. However, there’s no doubt it is getting harder to be profitable with the ongoing piracy and discoverability issues.”

“We do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles”

Jeffrey Lim

“So yes, we do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles. The cost of self-publishing on these platforms has dropped significantly, and console makers are also making their platforms more indie-friendly now,” he added, alluding to efforts on next-gen systems like Sony’s PS4.

Chillingo COO Ed Rumley isn’t quite of the same mind as Johnson and Lim, but as a publisher, Chillingo has noticed that too many developers simply are failing to make high quality games, so it’s no wonder that their titles are being ignored.

“The number of games being submitted is growing, as is the number of developers contacting us. I’m not sure if some are being scared away, but we know from experience that some developers underestimate the time and quality it takes to make it in mobile now. Consumers are a savvy bunch and spot second rate games a mile off. You can’t just knock something together in your spare time, upload it and wait for the money to roll in anymore,” he warned.

Michael Schade, CEO, Fishlabs Entertainment, acknowledged the big challenge in mobile, but he doesn’t think developers are going to have to look elsewhere.

“Sure, mobile’s not an easy market to breach into, but then again, which market really is? No matter what business you’re in or what product you’re trying to sell, you’ll always have to work hard to gain your ground and make a name for yourself,” he noted. “So that alone shouldn’t scare you away from mobile, especially when you keep in mind that no other platform in the history of digital entertainment has ever evolved faster and born more potential than mobile! With more than a billion smart connected devices in use and hardware capabilities on par with current-gen gaming consoles, today’s smartphones and tablets constitute by far the most widespread, frequently used and innovative gaming platform the world has ever seen.”

Schade also remarked that the last few years of veteran developers getting into the mobile scene has made things more difficult. “The fact that more and more established PC and console veterans open new mobile gaming studios and more and more traditional publishers port their titles to iOS and Android, doesn’t make it easier for one particular company or product to stick out. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it clearly shows that the trend goes towards mobile, rather than away from it,” he said.

For every developer we spoke with, the discoverability issue reared its ugly head. There’s no doubt that this is a major concern. While building a high quality game can help, it’s simply not enough. In the world of apps, you cannot let the game do the talking for you.

“I think many developers have the misconception that it’s simply enough to release the game and let it speak for itself. They underestimate the importance of a marketing/PR campaign leading up to the game’s launch,” Lim stressed. “As a result their games fail commercially; not because of the quality, but due to lack of visibility. Hence the marketing/PR campaign should be seen as an integral part of the game’s development. An appropriate portion of the overall budget and effort should be allocated to increasing the game’s visibility, and if developers do not have the experience or time in marketing/PR they should consider hiring professionals in this area to lend a hand.”

Gree vice president of marketing Sho Masuda concurred that marketing is becoming crucial to mobile success. “They have to spend more time thinking about marketing and post-launch efforts in addition to building the the games. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools and services available for devs of all sizes to ensure that they can get the direction and support they need in these areas. Additionally, the mobile dev community is a very, very tight knit community and there is an amazing level of information sharing and support,” he said. “We encourage mobile devs of all sizes to talk to their peers, take advantage of all the meet-ups and events, and get to know all the services available to help get eyeballs on their games.”

A number of devs also believe that platform holders have a larger responsibility that they’ve been shirking so far. “For platform holders (e.g. Apple’s App Store), they can start to curate apps released on their store because there are too many clones of existing games that are taking up the traffic. They could attempt something like Steam Greenlight; although it is still an imperfect system, it’s better than not having any curation at all,” Lim commented.

Paul Johnson agreed, telling us that he’d really like platform holders to have a much more active role, as the discoverability issue has “about reached terminal” for unknown devs.

“If Apple don’t pick your game out for a feature, and you can’t drum up enough interest before launch yourself, then I’d say you’re pretty much screwed. It doesn’t matter how good your game is if nobody ever sees it and downloads it. They can’t tell their friends about something they themselves don’t know about!” he stated.

If Apple spotlights your game, you’re golden

“The only thing I think the platform holders could do to help is stop allowing crap to be released. There’s only so much space for features and the end users only have so much effort in them to look under all the categories all the time, so I really don’t think adding more of them would help much. Maybe more apps for shorter times, but this is all a drop in the ocean really.”

“The one thing I’ve come up with that would make a real difference is for the platform owners to charge five grand for a developer license. All the utter crap would disappear and there’d be less apps fighting for space,” he continued. “And the end-users wouldn’t have to waste time downloading the crap as nobody who makes stuff they don’t believe in would dream of fronting that license fee. It’s Draconian but it’s really the only thing I can see having any noticeable effect. Anything else is just lip service.”

Discoverability issues aside, another major – and possibly growing – problem for devs to contend with is piracy. The App Developer Conference survey showed that 26 percent of devs had their apps pirated and a similar amount even had in-app purchases stolen.

James Vaughan told us, “Plague Inc. has a piracy rate of about 30-35 percent, which equals millions and millions of copies, but I don’t consider piracy to be a problem; it is simply a fact of life and I don’t get too worked up about it. Piracy is a byproduct of success and I choose to focus on the success which has resulted in piracy rather than the piracy itself. (The best way to stop your game from being pirated is to make a crap game!) I focus on continually improving and updating Plague Inc. which makes the game even more valuable to the people who have brought it (and encourages pirates to buy it as well).”

For those devs who actually do lose sleep over piracy, there are some ways to combat it, Lim said.

“If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole”

Paul Johnson

“There’s no question that piracy is prevalent, and I think it will continue to be so for a long time to come. In fact, with high-speed Internet access and the wide spread use of file-sharing software nowadays I think this problem is going to get worse,” he observed.

“The first way to deal with piracy is to implement the appropriate business model, and I think free-to-download with micro-transactions is the right way to go. Making the game free for download can work to our advantage; it allows us to reach out a larger customer base. And if players are hooked by the game, they can be enticed to buy additional high-quality content for a minimal price.”

“The second way would be to build a strong rapport with our customers – e.g. through frequent interactions on social media, events or even email. Developers of notable games (e.g. Hotline Miami and Game Dev Tycoon) have addressed piracy in this manner. By having a loyal customer base which is appreciative of our efforts in delivering quality content, they would empathize with us and be more willing to pay for the games in support of our development efforts.”

The good news for iOS devs, at least according to Schade, is that Apple’s store is less prone to piracy. “Having lived through the ‘dark ages’ of Java and made it out of there with two black eyes rather than one, piracy has been a very delicate topic for us at Fishlabs ever since. Based on our own experience, however, it is not as much of an issue on the App Store as it is on other platforms,” he noted. “I guess that’s mostly because Apple still has a lot of ‘premium’ customers willing to pay for high-quality content. Of course, we’re well aware of the fact that neither the closed iOS environment nor the Free-2-Play model will ever be able to eradicate software piracy entirely, but at least they are doing a comparatively good job at containing it as good as possible.”

If developers can effectively navigate the problems of discoverability and piracy, there’s no doubt that the potential is massive. One look at the overwhelming success of Angry Birds, Temple Run, Clash of Clans and others proves what’s possible. But for the vast, vast majority of devs, that’s a pipe dream.

“From the consumer angle, it’s a golden age. The amount of good quality games that can be bought for laughable prices is fantastic and there’s a ton of money being spent on this platform as a result. The problem for developers is that each individual cut is tiny. This isn’t even remotely sustainable and I don’t know what the future is going to look like. If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole,” said Johnson.

 

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PlayStation Store adds mobile billing


Sony now letting AT&T and T-Mobile customers have purchases tacked on to regular phone bill.

PlayStation Store adds mobile billing

Sony has given gamers a new way to pay for content from its digital distribution storefront. The company now allows purchases on the PlayStation Store and Sony Entertainment Network to be made using a US mobile phone account.

The “Add Funds” option in the storefront now includes a mobile phone button, in addition to the standard credit card, prepaid cards, and PayPal options. Users who choose to pay through their mobile devices will receive a text message prompting them to respond in order to confirm the purchase. Whatever funds are added to a user’s accounts in the process will then appear on a subsequent phone bill. In the case of pre-paid phone accounts, the money will be debited against the remaining balance on the phone.

Currently only customers with AT&T and T-Mobile are able to use the feature, and the standard messaging fees will apply to every transaction. Sony has not said if it plans to expand the mobile payment functionality to other service providers.

 

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Wikipad coming to US on June 11


The 7-inch gaming tablet finally hits North America

Wikipad

Wikipad, Inc has announced that its 7-inch Wikipad gaming tablet will be available in the United States on June 11, 2013, for $249. The tablet features a 7-inch 1280×800 screen, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, a Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, and WikiPad’s tablet controller dock.

“The launch of the Wikipad 7 tablet signals a transformative turning point in the direction of the mobile gaming industry. Wikipad’s tablet combines the latest range of features found in a premium Android tablet together with the unrivaled console video game experience only available with a gamepad,” said Wikipad chairman Matthew Joynes.

“There is no other mobile device on the market that possesses Wikipad’s unique functionality and versatility and all available with full warranty and customer support at an entry level price point,” said Wikipad president of sales Fraser Townley.

The first retailers to carry the tablet will be online outlets: Wal-Mart.com, BestBuy.com, and TigerDirect. Wikipad will be announcing further retailers and launch dates for other territories after E3.

The Wikipad was originally envisioned as a 10-inch tablet with gaming controller, but changes in the tablet market forced the company to switch to a 7-inch model. The current model was originally planned for spring 2013 launch.

 

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Sony, Nintendo aim to appeal to mobile developers


Far from putting their IP on mobile phones, Japan’s platform holders want mobile developers to come to them

Sony, Nintendo aim to appeal to mobile developers

Have you ever been on a busy train carriage which pulls up to an equally busy station at rush hour? The doors open, and several moments of eyeballing and general unhappiness ensue as the people already on the train realise that yes, all of those people on the crowded platform are definitely going to try to squeeze onto this train. Some shuffle backwards to make room; others puff out their chests and try to claim as much air space around themselves as possible, projecting physically the notion that there’s no room at the inn. It never works; puff all you like, you’re still going to get a face full of someone’s slightly sweaty hair and a peculiarly sharp elbow rammed into your kidneys for the rest of the journey.

“PlayStation Mobile hasn’t been all that impressive thus far, and the cost wasn’t very high in the first place, but the platform has immense potential”

It’s those few moments that I think of when I consider how mobile games businesses and the traditional business – most notably the console platform holder businesses – have considered each other over the past five years. There’s been an uneasy standoff in some regards. Some have talked down mobile, while others have expressed fear (or in some instances, rather unseemly joy) at the notion that mobile will kill off dedicated gaming hardware for good. For the first few years, platform holders focused on downplaying the importance of mobile, even as publishers spent huge amounts of money on getting their foot in the door by acquiring hot mobile and social gaming firms (few of whom turned out to be worth the money paid, in the end).

It’s increasingly obvious that we’re now in stage two of this relationship. The people from the platform have boarded the train, and we’re on our way to destinations unknown. It’s now crowded and a bit uncomfortable, and some people are going to get crushed. The past year, and the coming years, will see an interesting dance being played out – a jockeying for position, an attempt to remove elbows from ribs or to figure out who ought to be giving up a seat for whom. I wouldn’t put much stead by anyone proclaiming to know who’s going to be in the best state when they alight at the next station.

Look at the past week’s events for some interesting pointers on just how intertwined these businesses are becoming. Sony, which has arguably embraced mobile as part of its core games strategy more than any other platform holder (that’s not saying a great deal, admittedly), has completely dropped the cost barrier for developers who want to create games for the PlayStation Mobile platform. PlayStation Mobile hasn’t been all that impressive thus far, and the cost wasn’t very high in the first place, but the platform has immense potential. Its problem, right now, is that it targets PlayStation Vita and a handful of not terribly popular Android handsets – primarily Sony Xperia phones, but also a menagerie of handsets from the likes of HTC. PS Mobile arguably needs a big platform coup to become a serious contender. If Sony could get the platform supported on Samsung’s phones (perhaps an olive branch too far) or finally get a bit of momentum behind Vita, PS Mobile could be a serious feather in the company’s cap.

“Finally, we now have an actual business move from Nintendo which acknowledges that games exist on mobile devices”

More dramatic, in a sense, is Nintendo’s announcement that it’s going to launch tools aimed at helping smartphone developers to bring their software to the Wii U. This announcement is more important in terms of what it adds to the mood music of the industry than it is in actual commercial terms, I suspect. Lots of commentators have spent the past five years arguing either that Nintendo should or must bring its world-class IP to mobile devices, and plenty of hot air has been generated over the industry’s favourite fantasy football pairing of Apple and Nintendo, regardless of the extraordinary cultural clash such a combination would inevitably engender. Through all of this, Nintendo maintained a stoic silence about the import of the mobile space, broken only by Satoru Iwata’s occasional acknowledgement of new competition for gamers’ attention – acknowledgement that may have gained a slightly wry edge when the 3DS started confounding everyone by outperforming its world-beating predecessor, at least in Japan (which is also a seriously big market for mobile games).

Finally, we now have an actual business move from Nintendo which acknowledges that games exist on mobile devices, and not just Pokemon companion applications. Yet it’s precisely the opposite of what the world has insisted the company must do. Far from putting Nintendo games on iOS or Android, Nintendo is inviting developers on those platforms to come and bring their games to Wii U. Apple market commentator John Gruber describes this as Nintendo being “on the right road, but driving in the wrong direction”. I take his point, and I’m not even sure I entirely disagree (although I certainly don’t entirely agree either) – but I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer brass neck of Nintendo’s move.

With both Nintendo’s outreach to bring smartphone games to the Wii U and Sony’s PlayStation Mobile platform, I can’t help but feel that there’s a strong element of PR involved. Not PR aimed at consumers, but PR aimed squarely at developers – small studios in particular, people who have come to see mobile phones as the natural home for their software while regarding Nintendo and Sony’s platforms as being closed-up gardens, tucked away behind high walls that can only be scaled by multinational publishers and other such deep-pocketed types. We’ve seen with the tone and pitch of Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcements how important it considers it to be to get support from grassroots developers as well as sewing up a steady stream of AAA titles. PlayStation Mobile as an early shot in that war – and to the surprise of many, it looks like Nintendo may now be willing to court the same market.

“The real objective is something else – it’s a way to show developers that the gates to console development are standing open in a way they never really were before”

So is this a “fight back” against the rise of mobile? Not really, no. The reality is that even if GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons is making millions of dollars a day on mobile (it’s the most embarrassingly addictive mobile game I’ve ever played, for the record, and while I have yet to give it a single Yen of my hard-earned after a month of play, I won’t regret doing so down the line), its presence on the Wii U still wouldn’t be a system seller, or even a terribly big commercial success, most likely. Much of the coverage of Nintendo’s announcement has been focused on the idea of existing mobile titles being launched on Wii U, just as early coverage of PlayStation Mobile pitched it alternately as a way to bring PSone classics to mobile phones and a way to bring mobile phone games to Vita. In both cases, the real objective is something else – it’s a way to show developers that the gates to console development are standing open in a way they never really were before.

For Sony, the realisation of the increasingly distributed nature of game development – which was once centralised in a tiny number of publishers and a slightly less tiny number of expensively-run studios – took a tough hardware generation and a fair bit of internal struggle. For Nintendo, I suspect that it runs even more counter to the firm’s internal philosophy, and I would not be hugely optimistic about the company’s chances of building a really welcoming platform for the wider development community. All the same, a firm doesn’t stay in business for over a century without becoming pretty good at moving with the wind when the times require it. First for Sony and now for Nintendo, the strategy for dealing with the influx of mobile is not to surrender – it’s to be about figuring out how to co-exist in the industry’s new reality.

 

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