In Brief: Decline Of Rapid Mobile Development
I’m trying something new: In Brief. I realize that most of my posts are tl;dr, so I’m going to limit posts in this series to a link (if the post is inspired by an external source), and three paragraphs: an opening, a point, and the conclusion. It may not be what your 7th grade English teacher wanted in your essays, but who the hell cares? I do…about you.
* For Creators of Games, a Faint Line on Cloning (nytimes.com)
Mobile development started off like the 1800’s gold rush, with seemingly everyone dropping their responsibilities to head to the Promised Land of “easy money”. The mobile gaming space was an open frontier, a vacuum, and there was no shortage of opportunity for both large and small (even a single person) developers. They quickly filled that vacuum, and now it seems we’re into the “…and then some” phase where the benefits of mobile development – small teams, little-to-no money down, rapid concept-to-market turnarounds – is catching up, and the result is apparently quite dire for developers and this segment of the industry.
I’m not under any illusions about the amount of time it takes to develop a game for mobile like, say, Tiny Tower, which is quite a feet for the tiny NimbleBit team, but I do think that it’s not quite as herculean a task for a company the size of Zynga to release Dream Heights so soon after Tiny Tower hit it big. The same benefits that smaller teams or individuals enjoy in mobile development are also their worst enemies when wielded by larger companies with deep pockets and teams of developers who have the luxury of skipping the design, prototype, and trial-and-error phases of software development. There’s nothing to stop a company from making a “me too” game; it’s practically a given in a risk-adverse industry like this one. However in other creative industries, an artist may have copyright laws at their backs to defend against blatant clones; software does not since it’s only the products themselves that can be protected, not the ideas behind them. With AAA game development for consoles and PC, the best defense against blatant rip-offs showing up on your doorstep is time. No one can make a Mass Effect clone and release it within days, weeks, or even months after the release of the official Mass Effect. When time is eroded as an effective barrier, all kinds of things are possible, and we’re just now waking up to the reveal that not all of them are beneficial.
This isn’t going to cause the death of mobile development, but it could easily winnow the developer pool and chill the atmosphere for smaller developers. Up to this point most of the stories and anecdotes we’ve been subjected to have been about the rosy picture of mobile development as the “future of game development” and happy stories about bedroom developers who have struck oil in this (once) wide open field. Now it seems that we’re finally getting stories about the underbelly of the mobile world, populated by the scammers and underhanded dealings of people who do what they do because it’s easy, and because there’s nothing to stop them. This is really an eye-opening opportunity for current and future indies who think mobile is the path of least resistance towards a big break into the industry, and will hopefully force starry-eyed “mobile as the future of gaming” boosters to return to reality of what they’ve wrought.