Game developers: ready your markets now to exploit new-found freedoms

It’s not about court cases or payment controls – it’s about freedom. Recent moves in Europe and the US by courts and regulators are the start of a revolution that will see gaming bounce back to its former glory. Developers will see a new light but so too will users, and even Google and Apple will benefit. So predicts Jens Lauritzson, CEO of Flexion.

Free markets are good – competition drives innovation, giving consumers great products and a real choice. So, it’s ironic that the US, perhaps the biggest proponent of a free market economy, has spawned two tech giants whose app stores have, for a long time, favoured command and control – the very antithesis of a free market.

The consequence is a mobile games industry that has become stuck in the mud. It’s like some sort of Soviet-era steel plant. Innovation has been stifled, game developers struggle to stay enthusiastic and creative under the yoke of authority, and users are sometimes poorly served. I may exaggerate, but this is how many game developers see things.

But the landscape is changing fast and developers must act quickly to make the most of their liberation. But with freedom comes responsibility. This may mean finding new distribution partners who offer technical support and features for which developers currently rely on Apple and Google.

One developer, Epic, has been taking the fight to Google and Apple in the US courts and has gained some important ground recently with Google being ordered to mend its ways. Meanwhile, tough regulation in Europe is seeing Apple rethink its approach, giving developers more options in how they use the app store.

On the face of it, these battles have been about the huge slice of the pie the app store titans have been taking, with many developers feeling they don’t get value. But they also feel boxed in, with no choice about how to reach consumers. That’s changing now, but it’s always been about more than payment.

Rebooting the whole industry

Given freedom about how they operate, developers have the opportunity to build exciting new relationships with users. By inviting users into your space – whether by extending webstores into gamers’ arcades, using alternative app stores or even building your own app store – you can innovate once more. There’s a good chance that energy will reboot the whole industry.

Because users don’t really care about platforms or stores or court cases or regulators. They just want to play the games. We need to get the focus back on helping them find games that are entertaining, engaging… fun. It shouldn’t matter that your friend has a Samsung and you have an Apple. We need to aim at providing products that are truly cross-platform so that technology (and, dare I say it, the bickering between tech companies) doesn’t get in the way of the relationship between people and their game experience.

So, this is a wakeup call to make sure your marketing is up to the job. There are tough choices to be made because, for all we complain about the tech giants, they do provide a service and each developer will have to weigh the pros and cons of moving to different approaches.

For some time, Flexion has offered services to help developers tap into alternative app stores with different options for engaging users. We’re already preparing for moves by some of these alt stores to operate within the Apple and Google ecosystems. That will offer developers an important route to exploiting the new-found freedoms.

It’s an opportunity to improve retention, to re-excite players about their favourite games. It’s also a chance to improve discovery, promoting new games to people who you already know are fans of your work. It opens the door to new innovations around multiplayer support and platform independent gameplay.

Return on investment

One of the big bugbears for developers in recent years has been the increasing difficulty in reliably calculating ROI. They haven’t known where to invest for maximum return (or to have the confidence they will see any return at all). Having a more connected userbase will make those ROI calculations easier again, and that, in itself, will drive innovation which, in turn, will trigger even greater engagement and excitement among users.

Just as big tech’s command and control has damped down the games market, these basic freedoms for developers will see it reinvigorated.

Having new options on payment systems under the new regime will also benefit developers. Currently there is a cost advantage to selling in-app purchases via your own market rather than relying on the app stores. Some commentators are cautious about how a big a deal this will be, predicting that users who may be locked into Google or Apple’s payment systems will prefer to stay there. But actually, I foresee a bigger benefit for developers.

A more open market will result in new, potentially more innovative companies offering specialist services in payments, distribution and marketing. They’ll be competing with Google and Apple and so they’ll have to offer something special and that will benefit developers.

And as Google and Apple see revenue leak away with others challenging their dominance, they will be forced to improve their app stores, to make them more appealing to developers and users, to make it easier to find great games and get involved with gaming communities. That will make life better for developers and consumers, but it may also revitalise a huge market for the app stores themselves.