How iOS and Android leveled the playing field for independent game developers


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Take a look at the current App Store bestseller lists and it shouldn't surprise you that games continue to dominate both the Paid Apps and Free Apps charts. Some are brand new to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS platform (like Chillingo's Fancy Pants or Fluik's Plumber's Crack) and some are classics (e.g., Rovio Mobile's Angry Birds and Halfbrick Studios' Fruit Ninja), but even though the titles and developers may change, the games category's stranglehold on the mobile user experience never wavers. Games now make up 52 percent of all iOS and Android app sessions worldwide according to app store analytics firm Flurry--social networking apps trail at 22 percent of sessions, followed by entertainment (6 percent), news (5 percent) and utilities (4 percent).

The App Store and Android Market--excuse me, Google Play--have not only redefined the gaming business for consumers, giving them innovative, engaging experiences at a fraction of the price tag attached to traditional console titles; they've also redefined the economics for developers, slashing production, marketing and distribution costs to level the playing field and allow small, independent shops to compete head-to-head with established publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft and THQ. Not only that, but indie game developers are winning the battle: Flurry reports that 68 percent of all game sessions on iOS and Android involve titles built by studios who launched their businesses on the mobile platform, as opposed to brands who extended their efforts to smartphones from other platforms.

The app store model hasn't simply given small, unknown brands a chance against large, recognizable brands--it's essentially made brands irrelevant. "While we would have expected indie game developers to fare better early on in the history of iOS and Android mobile app platforms, it's remarkable that their dominance has grown over the last several years, with no signs of slowing," writes Flurry vice president of marketing Peter Farago on the firm's blog. "Even when traditional, established game companies have attempted to buy a stronger position on iOS and Android through acquisition, the reduced importance of brand power in mobile app gaming allows indie developers to continue to innovate and capture increasing consumer mind share."

But as much as the same app sales opportunities await developers of all shapes and sizes, so do the same challenges, like discovery: The App Store now offers more than 550,000 iOS applications across 21 categories, including more than 170,000 native applications for Apple's iPad tablet. Late last month, Apple acquired mobile app discovery solutions provider Chomp, a move that promises to dramatically overhaul the App Store shopping experience. Available for iOS as well as Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, the free Chomp app leverages a proprietary algorithm that learns the functions and topics of apps to enable users to conduct search queries based on app function and utility, not brand name. Consumers can search Chomp for subjects like "puzzle games," "expense trackers" or "chat" to help identify the solutions they wish to download.

And when all else fails, there's nothing like pumping serious cash into an app rollout to help generate attention. This week, social and mobile game publisher and developer 6L (formerly 6waves Lolapps) announced partnerships with 16 new independent mobile developers, concurrently committing to spend $100,000 on marketing all qualified titles. New 6L partners include U.S. developers Harebrained Schemes, Playviews/Xigantic, Shiny Shoe, Sixits and xKey Media alongside studios from Canada, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, Japan, Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine; the terms of the agreements guarantee $100,000 marketing budgets for each qualified title within two months of launch--if 6L does not fulfill its obligations, the publisher will relinquish the game back to the developer, also handing over users and future revenues. Innovation and ingenuity remain independent developers' most potent weapons for app store success, but $100K can always help.--Jason