State of the app store – Is it time to give up on any lasting game design morals?

A few years ago, you could spend your time creating a half decent game with a bit of passion and hope for a ‘New and noteworthy’ mention on the Apple App Store and be in the running for moderate sales and some possible chart placement.

It then got so busy on the app stores, that the chances of a chart position and coverage was watered down significantly. It did however feel like a fair market. Everyone started raising the bar with their indie titles and discussion about levels of polish, marketing and cross promotion reached fever pitch. Everyone started saying the free to play game model was the future.

The app stores then evolved again and stores of the world are now constantly full of free clones (and paid). Constant UN-stoppable clone armies releasing a zillion offspring of the same simple game idea. It’s always happened but now the speed and the success of the clones is quite incredible. Once every fortnight a new free hit game seems to work its way through the free ranks, whether through legitimate sales or other techniques. Days later the clones follow.

I don’t have any hatred towards those that make the clones and cash in whilst they can. (Partly because my avatar on my favourite dev forum is a stormtrooper), The market is obviously there for the clones so why not. Plus it no doubt introduces lots of new developers to the world of game design and after their first release they may make something original. I just wish the market for clones wasn’t quite so ripe.

At the moment it seems they’re here to stay as Apple, Google and Amazon are doing little to prevent the free charts being full of it and it’s not directly hurting them ‘yet’, so why should they.

By comparison the paid charts are still mostly full of the same hit games that have been around for years in one guise or another. The odd break through game shines through and hangs around for some time normally after receiving the holy grail of promotion ‘the Apple Featured App’.

It all comes together to make the app store harder than ever to crack with the look of a landfill site full of beautifully crafted games buried under tonnes of clones.

So what to do?

It’s tricky to know the best course to take, I love making games for fun and hope to release interesting memorable games but I also dream of eventually earning a decent full-time living doing it. So much so that maybe I should consider releasing clones and give up on my game design aspirations. Money isn’t everything but it is damn handy.

Join the Dark Side

Start making your own clones from scratch, or re-skinning cheap templates and release lots of titles. Pack them full of adverts and cross promote one another.

Make it quick, original and cheap

Start making lots of simple games, with addictive one touch gameplay, with cute cheap artwork and start releasing them in the hope that one of them succeeds and is promptly cloned. You’d still hope to make a decent return if you’re the successful title everyone wants to copy.

Make it slow, make it beautiful

Spend months and probably years making your perfect game. With gameplay complicated enough that a lot of the cloners won’t have the time, patience or skill to copy it. Then pray a very large bucket of luck arrives to accompany the release.

Make it simple, make it multiplayer, make it cheap-ish

Spend a little time on a very basic one touch game idea, build in some async multiplayer gameplay, stylish original graphics and release. If the game is a hit the cloners may struggle to churn out a clone straight away as async multiplayer currently takes a bit of time to implement. Original character design might also help a

But then maybe the app store will evolve again. Perhaps Apple and Google will figure out a way to fairly stop clones from being released. Perhaps new well made original game releases will pop up in the app stores and fend off the rubbish. Or perhaps I’ll finish my next game, release it, where it coughs, splutters and dies and I’ll just sit and play ‘threes’, ‘2048’ or ‘flappy 2048’ or etc etc.. and stop worrying about it.

Most of all for me, I just need to finish a project and get it out the door. I’ve tinkered, learnt and built lots of things but not released anything in over a year. Recently I blame ‘Game of Thrones’.

To see what others had to say to this check out the GameSalad forum thread here.