Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Economics of the App Store Part 3: Diving Right In

So you've decided to become an independent developer. In my case that's a fancy way of saying "I'm going to make a video game." Also in my case there's the subtext "and not get a paying job this summer." So you're faced with the reality that if you want to develop games as anything more than a hobby, you're going to have to find a way to make money off of your game. There are a number of ways to monetize, but for now I'm going to focus on the old fashioned way, convincing people to buy it.

There are a ton of decisions that go into making a game, but this post is about economics so I'm going to focus on how economics has influenced my decisions. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a game that would be more complex than what the casual gamer would be looking for. This narrows my particular market to one of the 2.5 included in the post below that are non-casual. I've always wanted to make an RPG so I decided that that would be the type of game I'd make. In my opinion this limits my market to really just the last two discussed in the below post. As an indie developer I already would have had a hard time reaching the Big Name gamer, RPGs are a genre that I think are doubly hard to reach the Big Name gamer with so I decided to just forgo that market.

Now I'm left deciding between the core gamer market and the iOS gamer market. In pure numbers, I feel that the core gamer market is larger than the iOS gamer market. I also feel that there is a lot more competition in the core gamer market. This was a decision that took me a little while so I'm going to go deeper into my thought process.

In a competitive marketplace, manufacturers are successful by differentiating their product. This differentiation provides a sort of monopoly power in the marketplace. Think if you were the only company making chocolate ice cream. The market for ice cream may be competitive, but if someone wants chocolate, you're the only game in town. So how can you differentiate a game in the App Store? One way is by having brand cachet, but as a new developer you're not going to have that. A second way is genre differentiation. Tower defense games have been really popular on the App Store and have gained fans of the genre. Therefore just by making a TD game, you're appealing to a group of fans.

Another is innovation. Innovation in games can be a double-edged sword. You might have something new, but if it's not accessible, or interesting, or fun it doesn't matter. For this reason it's hard to set out to innovate. Innovation is also something that I think many developers would like to believe they have in spades. I'd certainly like to believe that about myself, but I also want to be realistic. There are certainly things I consider innovative in The Epic of Roderick, but I don't want to kid myself into thinking that they will be heralded as the next revolution in gaming. I hope they will be, but I'm not banking on that.

There are other ways to differentiate, but the one I came back to, I'm sure because of my background in retail, was customer service. Was there a way that I could make a game that provided better customer service? In a way this is a model that many developers have gone with their games. Updates and additional (free) content could certainly be considered customer service, and it seems that apps that are focused on this are able to differentiate themselves and become more successful. While we will certainly have updates and additional content (provided we get enough downloads to support it), I wanted to try and take customer service differentiation one step further.

When I asked myself what that step would look like, I had to go back to considering my potential customers, core gamers and iOS gamers. Was there a customer need or want that was not being met enough on the App Store. When looked for what core gamers would be most want in an RPG on their iPhone, it seemed the biggest thing they were missing on the App Store was a really deep, engrossing and rich RPG experience. While I would love to some day design a 100 hour epic, I felt that would be a bit much for my first foray into game development. When I looked for what iOS gamers wanted out of an RPG, it was much clearer. The game had to be native. That was something I thought I could deliver on (and I'll talk about much more as we get closer to release time).

So now I had my market, the iOS gamer. Yes in my opinion it's the smallest gaming market on iDevices, but I feel it's the market with the least amount of competition and the most potential for growth.* I cannot stress the importance of deciding on my market enough. I had decided to differentiate my product through providing excellent customer service. I had to know my customers. My goal was now to not only make a great game, but also make a product specifically tailored to the wants and needs of the iOS gamer. Awesome!

So what does any of this have to do with the economics of the App Store? Well a market consists of producers and consumers. These two groups are linked by products and prices. I wanted to write down some thoughts as a producer on how these have come together in this instance.** Consider it micro-microeconomics. I also wanted to show how economics can play into design decisions. I'm still keeping my specific design decisions close to the chest, but all of my design decisions were made with my potential customers in mind. I was always asking how The Epic of Roderick could be more appealing to iOS gamers. That was based on a desire to differentiate my product through customer service, a desire I had because I want my product to be viable in a competitive market place that does not have price as a signal and has poorly developed stratification amongst consumers.

Next post I'm going to talk more about monetization and how it plays out on the App Store, and how I see it playing out in the long run. I'll also talk more about where I see the future of iOS gaming taking us with a focus on economics. Remember to follow us on twitter @InstantLazer and let me know that you're reading.

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