15 Years of Mobile Games and We Have In App Purchases

What happens after 15+ years in mobile, social, and gaming? Well, I will try to tell you my life story around games, and what I believe went wrong with an industry that I love. I believe gaming is, outside of video, it’s one of the most under-estimated format out there with insane time spent and engagement – we are only at the beginning of what it can do for education & entertainment.

I would like to tell the story of my last 15 years in gaming. I am turning 30 in a few months and have a bit of a gaming background. I will try to tell the entire story – I started playing games when I was roughly 7 – 8 years old, and I started my first mobile games company when I was 15 years old.

Games before 2000

Having turned just 13 at the brink of the new millennia, the games I encountered growing up were mostly PC games. As I grew up, I went from good old simple DOS games to the first Windows games, between age 8 – 12. During these few years, I fell in love with gaming. I played anything from platformers, strategy, puzzle, arcade games. 3D games. I went from Wolfenstein to Doom, from Duke Nukem to Quake. And just at the edge of 2000, the first mobile phones came out with deeper capabilities of mobile gaming than just snake. 2000 was the mark when JAVA (J2ME) games came to the market, and this was a huge shift and the proper establishment of the mobile gaming era. sacrifice-pc-game-screenshot-4-supercomtech

At that time, if I found a machine anywhere in the world that could play games – I would try and play. I got access to a first 386 with DOS when I was just around 8 years old. I loved old games, new games, Commodore games, Atari games, I embraced the category and fell for gaming.

The question I get asked a lot by other parents (I have 2 small kids) – what are the games that brought me the most? I think the games that brought me most were not only games which were about stretching my reflexes, but were strategy games like Dune 2, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, or games with more complex storylines. Other games like Half Life over time you know was a waste of time, but who can forget the social moments of playing Counter Strike with their friends. Those are unforgettable moments, and perhaps I owe it to games who I have become today, and maybe deserves a deeper look at what games I played.

2000 – 2008

This period was the true mobile games period. With the rise of Java and downloadable games, with the rise of companies like Gameloft, Macrospace, Glu Mobile – and the phones getting better every year, companies and mobile operators motivations were very same – lets make cool games, and if users will like them, they will pay for them. Most of the payments came from one-time fees. These games were a ton of fun, even with the limitations of the phones.

My story in those years went great for me – I always wanted to start and make my own games, and right after 2000 – I got that chance. I started making websites with some mobile wallpapers, logos, and soon enough, we built one of the first “app stores” providing JAVA (J2ME) games in the world. It was so complicated, you had to put your credit card in (which no one of course had), you had to download it over either cable or a WAP mobile phone dial-up connection. The games were tiny – roughly 32 – 64 kB in size (on roughly that amount of memory).

My company (now defunct) Redboss didn’t only provide these games, we started making them too. We made over 40 games between 2001 and 2008. We created the world’s first strategy games on mobile phones (yup, we did fit it in 64 – 128 kB – todays average games in app store are tens or even hundreds of megabytes). It was so exciting, and we pulled our hearts into it.

This was a golden age for mobile games – we really got from snake to quake in these years. But then, mobile gaming started breaking.

2009 – 2015

This is when I would call mobile games are getting broken. Slowly but surely, iPhone and Android came along – touch screens of phones are offering us much deeper potential.fmimg3423249777543218349

At the start of the app stores of Apple and Google, there was huge talk about Japan and Korea, these were markets that were making huge amount of money with in-app purchas
es, and Apple and Google bravely implemented the new model. There isn’t a “top trending” section in Apple – there is “top grossing” – translation: Makes most money for us. And this is where it really broke. This means naturally the most attention is not received by the best games, but ones that can generate most revenues to Apple/Google. What this means is – developers are now not motivated to entertain – they are motivated to entertain just enough to place a call for some in-game upgrades through in-app purchases. And oh, it makes a lot of money. Billions of dollars for Apple, to be exact. Not all of the games in the stores are of course bad – but they rarely make it into the rankings.

In parallel to the changes of mobile games – social games (Zynga) happened. With huge potential, Zynga launched its farming games and just for a while, the feed was full of gaming posts. Zynga went public, and at one point worth over $15B, now worth $2.6B. I believe very few social games outside classic multiplayer games are actually true social experiences, I believe proper mobile & social gaming is yet to be invented.

The best summary of this issue is the tweets from Kanye West and his wife:

  • Kanye: That makes no sense!!! We give the iPad to our child and every 5 minutes there’s a new purchase!!! (@kanyewest)
  • Kim: sorry I’m late to the party guys I was busy cashing my 80 million video game check & transferring 53 million into our joint account (@KimKardashian)

2016+ and whats next for games?

I believe something fresh will happen to mobile gaming – and maybe the new inskatefighterventions won’t come anymore from hungry developers wanting to make a quick buck (Supercell, the founders of Clash of Clans have made billions). Maybe, they will come from brands, who since the era of Flash games have not really gone into gaming. Maybe, they will come from education.

These days, I don’t have as much time, and while I own a console and once or twice a year, I have time for a “longer game”, the premium titles are just not for me. With the majority of the world not having access to a computer but having access to a smart phone – mobile games are for now the true future of games. Everyone keeps talking about Augmented / Virtual Reality, but before the several billion of people that are online will be able to afford it – it will take a long time. About 2 years ago, I got so upset with the current gaming ecosystem – even after promising to myself I would not go back into games, I invested in a company called Gamee – which is a mobile games social network full of HTML5 games, and I am more of a player, than an investor – in fact, every investor should be the largest user of its own product.

There are now signals of change – many mobile games developers have simply refused to participate in the in-app purchases, and instead are going for one-time fees from the games (Yes!).

Need even more signals? Just last week, Facebook has launched Instant Games – the ability to quickly open a social game and play. All these games are in HTML5, and HTML5 will surely prove to be the new standard of gaming. It is automatically ported, most browsers today (Chrome, Safari, and everything else) can play them, and the entire industry is shifting to it.

The largest social platforms out there today are WhatsApp, Messenger, KIK, Telegram, WeChat, and many others. Most of these support “bots”, and games companies and brands can build their bots and create cool, interactive experiences – and HTML5 rich-games are just one click to play away.

As a player, I hope Apple and Google both fix their stores, I hope social games work out and developers out there create massive, beautiful immersive experiences across all platforms!

 Source: Forbes