Where the Developers Are: Consoles, Mobile, Tablets, or PC’s?

A recent survey conducted by the Game Developers Conference of more than 2500 North American game developers who attended the popular conference in 2012 or plan to attend in 2013 offered some intriguing insights on development practices:

  • Independent game development and smaller indie teams are making steady gains. 53% of respondents identified themselves as “indie developers”, and 51% of these had been developing games for less than two years.
  • 46% of the respondents work with organizations of ten people or less. Around half of those worked with an established publisher on their last project.
  • Smartphones and tablets are what most developers are working on, with 55% of respondents currently creating games on these platforms. 58% plan to release their next projects for smartphones and tablets.
  • Don’t count out the PC: 48% of developers are developing current games for this platform, and 49% are planning their next games for the PC.
  • Overall, tablets and smartphones are grabbing most developers’ time and interest, with 58% and 56% (respectively) interested in developing games for these platforms.

The survey asked the developers which platforms that they planned on making their next games for, what platforms they were currently working on, and which platforms they had last developed a project for. As we can see from the above results, tablets and phones are standing out in front of the pack, especially compared to console development results:

“Thirteen percent of respondents called themselves current PS3 developers, and just 12.4 percent planned their next game for the PS3. The Xbox 360 only does slightly better: 13.2 percent for now, and 14 percent for the future. (Eleven percent of the devs polled said they're making games for the next-generation PlayStation 4 and the "Xbox 720," or whatever Microsoft ends up calling the 360's successor.)

And don't even think about Nintendo's Wii or dedicated handheld game devices. Just 4.6 percent of developers are actively making a Wii game, although 6.4 percent say they'll do so in the future. A mere 4.2 percent are working PlayStation Vita games, with about 5 percent saying they have future plans. Barely 2.8 percent say they're developing future games for the Nintendo DS.” - ReadWriteWeb

Ultimate Coders

In the Ultimate Coder Challenge: Going Perceptual, we have a good mix of developer teams that pretty accurately reflects what the GDC survey results came up with:

  • Sixense Studios: A team currently working on a freeform and creative experience that allows users to intuitively interact with virtual puppets using motion input; they’ve worked on console launches, 3D media enhancements, and develop immersive software for motion tracking tech
  • Code-Monkeys: Indie development team working on touch-based game, Stargate Gunship,  to be published on the Windows Store
  • Infrared5/Brass Monkey: Studio that has produced content for the likes of LucasFilm, Hasbro, and Match.com; currently working on a game that will combine console experiences like those available on the Nintendo Wii U and Microsoft’s Kinect
  • Simian Squared: A brother and brother team working on a virtual/immersive pottery experience to be delivered on the PC
  • Peter O’Hanlon: A one-man band working on a Minority Report-like photo editing application for the Ultrabook/PC platform
  • Quel Solaar: Another independent; working on a simple to use platform library with features such as multitouch, tilt sensors, head-tracking and stereoscopics
  • Lee Bamber: Independent but affiliated; he’s working on a new kind of teleconferencing software that has great implications (potentially) for the gaming industry as a whole

From games to revolutionary webcam software, we’ve got a good mix of developers, all of which will be at GDC demonstrating their own unique takes on the gaming industry from a coding perspective. You can follow all the Ultimate Coder progress at the Ultimate Coder Challenge: Going Perceptual page.

Hard core vs. casual gaming: two different tracks

Does this indicate a shift in the industry away from consoles and PCs? Or are we just seeing a natural evolution resulting from the plethora of mobile apps and games available on a global basis?

The mobile game industry has a much wider reach than consoles simply because access to a mobile device is much higher. It’s not rocket science: if I want to play a game, all I need to do is pull out my phone and I’m playing. People also know that with mobile games, they’re going to get something that is the latest thing, rather than a console game that only refreshes itself every few years (albeit with fantastic graphics, immersive gameplay, and a transported experience). Mobile games are all about availability; they’re meant for casual, pick-it-up play. In that sense, we’re not talking about one market edging out another. People who play Angry Birds aren’t necessarily going to be the same people who play Skyrim or Call of Duty for hours on end; these are two wildly differing ecosystems.

Show me the money

Monetization for mobile games is potentially much higher than developing for a console game, simply by virtue of (there’s that word again!) accessibility. While getting to code on the next version of Gran Turismo might look awesome on your resume, you’re not necessarily going to be compensated like you would for a breakout game on any app store:

“Mobile game development budgets are growing because of the final contributing factor: earnings potential. Supercell reports earnings around $1 million per day for its games, and Gungho’s Puzzles and Dragons game is bringing in around $2 million daily. The monetization potential on mobile is much higher, and coupled with a lower development cost, there’s a huge opportunity to earn significant revenue.”

Now, of course, this scenario is not going to play out for every developer who creates a game. But the monetization potential on mobile games is indubitably much higher. Add that to the fact that these games take much less money to create and you’ve got an irresistible opportunity.

Because they’re cheaper to develop, mobile games are also cheaper to buy. The same person who might balk at springing $50 for a game won’t blink an eye forking over .99 for a game that they might only play a few times. Sure, you might never of heard of the game or app you’re buying, but it’s only a few pennies wasted. This makes the barrier of entry so much lower for those indie development studios; they know that people are going to be more willing to jump into something new, which makes the potential for monetization higher. It’s a good circle of economics to be caught up in.

To reiterate this potential, let’s look at  a study released early December from research firm Canalys, it was found that from November 1 to November 20, $120 million dollars in total revenue was generated from both paid app downloads and in-app purchase. However, that money went primarily to 25 top grossing developers, with everyone else on the long tail picking up the crumbs.


All of the top 25 save one are game developers, including Zynga, Disney, Rovio, Kabam, Glu, Gameloft, and Electronic Arts. 145 out of the top 300 apps in the Apple Store are games, and 116 out of the top 300 apps on Google Play are also games. The only non-game app on the top list was Pandora, a streaming radio app that offers a premium subscription for 3.99 via in-app purchasing.

Consoles are not over

Serious gamers are still going to go straight for the consoles and PC games, no matter what it costs, because it’s the experience that you’re paying for – not necessarily accessibility. Remember when Lord of the Rings came out in theaters? Did anyone say “I’m going to wait for the DVD because it’s more convenient”? No, of course not. Immersive, interactive, grandiose games demand to be experienced the way they were intended to be, and mobile gaming is nowhere near to replicating that. And that’s okay – again, we’re not talking about one taking over the other. These are two different tracks. Smart developers know that.

Does this mean the evolution of consoles as we know them today? Of course. Look at content providers like Netflix and Hulu. You can get these services on your phone, your tablet, and now on your TV screen. It’s all about accessibility. The same will eventually happen with games, with consoles moving to smart functionality within our TV sets or games residing on the cloud and streaming to whatever device we want to play them on. Consoles are going to have to continue to evolve in order to stay relevant; the main thing, however, is that they need to “get out of the way” and let the games stand up for themselves, providing the foundation for the best gameplay experience.

What do you think?

There will always be a market for console and PC games, as long as there are developers to make them and people to play them. We’re seeing a push towards mobility and accessibility in the gaming ecosystem, just as we are in the general computing ecosystem overall. Mobile games have just made gaming accessible to a much larger population. It’s not that the console and PC gaming market is getting smaller, it’s that the casual game market is growing steadily larger and larger. It’s all about mobility and accessibility, more ways to play, and different business models that make computing and gaming as user-friendly as possible for the user, along with more channels for developers to get their games released.

What are your thoughts on consoles vs. mobile? Is it an adversarial sort of scenario? Or do you agree with this article’s point of view, in that the two are on wildly differing tracks and not really in competition with each other? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.