The Telegraph has reported that in 2011, for Apple alone across the iPhone and iPad, an average of 701 apps were released every single day for its app store.
I’ve said many times I have nothing against apps, and I don’t. But I take a very big interest in the market, because it is sort of a super-fast repeat of the games industry in a bigger and shorter timespan than the last three decades of console and handheld gaming.
By this I mean that the evolution of the app store, and the titles available, has been quantifiably faster than most had predicted a few years ago, when games such as Canabalt were fresh and new and interesting. As the market is faster and evolves at a more industrious rate, you can almost trace the attempts of other game makers to copy the formula in attempting to capitalise on its success; but when so many are doing the same thing, it emphasises more on the state of the app market than its apparent success.
The horrid reality does hit you that the minute that you start glancing through the app store on iPhone, iPad or Android the amount of titles that seem to be clones or copies of previous ideas; cheap, dirty knock-offs sold for considerably less than the originals (or slightly more if the graphics are “updated”) that just blend into a congealed amalgamation of beige.
Even more telling is that the most growth in the app market isn’t the gaming section, which by many rumoured reports shrunk considerably in 2011 – the largest amount of growth has come from “lifestyle apps”, utility apps for people. Games are becoming dominated by a handful of companies who appear to be able to exercise an abnormal amount of control over what others do – and bully smaller studios away by copying the better ideas.
But it isn’t just that its a microcosm of the last few decades; it is the speed and volume of content that concerns some of us. It is a breakneck, faster-than-light market where everyone is vying for a slice of the market, and with many experienced games development studios now scaling down to settle in here, it is becoming obscenely bloated and complicated.
I’d like to say that quality sells, but really, I suppose we all know even that isn’t how it works anymore. It is largely about marketing and how you are perceived; people stay with what they know, and it is the copies and smaller studios who created many of the original concepts and games who end up suffering as people stick with brands and titles they have experience with.
But there is still an overall sense of optimism, despite the flood of content, that it can still remain a competent, confident and competitive alternative to the big-budget games made for consoles. That many are scaling down to this market and placing so much money and talent into it may see a new golden age – it is a possibility, as is the other scenario where too many cooks spoil the broth, and the market becomes so bloated that it constipates itself and can’t shift the units required for the initial investment.
The real problem I see it isn’t merely that the app store is getting crowded, nor is it that studios want to capitalise on what is clearly a massive market – it is that, in the process, there is no aspiration to ascend to console or PC gaming markets. There is no sense of evolving yourself beyond the app market; tackling new things with all that money flying around, looking for new markets because the one you are in has so much investment flying around.
And by seeing studios downgraded to app games, means that the console market has less studios, and therefore less investment, to push new ideas itself. Leaving behind studios and developers who are becoming ever-more reliant on shifting the same brand year on year to please their publishers thirst for money as the talent pool available shrinks a little.
So yes, the two markets are inextricably linked in this way. It is rather inevitable when games studios decide to go for the larger market rather than expand or build upon their current one, because it means there is a flood of talent – going, sadly, in one direction for the most part.
And it is potentially damaging to both markets. Console gamers may lose studios and developers who have delivered them games for many years; but equally, the app market becomes more competitive, and tougher for all concerned.
Eventually, something will have to give. Will it be the technology in consoles, which needs to be held back so that funding can become more responsibly sourced and less financially risky, or will it be the app stores which crash under a tidal wave of content that isn’t shifting units?
I believe eventually one of these scenarios will have to play out. But as doom and gloom as it sounds, it may actually be a positive development. If consoles are forced to hold back a generation on tech, it encourages more into that arena with new, fresh ideas and concepts. If the app market crashes, it should see the end of many greedy sorts who banked the farm on it, leaving behind those who were more sensible and are capable of moving it forward.
Things happen for a reason, bubbles burst to take out those who are gullible, unwary or just scamming the market. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them; it’s an old cliche, but it still holds up.