Earlier today we posted an editorial from our old pal Carter “3.5 Stars” Dotson where he argued that surprise releases, like Pokemon GO [Free] and Day of the Tentacle Remastered [$4.99] as recent examples, are hurtful towards other developers who are carefully planning their release strategy. I actually agree with everything Carter says in his piece. Woe is the developer who has a release date planned well ahead of time only to see some mega superstar game pop up on the scene out of nowhere on the same day and soak up all of the attention. However, I have a different perspective on all of this. I love surprise releases! It’s one of the things that drew me into mobile gaming (and TouchArcade itself, for that matter) so many years ago. There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and firing up the forums to see dozens of people freaking out because some interesting or noteworthy game unexpectedly hit our beloved mobile platform.
I also think that sort of thing keeps mobile gaming sites like ours more organic and interesting to read. There’s nothing more boring than learning of a big game coming out but having to adhere to the same embargo time as every other site, so that when the game finally does come out everyone has the same sort of cookie cutter coverage as each other. When a game launches out of the blue, there’s an excitement surrounding that, and an urgency to write about and share in that excitement with our readers that I feel is lacking when we’re well aware of something in advance. I don’t think Carter would necessarily disagree with that, either, as aside from all the negative points he mentions in his article it’s a lot of fun to see a game pop up out of thin air.
The bigger problem is how Apple goes about featuring games, and in a much broader sense, the App Store approval system itself. Visibility has been the number one problem with developers being able to make money putting games on mobile, and Apple doesn’t do much to solve that problem. In fact they make it worse every day by letting open the floodgates of subpar clones and reskins. Why would anyone want to spend any significant amount of time or money developing a cool mobile game when on the very day they release their baby into the wild there are literally hundreds of other games of questionable quality being released at the same time, burying their hard work? We do our best here to highlight the good games from the daily deluge of crap, but even then there’s tons of stuff that falls through the cracks. Great games going almost entirely unnoticed and never even having a chance at life is a daily occurrence in the App Store. It’s really depressing.
This is definitely not an easy problem to solve, though. Part of the reason there is so much crap on the App Store is because the barrier to entry to game development has never been so low, and a big part of that is thanks to Apple and digital app stores. Some amazing games would have never even been made had that not been the case, so I certainly don’t want to take a step backwards and go back to the more corporate-controlled method of making games. At the same time, because that barrier is so low, lots of unscrupulous developers are using that as a means to make a buck by flooding the market with crap. There’s far too many games submitted to Apple for them to look long and hard at each one, and the approval process is mostly on autopilot from what I understand. I doubt any of that is going to change anytime soon.
I don’t know what the solution is. All I know is that a little over a week ago I did not have Day of the Tentacle Remastered on my phone, and then in the blink of an eye, just like magic, there it was, and it’s hard to describe how exciting that was at the time. I don’t want that feeling to ever go away. On the other hand, it’s hard to see so much negativity towards developing for mobile. Gaining visibility is next to impossible unless you win the Apple featuring lottery, and the “race to the bottom” mentality of the past several years makes it that much harder to earn any money even if you do have the visibility part down pat. Like I said, it’s really depressing, because the mobile platform has the potential to be the greatest thing ever.
I’d love to say that Apple is aware of this issue and working on a solution as we speak, but that seems pretty far-fetched. They’ve never shown much interest in gaming, and they love touting the total number of apps in their App Store as a badge of honor more than they care about the actual quality of all those apps. I just hope that somewhere in the world someone is trying to figure out how to Make the App Store Great Again before every developer has finally had enough and abandons the platform altogether.