From the Outside Wanting In: The iPhone

One of the most successful platforms to hit the market in recent history is the iPhone. This platform introduced buy Apple has taken the gaming world buy storm. The iPhone has introduced handheld gaming to millions of people and the number of apps both gaming and not have grown many fold since its introduction.

But what does the iPhone have to offer someone who has little gaming industry experience attempting to break in? First let’s take a look at the tools needed for development.

iPhone development requires quite a bit of hardware to get started. First you need a Mac PC with the specs needed to run the SDK. These can run for as little as $1000 to $2000. AS someone who does not have a Mac PC, this is quite a large investment. Next you will need at least one iPhone or iPod Touch for testing. That is another $200 for the iPod Touch. Many developers have suggested getting as many variations of the iPhone/Touch as you can afford to maximize your game’s compatibility as each iteration of hardware has different capabilities.

To become a licensed developer, it only costs $100 per year. This keeps it in line with Microsofts XNA licensing fees.

The Software Development Kit is free so long as you have a compatible Mac PC to run it on. The games are powered by Objective C so anyone with C or C++ background should feel right at home.

There are also a lot of middle ware software out there to help you in your development. This varies in price but is not necessary to develop games but it can help speed up development if used properly.

Now that we have the initial costs out of the way, what kind of impression has been left by aplle and the developers?

There are a lot of success stories out there of people selling millions of copies of their apps and games. These people have made quite a living off of it. But such stories are not the norm. The app store has one of the largest selections of games on any platform. These number in the 100s of thousands. That is quite a market to attempt to get noticed in.

Unfortunately, this large market place has fueled a strategy dubbed the “Race to the Bottom.” The objective of this strategy is to price your game at $.99 to get people’s attention and make it more likely that they will purchase your game at a whim. Unfortunately this strategy has had negative implications for those who want to develop games for the platform.

Fortunately, this strategy has shown to not be effective in the long run when it comes to the highest grossing games. The list of highest Grossing games for the iPhone has been topped with games sold for many times more than $.99.

The next issue I ave seen with the iPhone market is with Apple themselves and their software approval process. Apple handles all software approvals in house and seems to be doing fairly bad job of things. Granted, this is not a huge problem when compared to the number of apps available, but it happens often enough to be worrying.

Let’s look at a few examples of what I am talking about.

First we have a case of an app being denied because it “contains content that ridicules public figures” The content in question? Caricatures of the current members of the US House and Senate for use in a look up app.  This app was later approved after a media blitz attacking Apple’s approval process.

Another case comes about from Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. This app was rejected because “it contains objectionable content”. The objectionable content in question? A song called the Downward Spiral played during one of the pod casts the app downloaded. The problem? The song was not a part of the app being submitted. Another odd part is that the song and the album it came from was and is still available unedited from Apples iTunes store.

Another example comes from Eucalyptus, an app that helps people find and download public domain books. This app was denied because it was possible to find books with objectionable content. The app itself does not contain the content but one can find it if they were looking.

It can be quite unnerving to think that Apple could consider anything objectionable whether you intended that content to be there or not. This would be the equivolent of the ESRB slapping a game with an AO rating just because people can create their own content rather than just slapping hte game with the warning they have now.

Next is an issue of how Apple handles copyright infringement complaints. This issue came up when looking into two apps. One an app to help you position your satellite dish and another a marble popping game. Both apps received Copyright Infringement notices simply for being competition with someone else. In the case of the marble game Stoneloops, the game was removed from the app store completely after Apple, allegedly, consulted MumboJumbo (the makers of Luxor, the company that submitted the complaint) about what they wanted to happen.

Granted both cases are not solid in all their details and I have not seen anything since first reading them, but if such cases are true, that is really scary.

Both issues here, the app denials for arbitrary reasons and shaky copyright complaints, could both be attributed to the fact that the app store took off faster than Apple most likely expected, but neither should really be an issue if Apple would invest more time and effort in solidifying their approval process and complaint resolution process. Considering the iPhone has been on the market for a number of years, it should not be happening as much as it currently is.

In the end, the iPhone certainly has potential for an independent developer. If one were to make sure to price appropriately (ie not pricing at $.99 just because everyone else does) and take extra care in app submissions, it is possible to succeed. But competition is fierce due to the large number of apps and the attention that large publishers are also giving the iPhone. But it is possible. The only real issue I have is the cost of getting started. Currently, I do not have access to a Mac computer outside of work nor do I own an iPhone or Touch. So I would have to shell out quite a bit to get started.