There’s a phrase you’re going to see a lot in this conversation: AAA title. The AAA title is the gaming equivalent of the summer blockbuster movie – a tentpole release. They come with high quality graphics, a broad market appeal, easy gameplay, and a large marketing budget. These AAA titles typically only come from the big game studios, which is almost by necessity considering the large financial commitment that is required to make a AAA title happen.
The cost to develop a title like Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. 3 or Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed Most Wanted or even the latest installment of Angry Birds from Rovio can easily reach into the millions. These games have large teams of designers, developers, and artists. As with any app, the goal is to bring in enough revenue to cover the upfront development costs, support and services expenses, finance the development of the next releases and cover the losses from failed ones, and maybe put a bit of money in the bank at the end of the day.
The availability of a single game isn’t likely to influence the purchasing decision of customer. But not having a lot of AAA titles can make a difference.
Paying developers to make apps
In an effort to bring more developers to Windows Phone, Microsoft has actively subsidized the development of big name apps for the platform. In 2012 The New York Times reported that Microsoft had spent between $ 60,000 and $ 600,000 to bring apps like Foursquare and Cheezburger to the Windows Phone Store.
BlackBerry has offered developers $ 10,000 to build apps for BlackBerry 10, though the app must earn at least $ 1,000 in a year in the BlackBerry World app store first. After that, BlackBerry covered the difference to $ 10,000.
The iOS App Store has been able to rely on the sheer popularity of iPhone and iPad devices. With more than 800,000 apps totalling 45 billion downloads, Apple has paid developers more than $ 8 billion for their app sales – after taking their 30% cut, of course.
Excepting a dedicated few, the availability of a single game – even a AAA title – on a smartphone isn’t likely to influence the smartphone or tablet purchasing decision of customer. There are much bigger factors to be considered than whether or not Game X is available on the platform. But not having a lot of AAA titles can make a difference. It’s one thing for a platform’s app storefront to not be playing host to the very latest Angry Birds title, it’s another for not a single Angry Birds edition to be present.
The customer isn’t likely to be looking for a specific game, but when they look over a catalog’s selections and notice that it’s missing a lot of those AAA titles, it doesn’t reflect well on the platform, and thus their purchasing decision.
The presence of a large cross-section of AAA title games on in an app store cannot be underestimated. Every platform comes with a calculator, a calendar, a web browser, and other basic apps. The majority of the apps available in the app market exist to supplement or replace the functionality of those apps or provide new utilitarian functions. Games, on the other hand, provide entertainment. They’re not the domain of the platform builder, and for good reason. A focus on functionality requires an entirely different mindset than a focus on entertainment.
Since the platform developer isn’t going to make the games themselves in the same way they make the contacts app and the email app, how are they supposed to get those best games – the AAA games – in their app store? How is a behind-in-marketshare company like BlackBerry or Microsoft supposed to compete with the pure marketshare power of Android and iOS?
How is a company like BlackBerry or Microsoft supposed to compete with the pure marketshare power of Android and iOS?
Money, that’s how. BlackBerry and Microsoft are lucky in that they’ve been blessed with large cash reserves from their past successes. They might not be on top right now, but they’ve got the money on hand to spend to get themselves into a position where maybe they can be again. When Electronic Arts gears up to build their next iteration of Real Racing, it’s a forgone conclusion that their initial development investment is going to be target at iOS and Android. Go where the money is, as they say.
Of course, Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10 are eventually on the development roadmap for many AAA titles. By virtue of the extreme development costs of such games, it makes sense to eventually make them available to as many customers as possible. The majority of the development cost is dedicated to building the game for the larger platforms, and eventually they get around to porting it to the smaller platforms. Getting these AAA titles on the smaller platforms isn’t usually a matter of if, but when.
Platform developers need to be willing to put up the money themselves to bring the big AAA games to their platforms earlier. They need to be willing to help offset some of the studio’s development cost. Paying to bring the games on board can help sway customers, who will buy your phone, and then buy those games. Once more devices are sold and games are purchased, the customer base will exist to help justify the development cost to the game studio.
The cost is a risk. Platform builders to a lot to mitigate the risks that the customers face by providing built-in apps and services. If they’re wanting more AAA titles, they need to do the same for the game studios. There are customers to be won over and there’s money to be made – you just have to spend some first.
How important are big-name game titles to you?