A BROWSER MANIFESTO – PART 8
Game developers are optimists. Thank God for that. But it is no longer an acceptable business strategy to simply believe that you are the only one that is going to make a superior game. Sure, we can all look down from our gaming Olympus and find fault with FarmVille and Angry Birds, believing we can do better. In reality, we all have our hits and misses and we all make better and better games as the bar is raised higher. Yet we all regress to the mean. In today’s market we should make the best game we can, but that’s not a strategy, it’s a faith.
The life of a developer was simpler when they made the game and left it up to their publisher to pay their expenses, dictate the platform choice and get the customers. The first radical change was when Apple, Facebook and Android all offered to embrace developers directly and took both retailers and publishers out of the equation. There was quite a honeymoon period and it gave birth to Zynga and others and brought venture capital to many new game development companies. But the honeymoon is over. Now what?
The browser is the right platform focus. It is comprised of industry standards; is free, open and ubiquitous; and there are already nearly 3 billion computers that have browsers. Second, the browser is going to spread from PCs to tablets like wildfire, and there will be 1 billion tablets in the market within four years. The Apple iPad got the tablet market started and Apple always emphasizes their App Store and cripples the browser. If you read a review of a tablet in the last year you would therefore see a content focus on comparisons of apps and app stores. Within a year you will see the media focus shift to the far more important browser. After all, a tablet is a big screen experience that can and should run all World Wide Web content in its current form. And there will always be more content on the web than in any one app store. The browser will also blossom on Android smartphones because Google services need a good browser. Like water, we will see the browser find a way to show up on TVs and other boxes in the digital living room. One reason this is obvious is that nobody other than Apple can get their App Store because they won’t license it. This either leaves the remaining 100 global manufacturers all offering the same second-rate licensed app store and letting someone else control it, or it results in these companies realizing that they can get more content and more profit from using the open browser to provide the World Wide Web as their app store.
Anyone that focuses on the browser will therefore reach every screen in every room. The approach will be cloud-based on the server side and if app store client apps are desired they can be added as additional SKUs. Apps are important now but will decline versus the browser. I believe app stores will peak in the next few years and then decline gradually as the browser takes center stage on more platforms and screen sizes and with more and better games.
For certain, games need to be interoperable across screen sizes, locations, networks and platforms. This is strongly in the public interest, as every social medium in history got more than 100 times larger after it became interoperable. Two public habits change when this happens. First, we begin to get more social communication from a wider network and we realize that we can now communicate with everyone. Second, as we see and hear more people doing it, we recognize that it has become fashionable and we jump in and help it become pervasive.
On the marketing and distribution side, developers need to take charge of how they get traffic and make sure customers have a good first trial experience. Much of this can now be embodied within the game itself, including social game mechanics, viral features, shrewd tutorial design and metrics. Those are essentials but getting even more traffic requires business partners. Anyone who relies entirely on a destination like the Apple App Store, Amazon, GameStop, Steam or Android Market is continuing to engage in distribution thinking and it’s less efficient than if you stick to Discovery principles.
Developers should also think twice before throwing their support to anyone operating a closed platform with a license agreement that is subject to change. You’re not standing on solid ground, you’re a serf in a feudal system. To the extent that you gain an advantage in the value chain, they can take it away for themselves, or just kill it any time they like. While it is at least tempting to support a closed platform that already has hundreds of millions of customers, think three times before helping a smaller one get larger. These small ones are often charming and entrepreneurial and offer false freedom and special deals, because they still need to lure you in. Your pet baby crocodile may be very cute but after its first birthday it will see you only as food. The nascent platform may seem quite harmless, like a coordinated leaderboard community, but by providing games you are investing in them, becoming pregnant and helping them take control of your value chain. Furthermore, developers cannot continue to be ignorant or uncaring about how to acquire traffic, it is a fundamental need that the developer must learn to master and control.
So we are left with the question of how developers go cross-platform to all screens and make interoperable games, and how they take control of and get more traffic to their browser-based games. To answer these questions, developers need to disrupt themselves with something like potatoes and guano.