The recent announcement regarding the availability of PopCap’s Chuzzle and Plants Vs Zombies on the Android platform is important for us first and foremost because it will make our games available to a very large and vocal user base, which has been clamoring for us to make them available on Android devices. After the exclusive distribution period with Amazon in the US, we’ll be gradually rolling out the games on global channels, in line with our goal to reach the widest possible audience with products that are accessible everywhere, for everyone.
With an estimated 400,000 new activations per day, the Android platform has reached a critical mass that makes it impossible to ignore for game developers, but more importantly it represents an exciting opportunity to reach a broad global audience with high-quality mobile gaming experiences.
PopCap has been active in the mobile space since 2003, when Bejeweled was released for J2ME, and then through our internal mobile development studio since the launch of Chuzzle for J2ME and BREW in 2007. From early on in our history, we approached mobile as the ultimate mass gaming platform, as pretty much everyone owns a mobile phone and (by now) plays games on it. But the real breakthrough for the mobile gaming industry came in 2008, with the launch of the App Store for iPhone.
Until then, the mobile gaming ecosystem was extremely fragmented, forcing developers to adapt and test games across hundreds of different devices, then closing a myriad of deals with distribution channels, be it carriers or mobile phone manufacturers. By combining a great user experience with respect to discovery and purchase of games, and a much simpler development and publishing ecosystem, Apple revolutionized the mobile gaming market, leading to mobile gaming adoption over 5 times higher compared to feature phones, and driving the US mobile gaming market to grow to over $1 Billion in 2011.
At PopCap, we believe that Android will have a similarly transformative effect on the mobile games market, but we also know that there are still outstanding issues with the ecosystem that need to be addressed to allow the platform to truly succeed. Android has been growing at a faster rate than Apple with respect to install base, but the more open nature of the platform has led to a certain degree of fragmentation in terms of devices, storefronts and even OS versions, which make developing and successfully publishing on the platform trickier.
Google has indicated that it intends to limit the scope for device manufacturers in terms of customization of Android, and major OEM have indicated that they will be supporting each device with OS updates for at least 18 months after launch, both moves that will bring more uniformity with respect to software. With respect to storefronts, PopCap has chosen to launch with a two week exclusivity on Amazon on account of their leadership in providing great e-commerce experiences to their customers, which is reflected in the Amazon App Store. Other players, including Google, are continuously improving their storefront and making it easier for users to discover and purchase games, which bodes well for the platform.
Overall, we expect Android to be a very important platform for mobile gaming in the years to come, and for it to reach a very large number of users, with a particularly high penetration in developing markets. As cheaper Android devices are released, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing sub-$100 Android phones in Asia by the end of the year. This will likely bring a very rapid development of a market for “freemium” games, where the game itself is free, but customers pay for in-game content, a growing trend in mobile gaming that started in Asia and is now becoming prevalent globally. This is part of a broader trend towards games that are managed as a service, growing and evolving over time, a trend that PopCap embraces as it allows us to communicate directly with our customers and to deliver them gaming experiences that are fun, connected and social.
That said, while iOS and Android are key to our mobile strategy, we stay faithful to our charter to bring our games to every platform where our customers play, and as such we have made our games available on J2ME, BREW, Symbian, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and other platforms, as well as deploying localized versions in markets such as Japan and China.
And with respect to Android, what does the future hold? We can’t really say, but I’ve heard that a nice surprise might be in store if you love unicorns and rainbows…
Giordano Bruno Contestabile is PopCap Games’ Senior Director of Product and Business Strategy – Mobile. Contestabile has more than 10 years of experience in management, business development and strategy, having worked in the Internet, media, mobile and games industries.Follow Giordano Bruno Contestabile on Twitter.