I was thinking about Chillingo the other day, and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. Chillingo, at least in my eyes, used to be a name that was synonymous with quality. There was a time when every game that they launched in the App Store was an event. But as they grew bigger and became more popular, it seems like they’ve outgrown that quality reputation that pushed them to the top in the first place. And it’s all about quantity versus quality – or more accurately, quantity versus the perception of quality.
When you combine all of the iOS releases of Chillingo and their Clickgamer.com brand, including lite versions and HD versions, as well as any games that have since been removed, the total number of downloads they’ve made available on the App Store is 481. That’s a staggering amount. To give you some perspective, Gameloft has only 255. And Chillingo’s parent company, Electronic Arts, has only 180. So to put it another way, that’s more than EA and Gameloft combined.
Of course, if you’re in the industry, these numbers probably don’t come as much of a shock. Not a week goes by where I don’t get an email letting me know about another two or three new Chillingo-published games that have hit the App Store. In fact if I didn’t get that e-mail, I’d probably be on the phone with Google to tell them my gmail is broken long before I contacted Chillingo.
Are you getting the picture yet? Chillingo releases a lot of games.
But it didn’t always used to be this way. Games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope had a chance to shine because, when they were released, they weren’t lost in a sea of other releases from the same publisher. They had a chance to stand out, letting that Chillingo mark of quality shine. Now it’s simply too easy for a great game to get lost in the shuffle.
Just look at a game like Dream Track Nation, or even Quiz Climber. These are well-polished titles that, if handled differently, might have stood a chance of becoming perennial App Store favourites. But since they were lost in the shuffle, they’ve become little more than footnotes in Chillingo’s lengthy release calendar. Heck – Quiz Climber isn’t even available for download anymore.
That’s not to say that Chillingo releases don’t manage to crack the top 10. Games like Contre Jour, DrawRace 2, and Feed Me Oil have all proven that their games can still bring in the big bucks – but in releasing so many games, big publishers like Chillingo seem to be more in the “let’s throw a thousand games at the wall and see what sticks” business than in the business or curating great games, which is exactly what we’d hope a publisher would do.
I’m not saying that Chillingo games aren’t good – I’d argue quite the contrary, in fact. But there was a time when, as an editor, I made sure that we covered every Chillingo release because I knew in advance that simply being published by Chillingo made it worthy of coverage. That simply isn’t the case anymore.
By contrast, there are some smaller publishers out there that only put out a handful of iOS games each year, and every time they do, we know it will be worthy of a closer look. Take Crescent Moon Games, for example. As of this writing, they only have six games on the App Store: Pocket RPG, Gears, Aralon: Sword and Shadow, Rimelands: Hammer of Thor, Deadlock: Online, and Siegecraft. We’ve reviewed all six. Why? Because we know that, whether the games themselves turn out good or bad, there’s a certain standard they’ve set as a publisher that makes it easy to decide to cover them. We go into a Crescent Moon release with the expectation that it will be good. We know that, as a publisher, they’re not simply partnering with a developer to slap a label on the virtual box and hope to cash in – they’re taking the time to make sure they’re putting out the best possible products.
Do some of these games turn out to be duds? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that every possible effort to make them a success wasn’t made – and that’s the vibe a smaller company like Crescent Moon Games gives off.
It may feel like I’m picking on Chillingo unfairly here, but it’s simply that they’re the most visible offender. Other big brands like EA are guilty of it too. For example, Trivial Pursuit is a huge franchise, yet how many of you knew that the all new Trivial Pursuit: Master Edition hit the iPad last week? I’d bet none. On the flipside, how many of you knew about the last two releases from Halfbrick when they hit, Fruit: Ninja: Puss in Boots and Jetpack Joyride? All of you? Exactly.
And it would be hard to ignore the fact that quantity isn’t the only problem that can cause a developer to lose credibility. Even if you’re releases aren’t all that common, if your games aren’t good, nobody is going to get excited when you put a new one out. Social mobile gaming provides some great examples of this. Gameview Studios, for example, have turned out sub-par release after sub-par release, making it hard for them to stay on anybody’s radar. Capcom’s Beeline studio, however, has published top notch titles like Smurfs’ Village and Monster Pet Shop, making it an easy choice for us to want to keep an eye on whatever they’re working on next. (and right now, it’s a neat little game featuring Charlie Brown!)
But then again, Gameview’s Tap Fish 2 has been doing well in the charts for weeks now. So what do we know?
When you’re slamming out five or ten games a month, it’s hard for the public perception to see your brand as anything more than factory. It may be profitable to churn out dozens of games every year, but once you hit a certain point, it starts to do some damage to your reputation – warranted or not.
Let’s just hope some of the great small publishers of today don’t outgrow their good reputations too.