Logo_on_whiteEarlier today we posted an editorial from our old pal Carter "3.5 Stars" Dotson where he argued that surprise releases, like Pokemon GO [Free] and Day of the Tentacle Remastered [$4.99] as recent examples, are hurtful towards other developers who are carefully planning their release strategy. I actually agree with everything Carter says in his piece. Woe is the developer who has a release date planned well ahead of time only to see some mega superstar game pop up on the scene out of nowhere on the same day and soak up all of the attention. However, I have a different perspective on all of this. I love surprise releases! It's one of the things that drew me into mobile gaming (and TouchArcade itself, for that matter) so many years ago. There's nothing like waking up in the morning and firing up the forums to see dozens of people freaking out because some interesting or noteworthy game unexpectedly hit our beloved mobile platform.

I also think that sort of thing keeps mobile gaming sites like ours more organic and interesting to read. There's nothing more boring than learning of a big game coming out but having to adhere to the same embargo time as every other site, so that when the game finally does come out everyone has the same sort of cookie cutter coverage as each other. When a game launches out of the blue, there's an excitement surrounding that, and an urgency to write about and share in that excitement with our readers that I feel is lacking when we're well aware of something in advance. I don't think Carter would necessarily disagree with that, either, as aside from all the negative points he mentions in his article it's a lot of fun to see a game pop up out of thin air.

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The bigger problem is how Apple goes about featuring games, and in a much broader sense, the App Store approval system itself. Visibility has been the number one problem with developers being able to make money putting games on mobile, and Apple doesn't do much to solve that problem. In fact they make it worse every day by letting open the floodgates of subpar clones and reskins. Why would anyone want to spend any significant amount of time or money developing a cool mobile game when on the very day they release their baby into the wild there are literally hundreds of other games of questionable quality being released at the same time, burying their hard work? We do our best here to highlight the good games from the daily deluge of crap, but even then there's tons of stuff that falls through the cracks. Great games going almost entirely unnoticed and never even having a chance at life is a daily occurrence in the App Store. It's really depressing.

This is definitely not an easy problem to solve, though. Part of the reason there is so much crap on the App Store is because the barrier to entry to game development has never been so low, and a big part of that is thanks to Apple and digital app stores. Some amazing games would have never even been made had that not been the case, so I certainly don't want to take a step backwards and go back to the more corporate-controlled method of making games. At the same time, because that barrier is so low, lots of unscrupulous developers are using that as a means to make a buck by flooding the market with crap. There's far too many games submitted to Apple for them to look long and hard at each one, and the approval process is mostly on autopilot from what I understand. I doubt any of that is going to change anytime soon.

Day of the Tentacle (2)

I don't know what the solution is. All I know is that a little over a week ago I did not have Day of the Tentacle Remastered on my phone, and then in the blink of an eye, just like magic, there it was, and it's hard to describe how exciting that was at the time. I don't want that feeling to ever go away. On the other hand, it's hard to see so much negativity towards developing for mobile. Gaining visibility is next to impossible unless you win the Apple featuring lottery, and the "race to the bottom" mentality of the past several years makes it that much harder to earn any money even if you do have the visibility part down pat. Like I said, it's really depressing, because the mobile platform has the potential to be the greatest thing ever.

I'd love to say that Apple is aware of this issue and working on a solution as we speak, but that seems pretty far-fetched. They've never shown much interest in gaming, and they love touting the total number of apps in their App Store as a badge of honor more than they care about the actual quality of all those apps. I just hope that somewhere in the world someone is trying to figure out how to Make the App Store Great Again before every developer has finally had enough and abandons the platform altogether.

  • speedyph

    Both of y'all make good points I like this with the counter points Jared puts a new twist on things nice to see another author counter it wit a new article my fav ghost release was transistor I was so exited when I got the notification that it released on the App Store ❤️❤️❤️💃🏿💃🏿💃🏿😎💯

    • Milotorou

      I remember Transistor being actually announced a few months prior, wasnt it ? (with no release date though mind you) so technically it wasnt a surprise... we knew it was coming, we just didnt know when. Supergiant games isnt a major publisher so they mustve chose a good time to release it

  • Milotorou

    I do understand your point, mobile is also the only platform where that kind of behaviour works (mostly because most apps and games rely on impulse buying)

    That being said my personal opinion differs. I actually agree with Carter, surprise releases are mostly dumb, and to top that off most of them rely on being F2Ps with a bunch of paywall shenanigans, those games are actually the ones receiving most profit from surprise releases.

    No developpers can safely drop a 20$ app as a "surprise" and expect to make a better profit than if they would've state a release date to build up hype.

    I'd like to take Crashlands as an example, you think this game wouldve sold this much if it was a surprise release ?

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      I think for established games it probably works in its favor to be a surprise release. Word spreading about a popular game now being on mobile probably encourages more impulse buys from people before they really have the chance to think through if it's a game they NEED on mobile or how the controls/port quality is, etc.

      I don't actually see what you mean about free to play benefiting from surprise releases. Almost all of them are extensively soft-launched and/or beta tested for a really long time before they're actually released. I can't actually think of any free to play games that have surprise launched, except for Pokemon GO, which was sort of expected and is still in the process of being released.

      As for Crashlands, that's a unique example for a lot of reasons. Sam's amazing cancer survival story helped thrust it into the mainstream spotlight. Not that Crashlands itself isn't noteworthy enough as a game, but I can't imagine mainstream gaming sites posting the sort of pre-coverage for it that they did had that not been a factor. So if you take that out of the equation and imagine Crashlands launching completely out of the blue with no prior knowledge of its development, I actually think the surprise approach would have been more beneficial than a planned release date. That's just taking the more hardcore mobile gaming community into account like those who read our site and visit our forums. Imagine how crazy people in the forums would be if this massive, open-world RPG with this incredible made for touchscreen user interface launched out of nowhere. It would be huge, BUT, only huge in terms of our community. If it launched with a planned release date, a lot of those people would be the "waiting for impressions" or "waiting for price drop" people rather than the impulse buyers a surprise release might make them be.

      Like I said, though, I agree with Carter too. I would be very disheartened if I worked for years on my indie RPG and then it happened to launch the same day a Final Fantasy port showed up out of the blue. But if Apple had a better featuring system and put more effort into clamping down on approving games of questionable quality, there could be hope that both the indie RPG and the big name RPG port could launch on the same day and could happily coexist together.

      • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

        That's pretty much what happened with Demon's Rise. Launched the same day as Final Fantasy 7. ☺

      • Tallgeese

        Crashlands is small Indie fair and they are usually a surprise release owing to the fact that Indie games typically don't have the might and momentum (that is to say their own conventions and daily IGN/Gamespot article) of, say, Blizzard games. Big games set up an expectation and hype so consumers prepare to dive into their wallets for it and associated merchandise (although Indies can do this too, they rarely ask for as much up front). A free to play knocking at your door in the middle of the night with the total cost of zero (save opportunity cost and other possible hidden fees) is a lot easier to greet than a larger and more costly interloper, especially one that you're surprised has arrived with little to no foregone fanfare.

  • HelperMonkey

    I commented on this topic after reading Carter's article, just before this popped up

    • HelperMonkey

      ..sorry, hit "post" accidentally...
      So, yeah. I agree with your points too.
      And part of the race to the bottom in pricing is because there's so much crap on the AppStore that no one is willing to risk five bucks. It's seen as a crapshoot. So the reputation of mobile gaming suffers, which leads to more freemium, which leads to a less serious reputation, which feels like a death spiral.
      And freemium is risky for small developers without the experience or resources to create a viable monetization model. You risk pissing players off if you're too aggressive, you risk making nothing if no one spends money on IAPs. And you're screwed regardless if no one sees your game.
      All of this hurts mobile gaming quality, because you need an entry point for quality developers if you want quality development. Even just taking the effort to port an existing game can be wasted, and that's one avenue in which you don't really even have an option to go freemium.
      I don't want to see mobile gaming become just a method of cash in avenue for companies that already have the resources and IPs to succeed. There's so much possibility for it to be a place where literally anyone can make a great game, but it will only stay that way if it's worth their time. Unfortunately, it's up to Apple to improve the environment, and I don't even have any reasonable advice to give if they were listening.
      What does everyone else think about some concrete improvements that would make the AppStore more inviting and accessible?

  • Tallgeese

    Based on all the bugs, kinda feels like Pokemon Go just sorta launched preemptively and will be adding features and squashing bugs as it goes, much like the latest Street Fighter and a bunch of other early access games (the just launch it with bugs is practically Bethesda's motto, and as far as open betas go I'm unfortunately hooked on the PC only GITS one, it's devoid of story, and a frustrating CS:GO clone but it's something I feel compelled to play it (damn you, pick up and play games but hooray for under appreciated IPs)... Still one should always keep their eye on the competition and modulate accordingly, movies do that, copycats obviously do too. Things usually "trickle down" to mobile so DotT shouldn't be too surprising (although it should certainly be welcome to anyone wanting a good adventure game on mobile, one hopes a pimped out Monkey Island 3 will finally soon follow (art's perfect but a commentary would be great (until then there's always The Journey Down))). And yes, mobile has always had potential and Pokego is finally cashing in on that by taking the innovation of Ingress and marrying it with something popular, see also: Angry Birds and Star Wars.

  • XperimentalZ Games

    A release date might easily require to be fixed at least 1-2 months in advance. Even without surprise launches, I don't see how it can be possible to guess how busy a release week it will be so long in advance, there's so much stuff going on. Only Apple would have the power to direct traffic and even out the density of releases.

  • InTheAir

    It's definitely depressing how much BS gets shoved on mobile storefronts.. The console space has defined good consumer ethics because of the barrier of entry required to enter it. Combine that with the wide expanse YouTube has given for anyone to voice their opinion to the whole world (But, I do have to admit those voices are questionable at times), and you have kids who actually give a word about buying good games. It's because of the fact that virtually everyone in the world interacts with mobile technology each day that mobile lives in a world with no rules. We'll see in the future if the solution to this problem is citing time, to give decent mobile games some headroom.

  • Michal Hochmajer

    What do We expect from Appstore/Apple?

  • Modjular

    I think sites like toucharcade do a fine job of bringing that visibility the AppStore lacks. Getting to more potential mobile gamers is the challenge, when they're more inclined to skim through the the AppStore charts than go to a site like TA