Simogo quits iPhone and iPad gaming, and points the finger of blame at Apple

Simogo was my favourite mobile developer. Its games include Device 6, Year Walk, and the amusingly audacious one-thumb stealth/puzzle/platform/route-finding hybrid that is Beat Sneak Bandit. But, as you may have gleaned from the tense used in that opening line, the company has – for now at least – quit iOS.

Apple should treat this as a body blow. Simogo has consistently been one of the best developers on the platform, pushing the boundaries of gaming in new and interesting directions. Device 6, in particular, remains a masterclass in touchscreen game development – a strange puzzle/adventure hybrid, where you explore corridors composed of the very words in the game’s narrative. Sure, it could be made for a traditional console or PC – but it’d make far less sense.

But sadly, Simogo elaborates in a blog post that Apple is the problem, and I suspect the company remains largely oblivious to the pain it’s putting developers through, not only in terms of supporting games, but also regarding the longevity of their output.

Some choice quotes from Simogo’s writings say everything:

Let’s get the rough things out of the way first. This year we spent a lot of time updating our old mobile games, to make them run properly on new OS versions, new resolutions, and whatever new things that were introduced which broke our games on iPhones and iPads around the world. We’ve put months of work into this, because, well, we care that our games live on, and we want you to be able to keep playing your games. Had we known back in 2010 that we would be updating our games seven years later, we would have shook our heads in disbelief.

I’ve heard similar from other developers. It’s such a shift from when I visited an EA developer press event around 2012, when indies they’d got on board were brimming with excitement about iOS gaming. Then, it was a breath of fresh air – less hassle with platform issues and gatekeepers alike. But iOS has become a moving target in a way it never used to be.

This year, a lot of time we had planned to spend on our current project, ended up being spent on just making sure that our games would not be gone from the app store. Because sadly, the platform holder seems to have no interest in preservation of software on their platform.

This in itself is quite curious. I suspect Apple has no senior advocate of gaming. I’ll be amazed if anyone in Apple leadership is a big gamer. Much of the evidence points to Apple still largely considering gaming broadly throwaway. There’s a kind of ‘read and burn’ mentality, which is at odds with how the company thinks about movies, television, music and books.

We can criticize and be angry and mad about it all we want, but we don’t think that any efforts we put in can change that direction.

Developers feel powerless. They feel that Apple isn’t listening – and doesn’t care.

So, instead, we’re thinking a lot about how we can find ways to preserve our games, and our own history, because it is inevitable that our mobile games will be gone sometime in a distant, or not so distant future, as iOS and the app store keeps on changing and evolving. We don’t have a definitive answer, or any final ideas how this would be possible, but we’ll keep on thinking about it, and try to come up with solutions, and we welcome any input and ideas on this from you too!

I at the time wrote about the appocalypse. Many games have since been updated, but then the iPhone X threw another spanner in the works. Regardless, even 64-bit support feels like a stay of execution. Come iOS 12, how many games will fail to work and just disappear?

The response to all this is perhaps inevitable:

As you can imagine, this has led to thoughts about platforms in general.

Simogo notes that the iPhone changed everything, and the ease of mobile development drew the tiny studio to making iPhone games, but:

it’s getting increasingly financially unviable, tiring and unenjoyable for us to keep on making substantial alterations for new resolutions, guidelines, and what have you, as they seem to never end.

The appeal is gone. And, crucially:

Before we started Simogo, we had made console games, and had grown really tired of the clunky processes, politics, certifications and primitive development environments that was involved in making a console game. Today, a lot of that clunkiness is gone, and sadly, for a small developer like us, mobile has become more difficult to support than consoles.

In other words, the advantages mobile had – iOS had – are gone, while console gatekeepers have slowly recognised and removed barriers to entry.

The next Simogo game therefore won’t grace the iPhone and iPad. It feels like the end of an era.

December 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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Super Mario Run will cost ten whole dollars. Entitled idiots assemble!

As reported by the entire internet, the upcoming Mario game for iOS, Super Mario Run, now has an official price tag: $9.99/£7.99. Predictably, people have immediately split into three camps (with crossover between the first two): those happy to see Nintendo value its mobile product appropriately (thereby also hoping that means it’s good); developers hoping it’ll impact on iOS pricing as a whole; and entitled furious idiots throwing toys out of their prams at the prospect of a company having the audacity to charge money for an iPhone game.

My inkling is the first of those suggests a game that, at the very least, won’t be shit. Nintendo’s perhaps smartly not bringing existing classics to iOS, nor even a ‘full’ Mario experience, but there’s no reason it cannot create a really great touchscreen-optimised game. After all, two of the four Rayman titles work really well on iOS; of the two that don’t, one is a direct port of an ancient Rayman game, and the other had hope beaten out of it by a baseball bat with ‘freemium’ scrawled across it in pen. By contrast, Super Mario Run has precisely one IAP, to unlock the full game.

I also suspect the second of those things won’t come to pass. Developers might hope a ten-buck game would lead to people’s entitlement and expectation on mobile shifting, but that ship has long sailed. Instead, it will simply prove that Nintendo can charge ten bucks for a game. Unless your IP is similarly famous (the Codemasters F1 title also has the same price), you’ll still be scrapping it out at the low end, or hoping for the best in the $2.99–$4.99 pricing arena that’s laughably referred to as ‘premium’ on mobile.

As for the idiots? They’ll continue being idiots. There are no guarantees about the quality of Nintendo’s game, nor how well it will perform. There’s not even any guarantee that it won’t bump up the average price of iOS games, even though that is extremely unlikely. No, the one certainly is this the free-to-download game will get a slew of shitty App Store reviews from people horribly angry they can’t play yet another game for free.

November 15, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions


Apple should rethink regarding games with political and sexual content

Apple likes to think it’s hip and cool — or whatever words hip and cool people are using these days to describe being hip and cool — but the company at times comes across like someone’s dad. This is never more the case than when it comes to gaming. Apple’s latest news headline in this area: rejecting a game about a Palestinian child struggling to survive in the 2014 Gaza strip.

This line of thinking isn’t new for Apple. App Store guidelines since 2010 have stated:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app.

This showcases Apple’s concern with the interactive components of apps. When it comes specifically to gaming, I also suspect Apple links them to being a juvenile pursuit, unlike the ‘grown up’ mediums of music and literature. This was a dated distinction to make in the 1990s, when Cannon Fodder did the rounds, ruthlessly satirising war (while simultaneously being a bloody excellent game). But we’re now 35 years into home gaming, and the medium has matured at speed. As someone who’s trained in the fine arts, I often take issue with the ‘games are art’ argument, but it’s clear some border on (or possibly are) art, plenty more are artistic, and a great many have something important to say.

This is one of those occasions where Google Play’s light-touch curation gets things right, letting people create in the medium of their choice. Liyla and the Shadows of War is available to download there. But whereas Apple as an organisation lauds creativity and encourages people to be creative with its devices, it stops short when it comes to interactive content. Apple doubles down on older mediums and means of expression other than embracing the new. There are exceptions — Apple will allow abstracted political statements, as evidenced by Papers, Please — but that feels a lot like dancing around any points, and can be a compromise too far when someone’s trying to craft a very personal story via the medium of gaming. (Similarly, in a store with device age-gating, why shouldn’t someone be able to create a game that explores aspects of sex?)

On the flip side, I don’t doubt Apple has it tough. If there was a change in policy, perhaps there would be a flood of rabid ‘anti’ games, slamming specific figures, politicians or movements. With App Store reviews reportedly lasting only a matter of minutes, would it even be possible for a reviewer to examine a game, and deem whether it’s unacceptably offensive in some way? Still, I do hope Apple rethinks, because it could and should be a force for good across the entire range of gaming, rather than a force for ambivalence or, worse, obstruction.

Update (May 23): In this case, at least, Apple has rethought. The game’s creator says on Twitter that the game will be published on the App Store.

May 20, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions, Politics

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Steve the jumping dinosaur clone

Steve the jumping dinosaur bounded past me a while ago, but there’s been a deluge of press about this mini-game over the past week, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Moreover, it’s odd how much of this coverage is ignoring key facts about the game.

If you’ve not chanced across Steve’s retro charms, it’s a game for iOS that works within Notification Center. You tap and the little dinosaur hops over obstacles until you mess up and it doesn’t, at which point your game is over. Much of the press seems to be full of wonder about the ultra-casual nature of the game, and the excitement of playing a game within Notification Center.

But although Steve isn’t a terrible game by any means, it’s nothing remotely special, given that there are countless similar (and better) games available for iOS (and Android, for that matter). It’s also far from the first Notification Center game — they go back at least a couple of years, after Apple cooled on only allowing the feature to be used for information presentation. Most of all, Steve is a truly blatant clone of a game that’s long appeared in Google Chrome’s offline mode. (If you have that browser installed, try it now — turn off your Wi-Fi, try to access a site, and you’ll see a little dinosaur lurking. Tap space and away you go.) So it’s not very good, it’s not unique, and it even omits the pterodactyls from the browser version, presumably angering pterodactyl fans everywhere.

However, Steve does give you a bunch of new themes to, naturally, buy via IAP. Given that Steve’s creator wasn’t responsible for the Chrome original, this all feels a bit iffy, profiting off of someone else’s work, but if this is the brave new world of gaming, it’s clearly time to throw integrity down a mineshaft and get involved. Any devs out there went to partner up? I’m sure we can get a ton of column inches with Steve Invaders, Steve ‘Flappy’ Bird, Stevey Road, and Angry Steve. And that’s just for starters.

April 25, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions

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Low-hanging fruit for Apple and gaming, part two: genres and search

Following on from my gripes about MFi controllers, I want to touch on another aspect of Apple and gaming: genres and search.

Gaming is a rare example in the App Store where Apple included genre links, enabling people to filter their browsing. But I always found the categories Apple chose a bit strange. That ‘dice’ games get their own category but platform games don’t makes me question whether this list of genres was put together by anyone who knows the first thing about gaming.

Now there are many thousands of games on the store, these categories are entirely inadequate for finding the types of games you might enjoy. Apple’s search isn’t especially helpful (type ‘platform game’ and you get a list mostly comprising not exactly great titles, and a ton of stuff is lumped in with ‘arcade’), and so Apple’s own ‘curated’ groups are probably someone’s best bet for unearthing new games within a genre — assuming Apple’s made a list and you can find it.

Ideally, Apple would rip up the genre list and start again. But perhaps there’s another way around this, giving developers some kind of tagging system based around recognised genres and sub-genres, and allowing them to select from a small range when submitting their games (each of which would have to be justified to the App Store reviewer). That way, you could feasibly with a couple of clicks or taps (or a keyword search) get an always current list of kart racers or twin-stick shooters, rather than continuing to rummage through the semi-random marketstall that is the current App Store. (And I imagine this kind of thing could work for apps, too, also plagued by very general categories.)

So my second piece of low-hanging fruit for Apple and gaming is:

2. Improve discoverability for games by creating a more robust tagging/categorisation/search system that would enable dynamic grouping of broadly similar games.

April 21, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions


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