Hurry up and wait: A look to the future of iOS gaming

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What if the App Store ecosystem begins killing off innovation in iOS games? What happens when the ideas become stagnant and the steady stream of new and interesting content starts to repeat itself?

There’s no doubt that iPhone apps have changed how we approach games. We live in a time where Mario and Pac-Man have been shoved off the stage in favor of a few angered avians and their thirst for revenge. We throw around adjectives like "freemium" and "casual" to interpret and articulate anomalies like this, but now they're everywhere.


Give the list of the top free iPhone games a look. Notice anything (other than the atrocity that is Hair Plucker)? At the time of this writing, 9 of the top ten games support in-app purchases. On the paid apps side of things, 7 of the top ten games allow you to buy digital goods through them. Now, if this recent study is to be believed, roughly 72 percent of the revenue in the App Store originates from in-app purchases. That means that soon we’ll begin to see the free-to-play model growing on our iOS devices…until it's all that there is. This will not only destroy the pricing structure as we know it, but I believe it will also kill developers’ drive to create compelling new games that push the touch interface further.

Free-to-play games are not inherently the problem, but the way they discourage developers from trying new things is. Paid apps are going to get cheaper, but to actually play them with any hopes of accomplishment will cost more money. Hundreds of games will saturate the marketplace, each a slightly altered version of the most successful apps at the time.The worst part of all this? Preventing it is going to be nearly impossible.

Sure, we could vote with our dollars and refuse to pay for the apps that force us to make microtransactions, but just like with Facebook, they’ll still win eventually. All they need is a Farmville-esque hit with excellent social integration and there will be no use in trying to fight it off.

The App Store used to be known as a mysterious entity full of non-standard ideas that miraculously worked given the way we play games on our iPhones, iPads, and iPods. Unfortunately, it has become overpopulated with people trying to make as much money as they can. Once someone figures out the best strategy to keep our wallets open, the other developers will follow and try to replicate it. We’re destined to be stuck, just as we are with Facebook games, constantly searching for someone brave enough to make a title that is compelling and clever enough for us to consider giving them back our trust. But in the interim, all we can do is wait.

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