Deciding what platform to develop for is as big a decision as what game to make! Over the past 30 years, there have been about 4 or 5 platforms (computer/video/handheld game systems) to decide to develop on at any given time. Now, it has never been more confusing or exciting to be a game software developer. It is utter chaos now with mobile, web, micro consoles and even watch games all competing with "classic" PC, video game and handheld systems.
With a half dozen major game platforms being released this year including Shield, Ouya, GameStick, WikiPad, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, there seems to be no end in sight for new systems to keep coming out. That is not all, there are rumors out there Google, Apple and Amazon are all working on dedicated game machines!
In the past, this plethora of platforms was often nightmare for a game developer. If you remember the mid 80s, they had Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Mac, Apple II, C64, NES, Sega System and a bunch of handheld systems. Every system was unique in its architecture and the spoils went to the teams that could figure out what the best platforms to develop on and release quickly. In addition, they had to consider the time when they released their game in the hardware product life cycle because game systems were usually not viable after five years (often much less time than this). In addition to the technical challenges, there was a significant risks with cartridge costs, marketing costs and the high cost to be a licensed developers for some systems like Nintendo, Atari and Sega.
So what makes it so exciting now vs the past? Now they are still going crazy with the new hardware platform releases but...:
- The base hardware technologies have centered around a couple of leading platforms like PC (including Xbox One and PSP 4), iOS and Android. All of these technologies have "long tails" which means they are likely to last 5-10 years or more. This is an eternity in the game business.
- Every hardware platform needs an operating system, tools and APIs (application program interfaces) in order to work. Similar to the hardware consolidation to a few major platforms, hardware developers realize it is extraordinarily difficult to create a completely proprietary system. Sony developers have felt the pain for 3 system generations (i.e. PS 1, PS2 and PS3) and they finally get some relief with the PC-like architecture of the PS4. So, new systems don't always mean proprietary development. A welcome improvement.
- iOS and Android are two relatively new operating systems that have proven to be popular; more popular than past gaming operating systems with numbers in the Billions, not 100s of millions like past systems, even PC. (remember most PCs are used for business, not gaming)
- 3rd Party Technology has long been big business and it is bigger than ever. Technology and software engines/tools have grown to support multi-platform development. Unreal, Unity and Torque are engine/tool technologies that lower the cost of multi-platform development.
- Despite the fact that there is no doubt the costs increase to release for several platforms, the incremental costs are minuscule compared to past costs of releasing products on multiple platforms. Digital distribution and advertising take a huge cost of publishing off of the plate of a developer who now bears a lot of those costs after the product ships. This back ended cost greatly reduce the risks from developers running out of money before they can ship a game.
So which platform do I favor?
I think they are all winners, from a market share point of view. I am comfortable saying PC, iOS and Android have proven user bases that are still growing. Of course, there are risks in new technology like PS4 and Xbox One, but if the cost of supporting them is reasonable, I think you will see a ton of indies jump on those platforms as well. Despite the sentiment, I think handheld systems like PS Vita and Nintendo DS have long lives.
After all this exciting talk about the gaming platforms, I've neglected to mention the most exciting platform of all...HTML 5!
Definitely another blog...