The Monkey That Rules The App Store

I am not that good with an accelerometer. These motion-detection gaming devices wreak havoc with my pathetic hand eye coordination and remind me I suck at spatial relationships.

"Dad, you really suck at this," my daughter says with genuine shock as I veer my Mario Kart Racer off the mining car tracks yet again. Bloody Wii! It's one thing when your progeny chuckles at your dweebiness, cluelessness, or overall ikkiness. That all goes with the teen vs. parent jousting. But when she ponies up authentic horror at your incompetence, it starts to sting. "You OK? You're not having an aneurism or anything, are you?" No, no aneurism. Just me using a Wiimote.

I don't even try to play the Super Monkey Ball on the iPhone. With 300,000 units sold at $9.99 in its first three weeks in the App Store, it appears to be the gorilla in the market right now. I have to wonder how many of us got it just to see how the accelerometer translates hand movements into ball movements. I am good for about three corners and then that pesky aneurism sets in.



Better to report on it than play it. Sega Mobile's senior director, Tammy Robinson, spent some time with me last week discussing the advantages of bringing a console game title into the App Store. Before coming to Sega, Robinson was manager of content programming for games, wallpaper and applications at Verizon Wireless.

Mobile Insider: What does selling 300,000 copies of a mobile game in three weeks mean to Sega in relation to other platforms -- and future development of a platform that still has a sliver of the market?  

It is phenomenally successful pretty much for any platform in the first month of sales. So that was an amazing push and we're really excited about that number and what that means for the platform. You did mention how small of a share the iPhone itself has in the marketplace. But it is still commanding a great deal of downloads. When I see an article where they [Apple] are thinking this could be a billion dollar business, it is really hard to run away from something like that. You will see a lot of new publishers stick a toe into the market.

MI: Count the ways Apple makes it easy to develop here relative to other platforms.

Apple benefited from some of the well-known struggles in the mobile publishing industry for the last few years. You have seen where the other platforms are making adjustments and ramping up the quickness to market. It's particularly easy because the development costs are low in comparison to some of the platforms. You will see right now where Apple is not controlling who can and cannot publish on the platform in a very strict way.

MI: The App Store already is getting cluttered, and I am not much of a fan of their software. I think a lot more can be done with personalizing that experience. As all of these developers pile in, won't they have discovery issues just like the carriers?

How much content can you surf? The one good thing is it is not limited to the device itself. iTunes itself is almost everywhere when you think about how many people have iPods. From a merchandising perspective it does allow you to package your product with images. You get a great snapshot of what other people are saying about your product, so it helps from a peer-to-peer perspective. It allows the customer to easily search for that particular content in a number of ways. It lends itself to a very brand oriented kind of merchandising experience.

You can also see what other products people are buying. There are a lot of advantages to the iTunes product. I have been in the shoes of the Apple guys where I was at the other side trying to program hundreds of pieces of content, and it can get difficult. I don't exactly know what their strategy is behind dealing with their tremendous success. They are going to have a lot more content.

What I have noticed in the last four years working on the gaming business in mobile is, these things tend to work themselves out. The consumer decides what is successful and what companies are successful;. and this is why Sega really wants to participate in this space. We have such great product, such good brand recognition, we really think we can compete with an entirely new base of customers.

MI: Looking into the future of handsets, do you see more devices mimicking the iPhone and maybe making the investment on iPhone development amortizable on other phones?

Absolutely. The last year at Verizon there was a lot of new devices that I saw with touch capabilities with full screen implementations. As far as Sega bringing titles and content to those products, we will be where the customer is. Whether it is in new devices that are game-centric or devices that are portable and either feature full- or part-time gaming, I think we will be able to bring our products to those platforms because we are so strong in a number of areas -- not only in content but also quality and how we bring titles to market.

MI: Is the revenue split on iPhone apps so much more advantageous than almost any other deal in mobile that it is going to push the carriers to change their models too?

I don't know what the carriers will do. One positive thing that I can say about the iPhone business model, above all, is that it is  very streamlined. We are in a relationship directly with Apple and the two of us are partners and look at the gross revenues and split it up accordingly. It may or may not see a change in the way carriers work in that space but, they do have a number of different challenges on their end and maybe a couple more hands in the pie than Apple. That may be a little bit of a challenge for them.

But you know things change very quickly in this industry and I learned that from being around for a few years. And I think great companies adapt to situations. I expect that the carriers will do what is the best thing for the industry, and the best thing, ultimately, for the overall business that they are in. 

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