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By 7 March 2011 | Categories: news

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Last week's Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco was the scene of several new announcements, sneak peaks and awards, but the conference was also the sight of some interesting critiques by a number of industry veterans.

According to CNN, Trip Hawkins, original founder of Electronic Arts and more recently of mobile games studio Digital Chocolate, said that Apple is creating the illusion of a viable games distribution network with its App Store.

He said that game developers are finding it tough to stand out in the crowded store with some 350 000 apps available for download. Hawkins used statistics that Apple had made public to calculate that each app earns an average of $4000. “Four thousand per application: Do you see a problem with that? That doesn't even pay for a really good foosball table.”

“If we can't figure out how to make it a healthy ecosytem, it's not going to be a great business for developers to be able to remain employed in,” he said.

Hawkins wasn't the only one with a bone to pick though, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata went on the offensive against smartphones during his keynote speech at the conference. “The objectives of smartphones and social-network platforms are not at all like ours. Their goal is just to gather as much software as possible, because quantity is what makes the money flow. Quantity is how they profit. The value of video-game software does not matter to them.”

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime repeated this view saying, “The only thing that concerns us is that it becomes a distraction for developers, and it ends up driving development effort down a path that potentially has very little return.”

While Nintendo was criticising the crowded marketplace notion of game development, they themselves were also the target of rebuttal from Hawkins. He attacked the gaming giants for instituting licensing fees associated with developing for Nintendo platforms years ago, locking out small developers.

“We used to have a free and open game business,” Hawkins said. “And then Nintendo came along and introduced a thing called a licensing agreement.” The same model was later emulated by Sony and Microsoft in their new consoles.

Nintendo however says it's trying to help bolster small developers with the launch of its eShop for the Nintendo 3DS. The online store won't be ready at launch, but when it launches it may carry the same kinds of small applications already found on most smartphones.

Hawkins said that the only real solution for small game developers was to focus on web development, where they can control the distribution process. “Think more about the browser. The browser will set you free,” he concluded.  

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