The other day in this space, I asked whether unknown games would still be able to break through on the iOS App Store. A new mobile publisher in New England is about to find out by zigging where others zag.
First, a quick recap: Games that have already reached the top and monetize well can spend their way into sustained user acquisition, which in turn lowers the chart-climbing visibility of the little guys. Plus, Apple has reportedly negotiated deals with big companies like EA and ZeptoLab to get new games first in exchange for prominent promotion by the App Store’s editors — a popular dream among up-and-comers.
Boston-based Gameblyr is one of many publishers of mobile indie games out there. But unlike EA-owned Chillingo (which is looking for the next Flappy Bird) or Rovio Stars (which is trying to apply Angry Birds know-how to undiscovered free games), it’s mainly interested in a minority player on the App Store: Paid games.
“Free-to-play is becoming the new AAA of gaming,” Gameblyr CEO Marco Mereu said in an interview with Re/code. “It discourages people from taking chances. … There’s a misconception that you have to be free-to-play to do well.”
Mereu believes that games that charge for the initial download rather than in-app purchases, a business model that has largely fallen out of favor on mobile, get drowned out on the App Store but that the audience that would appreciate them is there.
“I reject the argument that nobody wants to pay for high quality games,” he said. “Steam users have smartphones too, but can’t find the games because of the way the App Store is structured.”
For the uninitiated: Steam is the current leading PC gaming portal, where most titles are paid downloads and independent developers like the ones Gameblyr wants to reach have thrived. All platforms, from PC to mobile to consoles, want to have indie games these days, if only because they carry with them an air of artistic credibility, but it’s uncertain how important the games are for driving hardware sales, which is Apple’s chief interest.
As I noted yesterday, Apple’s editors have frequently promoted paid independent games in the past and recently promoted one indie developer’s catalog in an App Store “showcase,” which Mereu pointed to as evidence that Apple wants the same things he does.
“They get it,” he said. “Apple doesn’t like its store being dominated by people doing paid UA [user acquisition] spend.”
However, former Eidos Interactive president Keith Boesky said he’s less sure as an outside observer that Apple’s editors can stave off deals around “platform-moving games.”
“The problem, as played out in Idiocracy, is the public does not always go for what Apple perceives as quality,” Boesky said. “Hence six flappies [Flappy Bird clones] in the top ten for a while despite Apple’s best efforts. … Apple knows, and Sony will find out shortly, indies don’t move hardware.”
Once in a blue moon, though, indies do give big games a run for their money — the Xbox 360 edition of Mojang’s Minecraft has been a smash hit for Microsoft. So it should come as no surprise that Mereu says Gameblyr wants “the next Minecraft.”
In the immediate future, its next game is Third Eye Crime, developed by a group of ex-Bungie engineers called Moonshot Games. Co-founder Damian Isla said the game combines stealthy gameplay with telepathic powers, letting players see what enemies are thinking as they sneak around them. The game will cost $2.99 to download initially, with two additional level packs available to download for 99 cents each.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.