Eric Johnson

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BlackBerry’s Pitch to iOS and Android Game Developers: We’re the Same, but Different

blackberry_appsAt the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, most mobile devs said they would focus on iOS and/or Android (usually both), and play the “wait and see” game with everyone else. But in sync with its surprisingly good fourth-quarter earnings, BlackBerry is pitching the idea that bringing games into its new OS is a no-brainer.

“I’ve been evangelizing that BlackBerry is not a business device,” global gaming head Anders Jeppsson said. “It used to be, maybe, many years ago. But over 80 percent of our users are active consumers today, and they’re very, very social.”

In order to get to those users, though, developers must first be persuaded that porting games over to BlackBerry is simple and cheap. Naturally, Jeppsson said it is, thanks in part to the company’s open-source efforts on Github and the cross-platform social gaming tools provided by BlackBerry-owned Scoreloop.

Microsoft is also touting how easy it is for mobile developers to transition into its ecosystem, but — this is both a positive and a negative for Redmond — the discoverability gap versus BlackBerry 10 is huge. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are the newest members of a big family, including the proven powerhouse Xbox 360 and its accompanying Xbox Live Marketplace, not to mention Windows 8’s backward compatibility with innumerable PC games. Meanwhile, BlackBerry 10 is a nascent OS currently available on just one device, the Z10.

Efforts to bridge that device gap include some monetary incentives for BB10 developers, like the (now ended) “10K Commitment” that promised early-adopter devs up to $9,000 in free money if they couldn’t reach $10,000 in revenue in their first year on BB10. There’s also a first-mover advantage, Jeppsson added, because the OS is barely two months old. In other words, it’s easier for a game to break out on a non-Google and non-Apple platform because, at least for now, the pickings are slimmer.

40246d55d701e0024cecb6f9b4c6c3bbJeppsson said he’s been working on developer outreach since he came to Research In Motion in 2012, when RIM acquired Jeppsson’s user interface design company, The Astonishing Tribe. He claimed “many” developers are making more money with BB10 than they are on iOS.

But the devil’s in the details, and one of the biggest questions is, what proportion of BlackBerry 10 users are frequently playing games on their new Z10s? A company representative said she would try to find out last week, but did not respond to a follow-up request for numbers. (“Frequently” is important, because players who download games, open them once and never come back are near worthless for the free-to-play mobile developers that dominate the charts on other operating systems.)

Lack of specific numbers isn’t stopping Jeppsson from some good old-fashioned competition bashing when it comes to attracting developers from outside BlackBerry’s ecosystem.

“I think BlackBerry users are actually users that are willing to pay for quality content,” he said. “They expect a quality experience. They’re not going to sideload stuff and pirate it like Android [users], stealing software.”

However, he added that his newest goals are less about developer outreach and more about making the case that the consumer’s gaming experience is better on his side of the fence.

His hope is that, as phone hardware continually improves (“This is easily an Xbox One in terms of what it can do,” he said, holding up a Z10), users will be able to play the same games as consoles, so that a game started on the bus can be finished on the couch.

Again, Microsoft is preaching a similar message. But although it already has the console side of the equation worked out, its cross-platform games are more casual than the more complex hardware-constrained games Jeppsson aspires to pair with BlackBerry — or, indeed, run entirely on his phone.

“Why would you want to buy a big PC to play Counter-Strike, where you remove all the details anyway because you want 60 frames per second?” he said. “That’s how I play Counter-Strike.”

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle