Last year, the Game Developer Conference (GDC) Mobile Summit was a love-in for iOS. This year, one more platform got elevated as a favourite son (Android), and one was recognized as the one-to-watch as it grows up (Windows Phone 7/8). Unsurprisingly, RIM and BlackBerry warranted nary a breath from any presenter, which should not come as a shock since its reputation amongst game devs is poor (to be polite). But RIM has invaded GDC with force this year, intent to change that perception.
At GDC 2011, RIM had a medium-sized booth staffed mostly with people who did not know the technology well enough to answer any questions game developers would ask (i.e. male booth babes). This year, the booth will be chalk full of experts aiming to show off the BlackBerry PlayBook (and hence, BlackBerry 10) technology and gaming capabilities to the developer masses. In addition, there are a number of sessions presented by RIM showing developers how fast they can get their games running on PlayBook – last year there was only a single session talking about BlackBerry App World.
If you haven’t talked game tech with Sean-Paul Taylor from RIM, you’re missing out. He and his whole team of 10 are at GDC to talk tech with game developers. Sean’s been an advocate and developer of 3D inside RIM for years and finally has the platform to show it off. If you’re building a game on RIM’s platform, you have to go out of your way to NOT use tech that Sean’s team has built.
RIM is providing every technical resource they can at this year’s conference to convince developers that building games for PlayBook is fast, easy and well worth their time. But the questions the non-technical representatives will have are just as important. I’m 100% convinced the technical development of games on PlayBook and BlackBerry 10 is, and will continue to be, as easy as it is on any other platform. That hurdle is cleared, the battle for my acceptance has been won (at least brought to a stalemate) and the prospects for the future technical direction at RIM with respect to gaming could not be in better hands.
However, the developers don’t always (in fact, almost rarely) make the decisions at medium/large companies as to which platforms to support. There are strategic and financial decisions that are made on the business side that are the most impactful in determining support for the platform. How many downloads will a game get? How much money will it make? These are ultimately questions that are normally answered through the experience selling a product on a platform, or through disclosure from companies on their success (or lack thereof).
RIM has an issue in which many developers are making money on the platform by taking advantage of the lack of competition, making it in their short-term interests to not disclose their results so that they don’t encourage more competitors to eat into their revenue. RIM needs to prove that games can make money on the platform but don’t have enough developers willing to disclose their data. Since developers fall prey to group-think when looking at platforms as much as any group of people I’ve ever met, RIM has a huge challenge still to overcome.
Perception is difficult to change without irrefutable hard data that critics are unable to pick apart. As long as there’s a lack of clarity in the data RIM shares about PlayBook sales and content sales, there’s an opening for critics to dismiss the platform – and developers do pay attention to the press that re-enforces their own views. This also means there’s an opportunity, if RIM is willing to take it, to combat the perception that “if your hiding something, it must be bad” by being more transparent, but that will take buy-in from many senior people at RIM. Maybe the recent change in management will spur that attitude change but until that happens, all the technical developments in the world won’t change the prevailing game developer attitudes towards RIM.