In March this year, Apple revealed that the App Store hosts over 300,000 free and paid iOS games worldwide. The Cupertino giant has steadily made the App Store an attractive destination for not only the makers of renowned titles such as Clash of Clans and PUBG Mobile but also a large number of indie game developers and emerging game studios.
Thirty-year-old Manwani kicked off Xigma Games in partnership with his fellow developer Govardhan Gosavi, 28, back in 2015. Both young Indian entrepreneurs started their journey in the gaming world with retro hard-as-nails platformer Super Nano Jumpers that won the Pocket Gamers Connect's Super Very Big Indie Pitch shortly after its debut in 2015.
The prize money of Rs. 10,00,000 through the Super Very Big Indie Pitch helped the duo move ahead, set up their presence in Bengaluru, and start working on the next game Rubek. The success of the second game brought the encouragement to bring the third and the latest title to the bouquet that is The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands.
Unlike many other game studios that release their creations on multiple platforms simultaneously, Xigma Games has chosen to make its titles exclusive to Apple's iOS for one year. "This gives us a little premium-ness," emphasises Manwani.
After the titles have been out for a year, Manwani and Gosavi bring their titles to other platforms, including Android and Stream. Manwani tells Gadgets 360 that though now all the three games available in their portfolio are available on multiple platforms, iOS contributes to 70 percent of the entity's total revenue.
The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands, which is inspired by titles such as A Dark Room, Kittens Game, and Alto's Adventure, was launched on iOS back in March last year. The survival simulation game also landed on Steam soon after its arrival and reached Android in just May this year.
Manwani reveals that at present, The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands that's available as a paid game on iOS and Steam and comes as a freemium title on Android has garnered over 75,000 users across all three platforms. While the US is the leading market for The Bonfire: Forsaken Lands with a 50 percent share, China and Europe are also expanding its users with 17 percent and 10 percent share, respectively. India, on the other hand, has a share of 0.5 percent in the total user base.
"Since free-to-play games are more popular in India and there's less willingness among users to pay, we aren't getting many Indian users," Manwani points out. "Also, there is the buying power that restricts Indian gamers to buy premium games."
Although Manwani and Gosavi offer their games on both Android and iOS, they see Apple's App Store as the more fruitful choice for developers building premium games. "The conversion of premium content on Android is not that much honestly," says Manwani.
Apple often showcases titles from Xigma Games as featured games on the App Store. Manwani says that getting in front of the App Store gave them a boost to continue their good work. "If we wouldn't have been featured on the App Store, we wouldn't have been sitting here and making premium games," he tells Gadgets 360.
Just like Manwani, Jambav founder Rajendran Dandapani finds Apple's App Store as a better option compared to Google Play. "Apple has invested in the community — the ecosystem of the developers,” Dandapani, 48, tells Gadgets 360.
Chennai-based Jambav, which is backed by software company Zoho Corporation, has so far launched eight games in total. But perhaps the most unique and interesting one in the series is RushARound that was launched in 2017.
As its name suggests, RushARound is an augmented reality (AR) game that's designed to let children race a clock in a virtual world to get fit in the real world. The game projects a clock on to the real world and tells each of its players to go to a particular number alongside keeping their phones in the hand. Through this way, it allows young users to physically move in a particular space even while playing in a virtual world.
RushARound is available on both Android and iOS. The iOS version of the game is based on Apple's ARKit, while its Android counterpart was originally developed using the Unity engine and is currently based on Google's ARCore. The team behind RushARound took a year longer to build for Android than its original iOS release due to several developmental issues at the initial stage.
"With Android, the problem is the device fragmentation," says RushARound developer Sridevi Pavitra. "Even though you can make it work on one Android device, making it work on other Android devices is a whole new game altogether."
The importance of the App Accelerator
Apple's App Accelerator in Bengaluru has helped Jambav resolve early issues such as the one with the texture mapping that initially made it difficult to create the map on plain surfaces. Similarly, Dandapani recalls that the App Accelerator team helped Jambav developers to anchor the virtual graphics when a user swings the phone around while moving from one place to another.
"That's the difference between good and great," says Dandapani. "Those small things have been the obstacles that prevented so many good ideas from becoming good games, and this kind of support that Apple gives us is really useful."
RushARound also has Apple's HealthKit integration to let parents monitor the health data of their kids. "Thanks to the HealthKit integration, our game actually gives data into the HealthKit database so you can track calories, steps taken, and so on," says 24-year-old Pavitra.
Users can download RushARound for free, but to unlock achievements and statistics, they need to opt for the in-app purchases. The HealthKit integration, which, of course, is exclusive to iOS, is also limited to paid users only. The game has garnered over 44,000 downloads globally, with about 10 percent downloads from India.
"App Store positioning explodes our usage"
Similar to Manwani's Xigma Games, Jambav of Dandapani observes the importance of being featured by Apple in the App Store.
"Every App Store positioning explodes our usage because it's not just directly benefiting the particular game, but typically, when a person sees a good game, they want to know who is the developer and often pick the other games built by the same developer," underlines Dandapani.
Corroborating Dandapani's statement, a report by Sensor Tower last year revealed that games can see an up to 800 percent increase in downloads if chosen by Apple to appear in one of the store's editorially curated tabs.
Xigma Games and Jambav aren't the only Indian game studios that consider the App Store as a catalyst to reach new success levels. Pune-based June Gaming also sees Apple's marketplace as a great option for premium game developers.
Founded by Roby Thomas John, June Gaming presently has a vast team of 38 members. Forty-one-year-old John says he's been making iPhone apps since the App Store's launch, and in 2014, he decided to step into the gaming market in partnership with Avinash Pandey, Sreejit Jayanthan, and Navneet Singh Waraich. The team planned to build only real-time multiplayer games, and thanks to Reliance Jio, the dream came true, John says.
June Gaming boasts of over 100 titles in its portfolio with over 180 million players around the globe. Their most recent title is MaskGun, which was launched formally in January this year and has already clocked nearly 23 million downloads worldwide, with 1.2 million downloads from India.
MaskGun is available as a free-to-play 3D first-person shooter (FPS) game with in-app purchases. Though the game is available on both Android and iOS, June Gaming has specifically used Apple technologies, including Metal, to give a punch on newer iPhone and iPad devices.
"Professional gamers switch to Apple"
"There aren't any major differences between Android and iOS gamers," says John. "But once a gamer becomes a professional, he switches to the Apple platform, mostly."
June Gaming has built its native engine called June Engine that is touted to help build new games automatically. John tells Gadgets 360 that the engine has been used to develop over 80 games so far, and it works just like a machine that is meant to build several other machines. Notably, the engine uses native technologies offered by Apple and Google to support their respective platforms.
Of the total install base of over 180 million players globally, John says that more than 80 million of June Gaming's installs have been from Indian users. John admits that Android is more popular over iOS in markets like India, but he believes that Apple's ecosystem is much more mature than Google's world.
"It's a trusted ecosystem," he says. "When we say a trusted ecosystem, we know that there are no bad actors who're using iOS devices, and there is no hack or crack. So for us, that's much more valuable."
John also highlights that the App Store itself takes care of eliminating bad actors, which is something missing on Google Play. "People will create five clones of MaskGun on Google Play," he asserts. "But it's not possible on Apple['s platforms]. For us, that's been the number one reason for our success."
Indie developers like Xigma Games' Manwani are also bullish about advancements such as Apple Arcade that the Tim Cook-led company is building to offer new revenue streams to developers.
"Apple Arcade appears to be a great platform for indie developers like us because monetisation is a challenge for smaller teams," says Manwani.
According to a recent report by app analytics firm App Annie, Google Play sees dominates when it comes to game downloads worldwide, but Apple's App Store leads in monetisation with 64 percent of dollars spent globally. The report also highlights that the App Store has been able to tap those consumers who are more willing or able to spend money on apps.
Head of Industry Intelligence Group at CyberMedia Research Prabhu Ram tells Gadgets 360 that for Apple, engaging and leveraging iOS game developers and providing them with a platform beyond India makes a strategic sense.
"While Android is growing in terms of the number of games and more 'hyper-casual' games, it is also getting more powerful," says Ram. "Yet, consumer experience differs across devices, dependent on the Android OS version it runs. Apple makes a more logical sense for gaming developers, as the hardware and software are vested with it. It results in a uniform, consistent experiences across devices and is apt for paid, premium games with all the engaging AR support Apple offers."
The analyst also believes that serious gamers tend to be more open to paying for premium games on Apple over other platforms.