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Rethinking mobile games: Lessons from Trism

This may come as a shock, but it appears that the established mobile-gaming community has been going about this thing all wrong.
Take a quick stroll through the games department on any carrier deck. (I’ll wait here until you get the feeling back in your thumbs.) See all those familiar titles based on console hits and Hollywood blockbusters? Game makers are paying a ton for high-profile licenses to produce those things, then paying a ton more to build the games across a wide swath of devices. Oh, and then they’re paying carriers sometimes exorbitant revenue-shares on every sale.
In order to offset all those costs, consumers are asked to pay, say, a one-time fee of $12 (or $4.50 a month) for the privilege of playing Guitar Hero World Tour. Often on a crappy, antiquated phone.
No wonder most of these guys continue to struggle.
Enter Steve Demeter. The 29-year-old quit his bank job a couple of months after pulling in a cool quarter-million from Trism, an iPhone game he developed and distributed through the Apple App Store.
For four months, the Bay Area developer spent nights and weekends coding the game, a Bejeweled-style puzzle offering that challenges players to line up like-colored triangles that move depending on how the phone is rotated. And it sells for $5 a pop.
No exorbitant subscription price points. No expensive licenses from production studios, and no prohibitive porting fees to address dozens of phones. No fancy 3-D graphics, which can be costly to produce, and no ridiculous rev-share payouts for the privilege of being merchandised on the consumer-hostile storefront that is the carrier deck.
Demeter’s success highlights the demand that exists for mobile gaming even as it underscores the myriad problems that have plagued the industry. And those challenges are only going to grow as the economy slows, users spend less and, perhaps, operators demand more.
The lowest-common-denominator strategy has produced countless games that can be played on hundreds of handsets – and that generally suck. So publishers would be wise to tighten their belts – just as Glu Mobile continues to do – and focus on building better games for fewer handsets at substantially reduced costs.
Because it doesn’t matter how many people can play it, or which hit TV show it’s based on, if consumers never buy it in the first place.

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