Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh, The Irony!....Crash Bandicoot is All-Time Top Paid iPhone App

I can't help but feel sad about the fact that Apple is reporting, as part of the celebration of their 1bil Apps milestone, that Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D published by now defunct Vivendi Games Mobile, is their all-time top paid App. Vivendi Games Mobile (VGM) was a publisher with a great team (led by mobile games vet Paul Maglione) and great potential (with innovative studios like Centerscore)...that was just beginning to hit stride when corporate parent Vivendi decided to merge their interactive games business (including trophy studio Blizzard) with Activision, to create ~$3bil 2008 Rev gaming giant Activision Blizzard (ATVI). The merger put Activision leadership in top company positions and it became clear pretty quickly that they weren't very interested in mobile games development and publishing...and, rather, looked at it as a licensing opportunity with VGM's competitor Glu Mobile. Activision Blizzard began dismantling the mobile businesses in US and Europe at the end of last Summer. This always felt like a short-sighted move to me...but, then again, short-sightedness is more contagious than Swine Flu in the mobile entertainment space these days. The good news is that the core US team has re-emerged at NY-based Sonic Boom...from which we are bound to see great things. In the meantime, the Crash/Apple announcement will serve as a reminder of what might have been... Congratulations?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vive la iPhone! Gameloft Posts Solid Q1 2009 is reporting today that French mobile games publisher Gameloft saw 22% revenue growth in Q1 2009 vs Q1 2008 to $40.2mil. During that same time period they saw 57% growth in North America, making it the company's biggest region by revenue...surpassing its traditional stronghold of Europe (which was flat to down). Despite a lot of posturing about good Java & BREW performance we all know that these numbers mean that iPhone is driving growth in their business. Frankly, they should be proud of their performance on that platform...of all the established mobile games publishers Gameloft embraced the iPhone most aggressively and I think it is paying off handsomely. As a result, I predict that 2009 is the year that Gameloft surpasses EA Mobile as the top mobile game publisher by revenue.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hard Times: Airborne Sells A Board Seat For Pocketchange...and it's News

Wow!, you know times suck when MocoNews and several other trade blogs picked up a story about how venerable veteran publisher Airborne Mobile received $500k from private investor Skuli Mogensen (never heard of him) in exchange for seat on the Canadian company's board of directors. I'm not sure why the company is telegraphing this information...because to me it reeks of desperation and seems a sad turn for a former North American personalization powerhouse, legendary for it's irreverent style and outlandish parties (as well as outlandish style and irreverent parties). The company, founded during the mobile content paleolithic (1999), was built upon a slew of high profile (expensive) licenses like Family Guy, Maxim, NHL, etc., as, well as solid carrier distribution. Peak revenue was probably in the $30mil range. In 2005 founders Andy Nulman & Garner Bornstein sold to Japanese hotshot du jour Cybird Holdings for ~$ an era where Japanese firms (like Index & ForSide) were snapping up Euro/US publishers willy-nilly, ultimately with disastrous results (but that's a whole separate story). Nulman/Bornstein, who continued to run the company during the unremarkable Cybird era, bought it back last summer (for a song, I'm sure) and raised $2mil in January from iNovia fund the elusive "next big mobile product." The ultimate plan, presumably, is to package Airborne up for sale 2.0...a non-trivial task now that all the dumb money has dried up and in light of the decreasing relevance/value of their existing products and relationships. But, I get ahead of myself...based on today's news I think their short term goal must be to keep the lights on at their Montreal offices.

Friday, April 24, 2009

UK Nokias Don't 'Come With Music' Very Often...Perhaps It's A Blessing

The Register has a story today about how Nokia's "Comes With Music" bundle has been a dud so far with UK consumers...with only 23k takers since last October. The service, which allows consumers with certain handsets to download unlimited DRM-protected tracks over a 12 or 18 month period (depending on package) for use in perpetuity, has been a major (and much-hyped) component of Nokia's music content strategy. The story attributes lackluster interest to the fact the service initially rolled out with an older 2G 5310 handset (what were they thinking?), and to a retail channel that can't sell the proposition to the consumer. Things should improve as Nokia has now made the offer available on the much sexier N95 8GB..and hopefully soon on the XpressMusic 5800. That said, they may not want the service to get too successful, as they have to pay the music labels ~$1 per song (after some pre-negotiated threshold), which means that high volume users could quite easily transform this reverse razorblade model into an expensive handset manufacturer handset subsidy (i.e. Nokia would be paying consumers to buy their handsets and give them free music). If this scenario does play out they should probably re-brand the initiative "Comes With Madness".

Palm Pre vs iPhone...Batman style

Shout out to Russell K for finding this...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

1 Billion Apps Served...

Sometime within the next few minutes the iTunes App store will serve up it's 1 billionth App since launching on July 10, 2008! Amazing...unbelievably amazing. Given that there are currently 21 mil iPhones & 16 mil iPod touch devices on the market that means that device owners have downloaded an average of 27 Apps per device! Apple has done nothing short of fundamentally transforming the entire mobile content business in just 9 months. They now dominate mindshare amongst consumers as well as the development and publishing community...and this doesn't look like it will be changing anytime soon given the recent, much less than earth-shattering, launches of the Android Market and BlackBerry AppWorld. Thank you let's hope somebody figures out how to compete with you so you don't rest on your laurels.

B! Renames Stinko Blinko Poopingsound

...oops, I mean "peoplesound". Mobile personalization behemoth Buongiorno (2008 Revs=~$400mil) has decided to reimagine it's failed (~5k WW daily uniques) web-to-mobile portal, posing as a social networking site, Blinko as a pureplay mobile social network called peoplesound (all lowercase b/c that's cooler) according to a story yesterday in Mobile Entertainment. The service hopes to differentiate itself by limiting users to 20 friends...the thought being that this is the number of real friends people have, as opposed to the hundreds or thousands the may claim on Facebook or MySpace (hmm, seems like a great model to build scale). Is anyone out there jonesing for a service like this?...exactly, which is why it will be relegated to the dustbin of money losing, consumer non-event history along with similarly aspiring endeavors like Cellfish, ZaOza and Zannel. One (year) and done.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your Mom & Analysts Don't Want You Hanging with that T-Mo Crowd

The mobile blogs are all covering a Dow Jones Newswires story today about analysts' concerns that T-Mobile USA is flirting with "troublemakers" (Fierce's characterization) with low credit scores in their interest to drive subscriber growth. Frankly the article is all over the place...and it's pretty unclear whether the alleged deterioration in credit standards is related to post-paid (contract) customers or their aggressive promotion of Flex Pay, which is their pre-paid solution. Btw, if it's the latter, why should anyone be concerned? But overall I love the fact that T-Mo is, or is perceived to be, courting a risky, younger, less financially stable crowd...aka the cool kids. In my experience these subscribers are avid consumers and evangelists of mobile entertainment content, substantially over-indexing in the acquisition of mobile games, tones and graphics. I say, you go T-Mo!...grab all the high schoolers, college kids, rebels, pierced & tattooed goths, gangstas, wangstas, bikers and disgraced ibankers you can with your cheap plans and cool devices, then offer them access to the web & apps and I wager you'll be well positioned to be a data ARPU baller. Oh yeah, and all those nerdy analyst-types, they'll be your...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Digital Something That Looks Like Chocolate

Moconews has a post today about Digital Chocolate's (and Trip Hawkins') iPhone epiphany that was detailed in a Venture Beat interview. According the story D'Choc was a late comer to the platform, but they have had amazing success with their titles since launching in December. According to Trip their first 4 games have had 10 mil downloads in the first 100 days in the App store, with a $3+ price point.

So wait a minute...that would mean (if we say their avg price is $3.49) that they have made about $25mil from iPhone alone since December (10mil x $3.49 x 70%). Poppycock! That's gotta be substantially greater than D'Choc's entire revenue for 2008 (which Hoover's estimates at ~$6mil, ouch!). If this was true they would be on track to rival EA Mobile & Gameloft...which I'm sure is what they would like you to believe. Currently they have 7 titles live in the App store...and a bunch of free barker Apps. My guess is that they may have had 10mil downloads across all these Apps, but that the vast majority have been of the free ones. Btw - now that Trip has blessed the platform you're all free to embrace it as well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

iPhone Poseurs Pretend To Be Into Games...But Actually Like The Weather

Shout out to Nick Dale for sending me an interesting article from MediaPost that highlights the discrepancies between the iPhone Apps users download and actually use. According the article, an upcoming report from Compete will show that while games are consistently the most popular downloads, consumers actually don't play them very much. Rather they spend most of their time with information/utility Apps like Weather Channel & Shazam. Facebook also gets very high repeat usage (hmm, wouldn't know anything about that), but surprisingly MySpace does contributor to the article suspects that this is due to a better alignment between the Facebook & iPhone demos. The article goes on to say that most iPhone users claim that they are discovering Apps on their own rather than relying on the recommendations of other users or what is most popular (big liars).

Does this mean that more consumers aspire to be gamers than actually are gamers? I think so. Does this mean over time that those same consumers will buy fewer game Apps and begin to consume those applications that they actually will use?...perhaps, and perhaps they'll start using that gym membership 3 days a week and using the Land Rover for off-road excursions.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

3 Key Takeaways From CTIA Spring 2009

1) Buggy BlackBerry App World store.
RIM finally launched its highly anticipated BlackBerry App World store to kick-off CTIA last week. Many of us in the mobile content space downloaded the application within hours of it being available (I did it right before RIM Founder/Pres/Co-CEO, Mike Lazaridis' uninspired/ing keynote on April 1st). Overall the application has a nice UI, but that was offset by myriad glitches including seemingly random Search results, a Games folder that claimed 171 titles but only rendered 1 (to the benefit of MTV Networks) & connectivity problems. Things improved as the week wore on for me, but others must have had recurring issues because RIM has already rolled out 2 updates to the software (versions & My favorite App so far is the music recognition tool Shazam (available in UK 100 years ago , Apple months ago), which is available for a free trial period. But I must say, in digging through the catalog the current offering seems more similar to that of a carrier deck (or Magmic's Bplay site) than the iTunes App Store. Besides creating an exciting retail environment for consumers, and building consumer awareness, the biggest challenge BlackBerry App World will face will be on the billing front. RIM elected to use PayPal...which could prove super-klugy (and may be a deal breaker) for those consumers who don't have existing accounts.
2) Nokia N97 Widget Homescreen
Got a demo of the N97 at the Nokia booth on the showroom floor. Pretty damned impressive device. Really attractive form factor, rockstar specs and a nice tactile QWERTY keyboard...however the thing I liked the best was a very cool, customizable, widget-driven desktop/homescreen. Very, very slick looking. Unfortunately, once you leave the homescreen you're subject to Nokia's classically arcane UI and navigation. The device will be available in the US in Summer or Fall...but not with a carrier (or its subsidy) so expect a price somewhere between $500 - $1,000 (yikes!).
3) Content Providers Abandoned The Showroom Floor
It seemed that no one I knew from the mobile content side spent any meaningful time on the showroom floor of CTIA. Many didn't even get a pass to the show, instead opting to have meetings in hotel conference rooms, suites, bars or restaurants. Those who did venture to the convention center would find a small, somewhat pathetic cluster of content provider mini-booths stuck in a far corner of the South Hall (which you can only find by accident). Sad. Clearly CTIA has to do something drastic to re-energize the content component of the show or risk losing that constituency of exhibitors & attendees altogether. In the meantime I'm establishing a competing, content focused mobile show at the Parasol Up bar at The Wynn.

UPDATE: iShoot Guy Almost A Millionaire

Following up on my February 17th post, according to Silicon Alley Insider today, it looks like former Sun Microsystems programmer turned solo developer Ethan Nicholas has now banked $800k from his iShoot game for the iPhone. Apparently there are a handful of these micro-developers who have created Apps as diverse as iFart and Trism now claiming low six-figure bounties in a matter of months. While these incidences are obviously more the exception than the rule they likely will serve to motivate the beleaguered mobile development community...and push more talent to go out on their own. I predict many innovative Apps (and a few more body noise ones) in the near future.

btw - there is also a good post on this phenom in NYT yesterday.