Monday, August 25, 2008

T-Mobile Plans Its Own App Store for the Fall: Huge Opportunity for Games Companies

At least if venture lawyers are concerned.

Early last year, when I still had a company, I was looking around for representation and met with lawyers from a bunch of firms. I focused on guys who knew something about the games industry, rather than vanilla startup guys. The first question, all of them asked was, "Are you doing mobile?" Fortunately, we had a mobile component planned, so I said yes. This got them super-excited.

Venture lawyers are an excellent proxy for venture investors. Since they do deals together all the time, lawyers get a good sense of what is exciting to investors at any given time.

Last year, games on mobile must have been scorching. Of course, games on mobile has been the next big thing in games for the last five years, maybe more. However, with a couple exceptions, mobile games companies haven't seen the success everyone expected.

And for that, they all blamed the carriers for making their games available to users. This was largely true.

Apple changed that with the iPhone app store, giving users an easy way to find content, and developers an easy way to charge (or not charge) the users for that content. With games like Super Monkey Ball making 3 million bucks in a couple months. A month or so later, content from Apple's App Store has been downloaded 60 million times equal to the amount downloaded on every carrier combined in the first quarter of the year.

That put the fire under the other carriers, and T-Mobile is the first to announce their own app store for their entire range of handsets, not just smartphones.

It's Facebook vs. Myspace all over again. Like Facebook, Apple creates a successful platform, then a rival with larger reach, T-mobile/Myspace, launches their own platform.

Once again, game developers have to decide the platform on which to focus. Unless you're Zynga who can manage to be on every platform, having $29 million in the bank helps. If you're indie, my good friend Blake (of Zombies infamy) advises sticking to one platform unless you want to drive yourself insane (I paraphase).

Since details are thin on the T-mobile store, I don't expect it to rival the iPhone store. In fact, my cynical side suspects it's just a positioning move by T-mobile and we can't expect to see its app store open until next year.

Regardless, I'm with the lawyers on this one. It is a huge opportunity for game devs. Mobile is finally a gaming platform. Woo hoo!