Understanding Developer Psychology

I recently moderated the “Go to Market” panel at Mobile 2.0 last week. I took the path of pretending to be a developer and asking my panelists what I should do.

I started by asking the panel what platform should I build for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I was expecting a very rationale answer based on either monetization or distribution (eg If your want high volume, choose platform X, if you want monetization, choose platform Y, if you want in-app…).

To my surprise, the answers were quite different:

1. Peter at AngryBirds chose iPhone first because they felt that if they couldn’t win on iPhone, then they wouldn’t on any other platform? Basically, they wanted to start in the most competitive marketplace.

2. An audience member chose Android first because he wanted to learn Java (but another said they chose Android first because they knew Java). It’s been so long since I have developed that I forgot how much of choosing a first framework or environment is starting with what you know or the opportunity to learn a new language.

3. Surprisingly or not surprisingly, the majority of the audience hadn’t built an app for a 2nd platform. They built for their initial platform and then of course planned to build and/or port to a 2nd platform but they haven’t yet done so. And this brings up an interesting point, most long-tail developers don’t have the resources to build and maintain for two platforms so the first platform they build for will likely be the platform they will stay with (and this was the case with even a Symbian developer in the audience)

4. This should be obvious but a fair number of folks in the audience chose their first platform based on which phones they own. I’ve been spoiled by living in the Bay Area and do not normally think of access to phone to being the inhibitor but with the broader long-tail, this is absolutely a factor.

5. Most surprising, it was me who mentioned choosing a platform based on monetization and distribution which seemed most rationale to the business person but not necessarily to the long-tail developer community (and psychology).

What criteria do you use to choose your first platform?

Are Platform Game Lobbies the Next Social Graph?

When speaking with the larger social gaming companies and asking why mobile hasn’t been a focus (to date), the response is interesting and a validation of how fragmented the mobile device and platform landscape is. Typically, the answer is something along the lines of “…we launch an average Facebook game and we make $3M per month, we launch a hit mobile game and we make $1M per month…” – not withstanding the higher COGS with mobile because of the greater R&D costs.

A hit game on Facebook is potentially $6M+ per month (or more) and you’d be hard-pressed to find any mobile game in history that has made those kinds of dollars – I can’t think of any unless you amortized Jamdat’s acquisition of Blue Lava Wireless for the mobile Tetris license in 05 🙂 In any case, the reason for such a discrepancy in revenue potential is for a single reason: the size and availability of the social graph. Sure, mobile may also have greater challenges with billing but the opposite could be argued with one-click micro-transactions on iPhone and each of the platforms, operators and OEMs all caching credit cards. And yes, many mobile social games and applications have integrated with Facebook Connect but unfortunately it’s too late with the initial viral land-grab being inhibited by a new set of Facebook rules oriented around preserving the personal nature of the Facebook Wall. As one colleague over lunch put it the other day, “…Facebook is constraining the virality of new applications by introducing more and more rules whereas mobile is just finally opening-up…”

Welcome game lobbies such as the iPhone Game Center and WinMo7’s integration with Xbox. Note, I did smirk when these were first announced earlier this year – does anyone remember companies like M7 Networks which powered Sprint Game Lobby? Sprint used to mandate that each mobile J2ME game had to include the game lobby libraries to allow users to post high-scores and potentially enable head-to-head gaming. This was a grand vision but really was only the first phase – take the Sprint Game Lobby and integrate today’s viral and notification mechanics and you have the next social graph.

Little has been released about the mechanics of the new game lobbies but assuming that users can opt-into the game lobby and buddy lists can be created than a new social graph has formed. Mobile social games can then tap this social graph not to differently to how they tap the Facebook social graph using Facebook Connect. Although this social graph may be smaller (eg not Facebook’s 500M+ users but rather 50M+ iPhones or 10M+ WinMo7 est.), the reward may be greater with potentially very open virality and notification rules. Whereas social games on Facebook now rely on cross-promotion and advertising, mobile social games may be more akin to Facebook 1.0 where the Wall is saturated with application and game notifications (or SPAM to others). And as long as the platforms can continue to focus on a write-once, run anywhere paradigm (eg one way by maintaining screen geometry etc as I mentioned in a previous Venturebeat article), then this social graph will continue to expand. Couple this with the cached micro-transaction capability of mobile and you now have your next land-grab. Facebook revenue potential is going flat and mobile is about to explode!

Now assuming that publishers continue to build iPhone, Android and others, will the interoperable game lobby exist? If so, then we will have the largest potential social graph ever that is more personal than any Facebook experience through a PC.

Looking forward to playing with these game lobbies once released and selfishly hyped to be able to see my Xbox avatar on WinMo7!