Big Win Blackjack Wins Big

Blackjack is one of those casino games where I intellectually internalize that I’ve got the best chances to win, and yet almost every time I walk away from a table I’m shorter in my stack and lighter in my pocket.  I think to myself, “there’s a finite number of possibilities, and I know there’s a system to beat the house; but I’m just gonna go with ‘round numbers’ and a liquor-infused mental abacus to win some money.”

I know.  The attitude isn’t strategic, but there’s got to be a ton of folks who think similarly.

So what if there was a way for me to learn to beat the house without reading a book or being an MIT nerd?  What if there was a way for me to see enough hands to get a feel for what the card count is, and when I should raise/lower my bet?  And what if this came in an app I could play on my fancy iPad or my badass Galaxy Nexus Android phone?

Well the press recently caught wind that we’ve delivered on this theoretical in Big Win Blackjack where Professor Blackjack teaches players when to hit, stand, double down, or split.  Huffington Post’s games.com says that Big Win Blackjack “is designed to train players in the ways of card counting [and] make better judgment calls to thus win big.”  Technorati picked up the story by pointing out the popularity of games companies clamoring for casino titles due to a recent announcement by the US Department of Justice (even though we’ve been perfecting blackjack apps well before this buzz since March 2006).  Technorati was also kind enough to plug some Josh Hartwell (CEO) sound bites like “it teaches users everything they need to know about the game with premium graphics and fluid gameplay”.

The article that led to all of this commotion was Dean Takahashi’s piece in Venture Beat where he humbly compared us to Zynga and originated the clap that echoed: casino games are here in a big way.  Takahashi’s assessment is on point that “casino game makers are going through a renewal”, especially since smartphones let people practice their favorite Vegas game between various moments of their lives.

This is the very reason why Big Win Blackjack is so amazing.  You can be standing in a line or sitting on a toilet, and actually improve your real-world card playing skills.  It’s not that a game has gained popularity due to a decision on public policy; it’s that a game has always been popular and we’re making it easily accessible to learn, practice, and improve.

Amazon In-App Purchases (IAP) Arrives!

Amazon just announced their In-App Purchasing (IAP) service and called out Mobile Deluxe as an early partner in implementation for the Amazon Appstore.  We’re mega-excited when this goes live since we’ve done exceptionally well with our other IAP-supported games on (ahem!) Apple’s App Store and Google Play (formerly known as Android Market).  And if we’re to believe Flurry’s stats on revenue per user by platform, it’s abundantly clear that our games need to be on all 3 platforms (especially since our games refute Flurry’s findings about lack of performance with Google Play).  Expectations of success are even higher since Amazon contributed to our highest single-day downloads for Solitaire Deluxe when it was featured as their Free App of the Day.

I’m personally a huge fan (and an Amazon Prime evangelist), and have long-praised their ability to merchandise the hell out of their partners’ products [if you haven’t seen their seamless promo spots in their Instant Video, you’re missing out on some bitchin’ salesmanship].  Multiply this core competency with an ever-expanding user base of Kindle Fires, and you get an equation of over 10 million tablet users who are 1-Click away from buying something as soon as they fall in love with your app.  In our case, we hope those folks fall in love with Big Win Slots and Big Win Blackjack!

At Mobile Deluxe, I Specialize In Awesome

Hi! Sean here. I am the Mobile Deluxe Quality Assurance (QA) Analyst and I specialize in AWESOME!

As I write this entry, I am starting my third year with Mobile Deluxe. However, I have been working in QA for a total of seven years now and each year has been more fun than the last. I’m a HUGE gamer outside of work. So, being able to do my job which is playing video games for the majority of the day, makes my job awesome, which is why I can say, “I specialize in AWESOME!”

My job at Mobile Deluxe has many duties. My main duty as a QA Analyst is to gather as much information about the design of an application from those producing it. I compile that information and distribute it among other members of QA: the manager and testers. Next, I compose what is called a ‘Test Plan’. The test plan is a checklist of questions that ask if the application matches the design, as well as adhere to the standards of the company. Afterwards, I switch roles to that of a ‘Lead Tester’, which performs all of the duties that a tester would perform (i.e., following the test plan, finding/reporting bugs), plus coordinates test efforts. I do all of this while keeping my eyes and ears open for any design changes. These changes usually happen several times throughout the life of a project. There’s a lot of multi-tasking going on here but you remember what I said about specializing in AWESOME.

I know that from what I’ve explained so far, my job seems mostly reconnaissance and organization, but those are only a small part. My job, as a whole, is to help make sure that our players get a clean, easy-to-use, and above all, fun game. If my team and I are not having fun testing the game, it’s pretty certain that our players are not going to have fun playing it! So, we are going to bug up anything and everything that gets in the way of that fun…and that’s AWESOME!

I feel fortunate to have such a great job, because not only is it an important, integral role, I get to have fun while performing it. How cool is that? It also helps to be working with some incredible people that keep the work environment pleasant and fun to be in. Well, that’s it! If you’ll excuse me, there’s more AWESOME for me to attend to.

Big Win Blackjack: Why bet on the Riverboat?

Big Win Blackjack version 1.4.0 introduced “Sponsored Casinos.”  The first of these advertisement-supported casinos is the “Riverboat” casino.  If you find yourself low on chips, or just want to practice playing basic Blackjack, the Riverboat is a great place to start.

Why? Because each time the cards are shuffled, the dealer slides 25 chips across the table to you – a reward for watching a brief, full-screen advertisement.  Cha-ching! This is a substantial bonus that puts the edge solidly on the player’s side. No way will you see that in Las Vegas!

Here’s an example: As a test case, I played as many hands as I could in fifteen minutes, betting the maximum 5 chips each hand.  In that time, I played forty hands total. Even with the advertisements, that’s at least twice as many hands as you could play at a three person table in Vegas. On betting alone, I managed to make 12 chips.  I’m happy to be ahead, but that’s hardly something to write home about! But in the meantime, the dealer shuffled five times, each time forking over 25 chips. So in fifteen minutes, I’d actually earned 137 chips that I can use anywhere in the game. That’s pretty worthwhile!

Now that you know what a great deal the Riverboat is, you might ask “Why play anywhere else?” Because there’s a whole lot more to this game than playing basic Blackjack.  Big Win Blackjack is about traveling the world and playing at high-roller tables. And the greatest challenge (and biggest rewards) can be found in the Blackjack tournaments, where players compete with each other to grab the big win. So build up your bankroll playing on the Riverboat, then take those chips on the road!

Why Your Company Should Have a “No Asshole” Policy

If you’ve ever worked with our company, you are probably familiar with this tenet of ours. We don’t like to work with jerks, and if we happen to find one in our midst we do our best to reform or replace them. I am convinced that this policy, along with our team’s brilliance (maybe I’m biased) and culture of support for one another has been instrumental in our small company’s nearly 9 year track record of growth and profitability.

Everyone experiences lame co-workers at some point in their lives, and you know these people. You don’t understand the hidden talent they have that allows them to keep their jobs. Maybe you had the cranky mustache lady in accounting who took solace in chain smoking and sarcasm. Maybe you worked with the hipster whose job was too pedestrian for them to actually DO. Or the blind rage “hair on fire” type who perfected the dramatic meeting exit. From slackery to office gossip that goes too far, we’ve all worked with people that brought the workplace down.

I’m not suggesting that at Mobile Deluxe we’re all sunshine and unicorns, because we’re not. We’ve had attitudes and cattiness, slackers and deceivers. And everyone has bad days when they aren’t their perfect selves. Maybe I called the new girl “Valerie” for a long time before I realized that wasn’t her name. Someone in our office may have taken a “revenge shot” or two at the office ping- pong tournament, or left an especially terse note about yogurt on the office fridge. We duke it out and dig in our heels during a meeting from time to time, but there’s mutual respect, and the discussion ends up making the organization better. Temporary issues are to be expected.

With some of the more toxic people however, we held on too long, and we suffered for it. In small companies like ours, each person’s contribution is significant and apparent. Our space is intimate and open, the need for everyone to work together well is critical. For the most part, when toxic behavior first becomes a problem, we will try and work with that person to correct the problem. Did we cause the problem? Can we solve it? Sometimes, unfortunately, the problem doesn’t resolve and people simply have to be let go. When we have acted on this, the results have been revealing. The energy is better, the gossip disappears and productivity goes up. John Shields, Chairman Emeritus of CEO of Trader Joes, said it well when he said that if you think someone’s the wrong fit and should be replaced, you probably should have done so 6 months prior. Lesson Learned.

Here are the main reasons to keep the jerks away:

Reason #1: Feedback sessions and idea creation need to be free flowing
This is a basic rule. If you have someone in the midst of a feedback session that gets personal and sarcastic, or pouts when disagreed with, you will suddenly find yourself in a mostly mute room. Challenging ideas and testing assumptions all provide healthy balance in discussion. But bitterness and a lack of tact can inhibit the free flowing of ideas and stifle creativity. Trusting one another, giving value to each other’s opinion is critical to an open and productive exchange.

Reason #2: Happiness is key to success
According to the Harvard Business Review Article, “The Power of Happiness”, by Roger Martin, employee satisfaction has an extremely positive impact on company performance. Says Martin, “Employees are the backbone of any organization, and as you might expect, studies show that happy employees are more motivated, productive and committed…considerable research has explored the link between an organization’s long-term financial success and motivated employees.” The below diagram is taken from the article, and illustrates the paradigm.

Reason #3: Difficult people can hamper productivity

Think Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Have you ever been on a project that stopped inexplicably every time it was a particularly difficult person’s turn to contribute? Some people let emotional angst get in the way of problem solving, and productivity slows. Or there’s the malcontent that no one wants to work with, making it difficult to get teams together. When you need an employee to step up and organize on a project, you have one less option available. Who wants to be on THAT guy’s team?

Reason #4: Contributions are expensive and less efficient when the source is lame
It’s rare you find cohorts that can look past a personality problem and see the good stuff. When presenting an idea, the offender is going to have a harder time convincing people, a harder time being credible, and so will have to work harder and do more to be useful. Unless they have some ace-in-the-hole relationship or uber useful skill of some sort (“Jim’s a jackass, but have you seen his ice sculptures?”) their work will be more expensive and less effective than if they were just cool and easy to work with.

Reason #5: Trust in the workplace makes a huge difference
Some people are known for trying to steal someone else’s thunder, job, or clearly labeled Mountain Dew. Some will take credit for the work of others. This contributes to a corporate culture of mistrust and can dampen spirits and slow progress. In Steven Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust”, he talks about how truly collaborative teams with a high level of trust tend to produce more effective results, more efficiently.

Assholery, is it your culture or the individual?
The Harvard Business review recently devoted an entire issue of their magazine to, “The Value of Happiness” (Jan-Feb 2012). Throughout the issue various sources offer the myriad of reasons why focusing on employee happiness and satisfaction is not only the right thing to do, but it has a significant and measurable effect on your bottom line. The article “Positive Intelligence” by Shawn Achor, suggests that “life satisfaction” scales are, “…widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity.”

If your company culture is lacking, check out some of the HBR suggestions for improvement. Things as simple as having every employee make a habit of writing down three things they were grateful for daily, two minutes of meditation, or simply writing someone else a positive note have been shown to increase satisfaction by 16%. Happy employees were also shown to have 37% higher sales, be 10x more engaged in their jobs, and are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.
Sometimes it’s a matter of learning how to engage with a group, individuals or how to work through conflict. Books Crucial Confrontations, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are all staples in the workplace harmony library. Even excerpted assigned reading can have an impact and send a strong message about the company values.

If you decide it’s the individual, even after working with him or her on all of the above, it’s time to part ways. You aren’t the boss and can’t make that call? Feel free to anonymously pass this article around the office.

This quiz will help you ensure you’re not the problem:
http://electricpulp.com/guykawasaki/arse/

Suggested Reading:
“The No Asshole Rule” by Robert I. Sutton
“The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
“The Value of Happiness”, Harvard Business Review, January – February 2012 issue

Mobile Deluxe Banter: When Nerds Collide

This is an example of the important matters that are discussed daily at Mobile Deluxe. This email started out as an invitation to a basketball game, went through some variations and ended in an all-out nerd war. I love my job!

From: Edmond
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 6:11 PM
Subject: Basketball after work next Tuesday

Hey Guys,
Some of the guys in QA are planning on playing basketball after work next Tuesday. We’ll be playing at the park on the corner of 6th and Wilshire. Everyone’s welcome to join us. Don’t be scared to come play, we’re not that good and all of us are out of shape so the playing field is pretty even. Hope to see you there.

On May 28, 2011, at 8:36 PM, “Alfred” wrote:

Won’t be able to make it on Tuesday y’all. I was really looking forward to seeing Audrey posterize QA too. Oh well.
Alfred

From: Reuben

Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2011 5:55 PM
Subject: Re: Basketball after work next Tuesday

Ahhh.. I’ll be there Thursday – can you all play then, too???
Reuben

On Jun 1, 2011, at 10:58 AM, “Audrey” wrote:

You know dear co-workers, just because I am a giant doesn’t mean I can play basketball. I can barely walk in a straight line let alone be coordinated enough to shoot a basket. I’m a delicate flower.

From: Kellie
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:04 PM
Subject: Re: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Correction: A delicate but deadly technoflower-bot.

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 3:06 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
With laser-hands

From: Reuben
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:21 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
This is starting to sound like Audrey is slowly being assimilated via email. What would Audrey’s Borg name be, anyway? Audrikus?
Reuben

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:24 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
My step daughter only calls me by “Audroid”

From: Laine
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:26 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Hhm.. Marketing is 5 people? Audrey can be Three of Five.

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 3:25 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Silly Reuben, Borgs don’t have names, they have number designations.
#startrekisbetterthanstarwars

From: Reuben
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:43 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
I will not be duped into a Wars/Trek debate. I’m bigger than that. And I wouldn’t, under any circumstance, highlight the area below and change the text color to black……. it’s just white space…

—— Start Below here——-
You know, that’s crap. I think Picard had a name, didn’t he? I quote: Locutus. ‘I am Locutus of Borg.’ And Star Wars must be a Borg, because it’s number designation is 1, as in ‘First’ or ‘better than’. I will use this passive aggressive nerd typing campaign to vent my frustration, but also to prove that star wars is better, not that I’m right – both statements of which are true…….
——end above here———

From: Paul
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 12:59 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Reuben: Settle down, you know Audrey didn’t really mean that. Take a deep breath, maybe plan your next trip to Tashi’s station… do you want to get the red power converters or the blue ones?

Audrey: Ixnay ona ethay arstay ecktray isa etterbay anthay arstay arsway. Reuben is a star wars fan with a black belt. That makes him one of a kind in the universe and possibly very dangerous. Nobody really knows. You best back way off.
Paul

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:02 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Paul = Peacemaker

From: Eric
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:04 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Star Wars sucks, Star Trek sucks. Go Frodo.

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 4:05 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Seriously, we have to bring in Middle Earth to this debate. Sheesh!

From: Reuben
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:08 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Audrey and I both wield the power of awesome. With it, comes great responsibility. It’s an innate power – not fabricated like Batman.
Lord of the Rings doesn’t count. All the power is tied into a frickin’ ring. Generation after generation of oppression because of a piece of jewelry.
Fail.
Reuben

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:11 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Reuben – FTW!!!!!

From: Eric
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:38 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
It’s not just jewelry, it’s made of gold. Everyone knows gold always goes up in value, we are all slaves to it. Besides I can’t see the force or Vulcan mind melds or whatever. It could be like god or santa clause or gravity. The “power” is all in your mind. For all you know it’s explosive gas caused by eating a lot of beans.

P.S. – Batman isn’t fabricated, he’s just a really rich guy who likes to wear a belt with toys and a point elf/Vulcan hat.

From: SexyJosh
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:43 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
U guyz know where I can get a good deal on Pocket Protectors?

From: Audrey
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:44 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
No, I don’t. But I can let you borrow one of my inhalers.

From: Mo
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:44 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Why did you all have to bring batman into this…….. He is a human who fights superhumans. Unlike others like jedi’s or that guy from star trek who get beat up physically he gets beat and he is constantly put on hallucinogenic drugs and mind destroyed everytime he fights.
Keep batman out of it.

From: Edmond
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:51 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday
Batman’s also the only superhero that can dance. Batman Rules!!

From: Scott
Sent: Wednesday, June 01, 2011 1:52 PM
Subject: RE: Basketball after work next Tuesday

Do Over or Do Not: Crucial Decisions in Software Re-development

We’ve all had experience creating something new.  It can be daunting, and your instincts tell you to sit down and plan out everything you’re going to do.  Often, though, you come to find that what you have created works, but isn’t really sufficient.  It could be because the specifications have changed, or that people interact with your work in a way you didn’t expect, or simply that you didn’t execute it in the best way possible.  Whatever the reason, the end result is the same – you don’t have exactly what you need.

The core of this problem is complexity.  As a task becomes more complex, it becomes harder to predict the output based solely on the inputs.  Software development is so complex that it is impossible to predict the outcome.  Despite all the planning and designing, the plan is going to change.  Of course, this isn’t news to anyone; it’s a common occurrence, and not only in software.  Life is full of complex problems with complex solutions.  So if making software is a complex process, and everyone understands that complex processes are impossible to predict, why is so much time spent trying to plan and design software?

There are many reasons for an emphasis on planning and design, but the primary cause is a resistance to redo completed work.  Teams don’t want to rework tasks or features because it doesn’t feel like progress, and if a team is not progressing, it’s not succeeding.  To avoid having to redo a task, a team will try to predict exactly what is needed for that task.  But as we’ve all experienced, this prediction is impossible.  Your best effort will only get you close.  A team is better off starting their work right away.  Later, they can take any time they would have used for design to iterate on their initial work.  This time spent on rework will prove to be more efficient because it is happening when the team is more knowledgeable about the task.  The beginning is your least knowledgeable point, so it is the worst time to make plans or designs.

One of our latest projects, Big Win Blackjack, has been a fine example of the value of reworking.  Big Win Blackjack began life as Blackjack Cheater and has gone through several revisions.  Many times during that process we were faced with the choice of reworking a feature to improve it or moving on to the next feature.  For example, our sponsored casino had problems with card layout.  They were not show-stopping issues, but they looked sloppy. To fix these problems, we would have to rewrite the card layout logic.  That’s a scary sounding task, and it meant delaying new features.  But in the end, the game is better off with nicer card layout, and no amount of time spent planning would have come up with a better solution.  In every discussion someone raised the concern that reworking would take too long.  You see, our Blackjack projects were taking longer than we had anticipated, and we wanted to release a new version.  But every time we decided to rework the feature, the result was worth the time spent because we were able to make improvements we never would have anticipated.

I’m not trying to suggest that reworking a feature is always the best option; a decision has to be made for each feature.  But I do believe that the cost of reworking something is almost always overestimated, and that the cost of planning is likewise underestimated.  Don’t be afraid to jump in and start working.  Use your planning time to improve what you’ve done; you’ll most likely know better what needs to be done.

As a QA Tester, Do You Just Play Games All Day?

This is, by far and away, the most common question I get when I tell people that I test video games.  As glamorous as the role of QA Tester may sound, there’s not really an easy answer for that question.

As a Quality Assurance (QA) tester, my job is to find errors or “bugs” in the games.  The good part is that sometimes the bugs occur in the actual gameplay.  So, yes, sometimes I’m able to sit and play the game in the hopes of catching glitch, a problem with the graphics, or sometimes even a crash.

But once the gameplay bugs are found, the search begins for hidden bugs.  These are trickier, and they require a lot more creative thinking. These are the bugs that are usually hidden in parts of the games such as menus, the settings, turning on and off the device and checking to see if the settings are saved, etc.

Once these bugs are found, we also have to figure out why they are happening.  I usually start by doing the exact same process to see if the problem happens again.  After trying the exact same steps a few times and confirming that the bug occurs consistently, I will then start to “narrow down” the steps.  I begin by removing steps until I can figure out exactly which steps are required to reproducing the issue.  Once the steps are reduced to as few as possible, I report the bug which is then sent to our producers and engineers.

Here at Mobile Deluxe, we have high levels of standards for quality, and we’re very ambitious in that we want our games to be able to sync and share Rewards Credits across multiple platforms such as Facebook, Android, iTunes and more.  In order to achieve this, we have to test all of these same issues on each device and on all of our different games.

Trying to keep all of those things straight and remembering to check individual features on each of our hundreds of devices would be impossible.  To help make the impossible possible, that’s when we rely on our QA Analyst and Lead Tester, Sean Foreman.

Sean has to learn all of the new features that are going to be added to an existing game or new project.  Because of Sean’s many, many years of testing, he’s familiar with what types of errors might occur when these features are added and what steps to take to check for them.  He then includes those steps along with other common problems into a large checklist that is known as a “Test Plan.”

Once the features are included into the game and we’ve had a chance to run minor tests, the game is installed on multiple devices and handed out to testers.  From there, we follow the steps on the Test Plan to ensure that the layouts are correct and that all of the features work on each device.  This is a powerful tool, and it allows us to find bugs that exist on only certain devices that we may not normally test.

This process covers most bugs.  But then are also the bugs that occur because no one actually thinks of that bizarre scenario.

Imagine this:  You’re close to winning an exciting Tournament on our Big Win Blackjack game.  You get the option to Double your bet on the last hand, which could give you the win.  As you’re about to press the button, you get a call from a long-time friend.  After talking for a while, you finish the call because your battery is almost dead.  Your phone soon powers down and now you have to recharge the battery.  But wait… did the game reset?  Did you lose your hand?  Is the option to Double still available?  What happened to your awesome Blackjack tournament?!

The answer is: It’s all still there

That’s because our QA Lead and Super-Stud tester, Rolando, already tried it.  Rolando has an amazing talent for testing and discovering bugs that most of us wouldn’t even think of trying to test.  What’s even more amazing is not just that he’s tried it, but that he’s tried several variations of that scenario on numerous devices and at different places all throughout all of our games.

Once we’ve scoured the game for bugs, we receive a new version or “update” of the game, and we verify whether all of the bugs are fixed or if they still exist.

Then we will begin the entire process all over again, and again, and again…for every new feature, for every new update, for every new device platform, and for every game.  We will follow these steps on the same game for the same devices for months, for this is our level of dedication to quality here at Mobile Deluxe.

“So do you just play games all day?”

The short answer is: No. We must attack games all day.

12 Predictions for Mobile and Games in 2012

It’s near the end of the season to make predictions for 2012, so hopefully I get this in under the wire.  In the startup world we call such running around and almost missing deadlines being “nimble…” but we might be the oldest startup in mobile games:  From ’06 to ’08 we were the only bootstrapped Top 10 mobile games publisher in the US.  I’ve been in this space so long, I was even there when Jamdat pitched us on making a bowling game for phones, which turned into the top selling mobile game in the US for the next 3 years.  It was black and white… and I think it had B.C. in the title…  So I’ve seen and ridden most waves that have come and gone in the history of mobile games, and I’m more excited by the current wave than any before, hopefully because Mobile Deluxe is helping create it.  Could be why Moby has a surfboard.

So what is that current wave?  Well, here’s part of it, a little off the beaten path (meaning there’s nothing about Facebook’s IPO):

1. Top charts will NOT be dominated by brands (still).

Most brands don’t translate to the top genres we see in the App Store and in Android Market (sandbox games).  So until brand owners come up with effective freemium models, they will languish.

2.  Speaking of freemium: Top games will be freemium.

Seems obvious, but maybe there are people that still think it’s a fad… It’s not.

3.  Middleware engines that port to iPhone and android and other middleware tools that simplify game creation will still not catch on.

I would not invest here.  Coders don’t like using other coders’ code, because they all know that they can do it better, and for not much more time.  The only way to make this work is to sell the biz dev teams at the developers’ businesses on the cost savings… but 99.99% of dev shops don’t have biz dev teams.

4.  This will NOT be the year for HTML 5.

Performance is not there, but the fragmentation is… the fragmentation is worse than Android.

5.  Amazon will kill it in mobile/tablets.

These guys are good, and they can bridge some gaps that others cannot.

6.  Apps will be inundated with video ads, which consumers will NOT love.

Everyone but consumers is excited about this.

7.  iAd will finally take off.

Mobile Advertising is still difficult and frustrating on the buy side.  When larger companies come in with larger budgets, they will want a one stop shop that is SIMPLE to work with.

8.  Zynga’s stock price will double.

I am not a broker.  I am not an analyst.  I have no Zynga stock.  This should not be taken as advice.  It should really just be met with a, “huh?”

9.  EA will turn a profit for the first time in 5 years.

10. Gameloft will attempt an acquisition (they’ve never done this).

11.  Ad revenue will even out between Android and iPhone.

12.  We’ll learn what the shelf-life is for some top mobile game genres.

Alright, there are five more… think of it as the “Top 12 predictions plus 5 bonus ones.”  (But I understand if you need to stop reading now, both of you).

13.  Mobile shopping system companies will become VC darlings.

I’m talking about companies that make it easier for people to shop on their mobile devices.  Yes mobile holiday sales were through the roof, but that was for the huge companies that have solved this on their own.  Everyone else is in need of an elegant solution (for payment, and input of payment info).

14.  Android will launch a realtime rankings system for apps (please!)

15.  EA will announce ‘Aikman Football’ to replace Madden.

At least they should.

16.  I won’t win the battle to delineate between “games” and “gaming.”

Gaming has traditionally meant “gambling,” but has been commandeered by video games, or those that write about them.  Unless we all join forces, this trend will continue, and casino companies will continue buying game companies!

17.  There will be a major cross-licensing deal to solve a big part of the patent wars.  Everyone will participate but one (easy to figure mystery).

Best regards,
Josh

Five Mobile and Tech Predictions for 2012

2011 was a great year for mobile and tech in general.  Free apps emerged as a win-win for publishers and consumers.  Amazon entered the mobile market in a big way.  Apple made it cool to talk to your phone, even without someone connected at the other end.  And Google launched the fastest growing social network in history.  What’s in store for 2012?  Read on to find out.

1. 3-6 Months of BS iPad 3 Rumors

Blah blah blah, retina display!  Blah blah blah, $299!  If your job is to analyze tech companies for an investment bank, you probably don’t know shit about the iPad 3.  Until Digitimes gets the real info from the supply chain in China, give it a rest.  Ditto for iTV, or whatever it may be called, only add 6 months to the timeframe.

 2. Android Tablet Relevance

First, a quick peek at some internal Mobile Deluxe stats for Android and iOS tablet usage.  In Solitaire Deluxe, we allow unlimited game play in the Solitaire Arcade section and monetize with in-game banner ads.  Analyzing the number of ad impressions generated by device size is a good way to get a feel for the relative usage of phones versus tablets.  On Android, only 6% of our ad impressions come from the tablet range.  On iOS, fully 30% of our ad impressions come from the iPad.  So, Android tablets are lagging very far behind.

Why is the tablet ratio important?  Because tablet users over index  in engagement.  The tablet form factor is better suited to situations that can allow for longer play sessions.  How often do you see someone in line at the grocery store pull out their tablet and play a few minutes of solitaire?  Never.  But you do see people on their smartphones while standing in line, riding in an elevator or various other micro-play situations.  Tablets are more of a couch device, used in parallel with other media such as TV.  Also, tablet users are typically more affluent, so they would be more likely to spend money on IAP.

Google’s iPad killer notwithstanding, no one Android tablet is going to prove to be the iPad’s equal.  The good news is that one doesn’t need to.  As with the handset segment, the sum of the Android tablets can combine to compete with the iPad.  The Kindle Fire and other low priced 7″ tablets will provide a significant boost to the tablet ranks in early 2012.  If the larger tablets can find a way to add a little more oomph to their sales figures, the overall numbers should be solid.  More devices = more revenue for publishers.

BTW, if Google really wanted to provide an iPad killer to Android consumers, they would help get ICS rolled out to more devices, more quickly.  The OS experience is the main area where iPad rules the roost.  The hardware form factor for the full sized Samsung Tab was perfect in my eyes.  If the UI worked like iOS, it would have been an equal device.

3. Twitter Transitions to a Media Platform

John Battelle nailed it in two posts.  Twitter is the most interesting of the social media companies, primarily because it is still so undeveloped.  I use Twitter almost like an RSS feed to scan for important news and tech articles.  I also use Twitter to communicate with friends and converse with colleagues.  When I get really brave, I click on the trending topics just to see how creative one can get with the English language.  Twitter has a multitude of facets and can be used by different people in different ways and still remain part of the unique Twitter experience.

In John Battelle’s second post on the Free Radical nature of Twitter, he plants a very interesting seed in the last three sentences.  The transparent and egalitarian nature of Twitter allows for conversations that could not otherwise happen.  Sure, there’s about a .001% chance that Bill Gates will respond to your tweet, but there’s a much better chance that Alton Brown will.  Twitter drips with the potential to evolve into something even better.  I can’t tell you exactly how, but I would bet that Twitter will end 2012 looking a lot different than it does now.

4. Mobile Publisher Consolidation

Mobile 1.0 went through a consolidation phase in the mid 2000’s and reached a level of relative maturity with a handful of major players (Gameloft, Glu, EA, Dchoc) dominating the space.  The combination of smartphones, free apps and open markets (iOS and Android) has created the Mobile 2.0 games space.  There are now a significant number of independent iPhone and Android publishers that consistently get multiple games to the upper echelon of the Top Grossing chart.  EA, Gameloft and Glu are still big players, but they do not dominate the way they did when Verizon’s Brew deck and AT&T’s J2ME deck were the biggest streams of revenue around.

Storm8/TeamLava, Backflip, Tiny Co, Pocket Gems and some other companies are under the mainstream consumer radar, but kicking butt and making serious money.  Storm8 has pulled at least one $1MM IAP day.  Backflip has seen DragonVale hang out in the Top 10 Grossing apps since its launch in mid-September.  However, a lot of these companies find themselves in a no-man’s land, where they make too much money to be a value acquisition for a big publisher, but not enough money to IPO or pull a JAMDAT.  Top tier independent publishers will be looking to acquire smaller publishers to grab market share and bulk up.  The second tier of indie publishers are still profitable and growing, but not to the extent of the top tier.  These are the publishers most likely to be snapped up by the Zyngas and Googles (and Storm8s and Backflips) of the world.  They have tremendous growth potential, but are still in the $20MM – $50MM valuation range.  Patents, tech advantages and scalability will be the key differentiators for the second tier of publisher.

5. User Acquisition for Mobile Takes Center Stage

Now that (almost) everyone is on the same page and cranking out free apps, the game has shifted to acquiring as many users as possible for as cheaply as possible.  Apple and Android only promote a limited amount of apps each week.  Publishers are responsible for driving their own traffic, for the most part.  User acquisition channels (Ad networks, Pay-Per-Install providers) are getting more and more crowded.  More demand for users means that User Acquisition prices are bound to rise.  Monetization enablers will still play an important role, but I expect to see a steady stream of new entrants to the user acquisition game.  Expect to see the mobile-specific game networks (OpenFeint, Mobage, Papaya, Playphone) tout the size of their user base and the ability to drive installs as key features.

Another trend to watch for in 2012 is an increase in the number of branded free apps.  Free has eliminated the barrier to entry for downloading an app, but it is still tough to get noticed in today’s massive marketplaces.  Brands can provide a differentiator that will pull users into an app.  Smurf’s Village was the first app to show the power of applying a good brand to a complimentary style of gameplay.  The results were spectacular.  Family Feud & Friends has been climbing within the Top 100 Grossing and is now a consistent Top 25 performer.  It will be interesting to see which brands are able to pair up with the correct gameplay styles and make an impact.