10 Years Of The App Store – Mountains
To mark 10 years since Apple launched its App Store for iOS on 10 July 2008 and brought about a new era of mobile gaming, we’ve reached out to a selection of game developers, old and new, who have experienced the evolution and found their home on iOS devices. Today we speak with Mountains co-founder Ken Wong about the release of Florence, his experience creating Monument Valley and more.
Starting up a new studio, was there a particular appeal to making your first game a smartphone release?
I wanted to build upon what I had learned at ustwo working on Monument Valley, so making our first game for mobile was an easy decision. I love that mobile games encourage designers towards simplicity, to experiment with the unique features of the platform, and to make games for new audiences.
You made fantastic use of the smartphone format with Florence. How much had you learnt leading up to this game’s development that helped inform its functionality?
I’ve been working on mobile games since 2011, and every project has been a learning experience. I’m particularly interested in how the touch screen allows for new ways to interact with games and stories. What we didn’t expect when we started Florence was the empathy we could create by presenting Florence’s life in the form of the mobile apps she uses – calling her mother, flicking through her social media feed, presenting conversation as chat bubbles. There’s a really interesting connection created as the player plays a mobile game in which the character is also using a mobile device.
How has publishing through iOS changed in the time you’ve been launching games on the platform?
So much has changed, and so much has remained the same. Obviously the market has grown, but it’s also become saturated. It’s very easy to put a game on the App Store, but it’s become very hard to market it. The new App Store that came with iOS11 has shaken things up. Prices plummeted, but there seems to be a resurgence of premium games now. In the end, I don’t think too much about trends. I focus on creating things that will make people sit up and pay attention and happily pay for. There were no games like Monument Valley before we made it. The same is true of Florence.
How empowering do you feel publishing games on iOS has been to indie game makers?
I really appreciate that it’s relatively easy to publish an iOS game. I think this has encouraged more creators to create and market their own games in their own way, rather than go through a publisher.
Do you consider the App Store to be a relatively meritocratic platform where good work will rise to the top regardless of origin?
Generally, yes. I think you see a lot of inventive, highly engaging and highly innovative stuff rise to the top on the App Store, either through word of mouth or Apple’s curation. Like all business, being in the right place at the right time is a factor, but you still need to make high quality work. I strongly disagree with the idea that App Store success is a ‘lottery’.
What trends have you been interested to see emerge and decline on iOS over the years?
Watching big companies falling over each other to follow free to play trends is pretty amusing. Right now they’re all trying to compete with Fortnite. Before that it was MOBAs. Before that it was Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. I don’t pay much attention to trends, and instead focus on making art.
Are there any particular releases on iOS that you consider to be paradigm-shifting moments?
I think mobile games is actually too broad to have an overarching paradigm. Where games like Minecraft, Journey and Pokemon have had a massive impact on traditional platforms, the mobile games is so siloed and fast-changing that no one game has really changed everything. You could maybe make a case that Angry Birds established mobile as a viable business, and Sword & Sworcery established it as a place for art.
Are you concerned about preservation of games on iOS at this point with the operating system changing frequently?
Yes, absolutely. The idea that Monument Valley might one day no longer be playable on a new phone makes me really sad.
How would you summarise the impact of the iOS app store on gaming?
iOS, smartphones and tablets have had a huge impact on the games landscape. The multi-touch screens, technologies like gyro, camera and geolocation have lead to the creation of new forms of interaction and storytelling. Meanwhile, new monetisation approaches and the ease of publishing, buying and sharing App Store games, have helped increase and broaden the audience for games.