Spinning Gears :: Is Android More Profitable than iOS for Developers?

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(this brand new image for Spinning Gears columns is courtesy of Narilka, who graciously gave permission to use it!)

So the blogs have been buzzing recently thanks to a report that for SpaceTime Studios, the developers of the popular mobile MMO Pocket Legends, has found that its Android version is simply more profitable than the iOS version of the same game.

SpaceTime runs Pocket Legends for both platforms, and since the game is an MMO, anyone on any platform can play with each other. But SpaceTime noted that they’re seeing more sales from its Android customers than from its iOS customers. Does this mean – as many tech news sites have jumped to the conclusion – that Android owners are somehow more willing to shell out for apps than iOS users? Does it mean that developers should all switch to building games for Android now?

Well, what exactly does it mean? I know – partially because unlike a number of people who have covered the story in a couple of places, I’ve actually played Pocket Legends (on my Android phone, no less,) understand SpaceTime’s business model, and get what they’re really trying to say here. Let’s dive in after the jump.

Pocket Legends

The first thing you need to understand is the kind of game that Pocket Legends is, and how SpaceTime Studios makes money. The game is free to download and play, but SpaceTime Studios sells “platinum,” an in-game currency that players can use to buy better items, customize their clothes and the items they already have, and to unlock certain zones and areas unaccessible by players who are playing the game for free. There are also ads, but this isn’t the primary thrust of the money-making engine in the game.

Platinum, of course, costs real money, and as Pocket Legends is unashamed of being a micro-transaction based MMO (which I don’t think it should be, don’t get me wrong) a lot of players are more than eager to really tweak and customize their characters if they can sink a few bucks into it. Also, there are some really great items available to players with some platinum in their accounts – and while you don’t need it to play the game, you’ll want it – especially when you get to zones that you can’t enter without it, or when you encounter foes that would be much less frustrating if you had some upgraded gear.

Here’s the lowdown, thanks to an article at ComputerWorld:

Here’s where things get interesting: Spacetime says its daily user activity on Android is more than double its level on iOS in practically every measure. On Android, the game is downloaded about 9,000 times a day, according to Spacetime; on iOS, daily downloads are in the 3,000 to 4,000 range. Perhaps even more significant, Android users who have the app use it about three times more than their Apple counterparts.

Altogether, that translates into a big difference in revenue: Spacetime, which is supported largely by in-app purchases, says its Android users generate 30 to 50 percent more revenue than its iOS users do. This is despite the fact that Apple has a seamless in-app purchasing interface, whereas Android’s built-in purchasing system isn’t set to debut until sometime this spring.

“We’ve just been blown away,” says Spacetime CEO Gary Gattis. “Android has become our primary interest.”

It doesn’t really end there though:

Pocket Legends also utilizes advertising to generate revenue, and Spacetime has seen the same effect there: Android users click ads about three times as much as iOS users, according to Spacetime’s measurements. What’s more, they end up making purchases as a result of ad clickthroughs twice as often as iOS users.

“This led us to stop advertising on Apple and throw all of our marketing dollars onto Android,” Gattis says. “It really just makes sense from a financial point of view.”

So you have the story, but here’s the clincher (one that Computerworld approaches, but falls short of defining clearly) – my suspicion is that Occam’s Razor comes into play at the core of the debate over development for iOS or Android. It’s not that the facts or numbers released by SpaceTime are in doubt – they’re really not. Everyone agrees that SpaceTime is raking it in with Pocket Legends for Android as opposed to iOS.

Why? It’s simple: There are more well-polished, high-quality, well-designed games for iOS than there are for Android.

The inverse is also true, and it’s a huge compliment to SpaceTime Studios: the gaming field for Android right now is so populated with ports, 2D games, and games without the same level of polish, design, and functionality that a game like Pocket Legends is a real gem: one that Android gamers are willing to sink some money into if they’re able to get some more play value and fun out of.

On iOS, someone can install Pocket Legends, play for a while, hit the paywall where they’re simply not effective anymore if they don’t buy platinum, or where they just can’t explore anything new if they don’t pony up, and they’ll just drop the game like a hot rock and move on to the next title in the iTunes App Store. There are more than enough high-quality, well-polished games for iOS that they don’t feel compelled to pay for the game just to have something good to play.

Over in the Android camp, those gamers (myself included) are hurting enough for high-quaity games to play that it’s easier to break out your wallet if you’ve already found something that’s a lot of fun and you know you can’t just hit the Android Market and find thousands of similar alternatives that are all also free.

In the end, Android gamers are willing to pay because they don’t have any many games of the same caliber as Pocket Legends. On the iOS side, SpaceTime Studios is simply suffering from overwhelming competition – which says nothing about their game, I found it a lot of fun when I reviewed it and I think it’s great, but it’s up against way more titles with the same or greater level of polish that are all fun to play – and, of course – they’re free – in the iTunes App Store.

So what have we learned? One, that the tech blogosphere really needs a solid dose of analysis (one that I’m happy to provide, hit me up if you need a writer with skills,) and two; that SpaceTime is doing the right thing by focusing on its Android user-base. They could very well cruise into the next era of Android gaming riding high – at least until the competition comes to their doorstep, and there’s no doubt that they’re already on their way.

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