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The iPhone hasn’t actually changed the game at all

By on April 21, 2009
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New analysis shows that the impact of the iPhone on the mobile games business is much smaller than previously thought.

I’ve been trying to get hold of demographic data for the iPhone from a number of sources. Combining it all lead to a surprising conclusion, and suggests that the impact of the iPhone on consumer behaviour may have been over-estimated.

So to start, 84% of Britons own a mobile phone, meaning about 51.8 million of us.* Of those, 77% own normal phones, 19.5% smartphones and 3.5% an iPhone.

  Users Game purchasers**
(#) (%) (#) (%)
iPhone 1,811,402   3.5%   336,921   18.6%
Other smartphones 10,092,095   19.5%   565,157   5.6%
Other mobiles 39,850,836   77.0%   1,075,973   2.7%
Total 51,754,332 100.0% 1,978,051 3.8%
** Game purchasers as a percentage of total number of platform owners
Source: comScore, Gamesbrief analysis.

 So in the UK, almost 2 million mobile phone owners have purchased a game. 337,000 of those were iPhone users. Nearly twice as many other smartphone owners have paid for a downloadable game. More importantly, as John Chasey of Finblade and IOMO has argued, Java-based games are still more than half the market.

Sure, the iPhone is taking off fast, the AppStore is fantastic and Apple has showed operators how mobile should be done. The AppStore has about 6,700 games already (2,000 of them are free) and the number is growing fast.

But it is running into the troubles of being successful. As Dean Takahashi of Venturebeat says: “If your game dips below the top 100 games, it’s almost impossible for users to discover. Apple highlights cool games on its web site, but being selected is like winning the lottery.”

The Java-based mobile games business stalled amidst poor user experience, difficulty of finding good games and technical difficulties. I have argued before that Apple is going to have to grasp the bull by the horns and become a, perhaps the, publisher on the iPhone.

But these numbers show that for all of the excitement over the iPhone, it hasn’t had as much of an impact as commentators (including me) have tried to make out.

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* Based on Wikipedia population figures

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com