The elusive exclusive: Apple and Google grapple to get games that the other won’t have

The elusive exclusive: Apple and Google grapple to get games that the other won’t have
Ever since the App Store launched in 2008, Apple’s dominance in terms of apps for both the iPhone and the iPad has been an accepted truism in mobile. Now, though, as Google commands an overwhelming 80% of the smartphone market, and its Play Store is officially larger than the App Store, Apple's app catalog superiority is put under question. As the two companies are grappling to secure exclusive titles, Apple is more than ever determined to fight to defend the aura of App Store supremacy. The Wall Street Journal has now learned that Cupertino is ready to even pay a considerable price for this position. Don’t blame it, though - so is Google (and Amazon, as a matter of fact).

What's really happening under the radar is that Apple and Google are both making a considerable effort to woo game developers in order to get high-profile titles exclusively on their platform first. The reward? In exchange for a few months of exclusivity, game developers get their titles placed on a prominent place in the featured section of the App Store and Google Play store, a position that could boost downloads up to ten fold.

So far, though, it seems that Apple is the one that’s more aggressive and successful with the task of wooing developers. Just remember titles like “Plants vs Zombies 2” and the “Cut the Rope” sequel that both launched first on the Apple App Store. EA, the creator of PvZ 2, agreed to a two-month exclusivity agreement with Apple in exchange for a prominent position in iTunes, while ZeptoLab, the developer behind Cut the Rope, got a 3-month exclusive agreement in exchange for a similar reward.

This marks a huge change, at least on Apple’s part - Cupertino used to have an editorial team that would normally evaluate apps based on the quality to determine whether an app is worth being promoted in iTunes’ featured section. Now, though, that team is much more influenced by whether or not such titles are exclusive for the platform.

Google, on its part, is trying to kill two birds with one stones: get those elusive exclusives, but also strengthen the Android brand. With Samsung dominating Android sales, many have suggested that the Korean company might dilute the message that it is actually Google’s Android that powers its products. Google is obviously aware of that, and is offering benefits for developers who use its brand symbols like the green robot more in their apps (Google has allegedly rewarded an app developer for using robot-shaped pictures for in-app purchases in an app). In its fight with Apple, though, Google's platform, has the sheer gigantic size of its platform as a very convincing reason for developers to not launch apps exclusively for iOS. French dev house Gameloft, for instance, launched its popular Asphalt 8 on iOS and Android simultaneously, despite being courted by Apple.

In addition to the big two, Amazon with its Android Appstore is also wooing developers in an attempt to secure exclusive titles for its own platform, making for an even more competitive app environment.

Overall, games are the single most important category of apps, both for users who spend the most time in them, but also for developers and phone makers. After all, the mobile app market was valued at $16 billion last year, 70% of which came from games. The stakes are obviously high, but what we’re wondering is whether having a game like “Plants vs Zombies 2” is really that crucial to you: would you base your decision to buy or not to buy a phone on game availability?

source: Wall Street Journal (paywalled)

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