Again much of our focus during this last period has been on Android, which we are rapidly getting very well acquainted with and that now represents the bulk of our business. At the time of our last issue we had no games in the top 24 of Brain & Puzzle and Casual categories and now we have 4 in the top 10 and 7 in the top 24. In many respects Android is harder than iOS in that iOS is limited to so few devices that your products need not accommodate much variation in product device. Getting a game to work on iPhone and iPad is not such a great undertaking. Android however has experienced an explosion of different possible devices. Happily these are at least constrained to some degree by pre-defined interface buttons and behaviour that dictate how your apps communicates with the user. However with the range of possible screen formats and risks of issues with particular implementations, the opportunities for your app to not work as expected are still quite high.
One of the sacrifices made this year was to skip the annual World Computer Shogi Championships in Tokyo, which we otherwise habitually compete in. New baby and preparation for the World Championship does not mix. However a substitute trip to South Korea offered compensations, including a day spent in long meetings at SK Telecom in Seoul. SK Telecom controls 50% of the mobile business in South Korea, so whatever they are doing is important. Through them we will be taking our existing titles published in South Korea, via TStore, through to other Asian territories. SK Telecom know how to make impressive buildings and this was beautiful, impressive and curious all at once. To add a friendly ambience a cafe area inside the centre of the building was served by a fake cafe van and the cafe area laid out as if on a street. It was hard not to smile at this idea.
Our involvement in the AI & Games Network continues and now, in conjunction with Edward Powley, Daniel Whitehouse and Peter Cowling at the Artificial Intelligence Research Centre, two papers have already been published, based on our core Dou Di Zhu game engine. We have regular meetings with this research group and these become regular opportunities to exchange research ideas. Their work is now embedded in our AI testbed, where it can be tested in round-robin tournaments against our AI and any experimental AI. This is the kind of Industry-Academia relationship we are keen to foster, so that we can share our AI development environment with researchers. This provides ready-made tracing tools and a well-defined generic API that allows pretty any type of game or AI to be easily embedded in our testbed. This allows researchers to hit the ground running as they can just plug into the ready-made generic game control provided.
Part of the Academic involvement includes regular meetings with the AI &
Games Network, which links all the UK universities into regular meetings,
held at Imperial College.
Just prior to the trip to South Korea, and only separated by one day, was
our return to GDC
2011 San Francisco, to the Smartphone and AI Summits. These events offer
a great opportunity to find out what other groups are doing and to absorb
the wisdom and views of other games developers. The presentations are very
high quality and provide much useful information as well as a general inspiration.
It is also good to re-connect with our existing publishers, in particular
Software, who have very successfully established themselves as a primary
source of casual games under iOS. They currently use 6 of our game engines.
One significant new contact there was to Heyzap,
who have established a 1.6 million strong membership for its web-based social
games network. On March 16th Heyzap launched into the mobile arena to carry
this social games network to Android, with follow-on plans to also launch
on iOS. This also provides automatic feeds through to Facebook and Twitter
and has the potential to become a big player on Android. It offers the attraction
that, once installed, players can track any game on Heyzap, winning awards,
even if that game has not been Heyzap-prepared. For this reason there is an
automatic potential tide there to carry Heyzap into prominence, even if games
developers do not pro-actively try to support this service. We have been in
detailed discussions with Heyzap. requesting ways to improve their service
and currently have 3 Heyzap supporting products on the market (we provide
an in-game button that invites the user to login to Heyzap).