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GameSalad Changes Alarm iPhone Developers

A new business model brings a backlash.
Developer Andreas Ricci left the following note on the GameSalad forums announcing his abandonment of the platform. "Due to the new GameSalad Direct announcement I've decided I do not want to work with Gendai and its product/service any longer," he wrote. "I do not want to invest in something that can drastically change without warning. GameSalad Direct will hinder both Gendai and all of the GameSalad developers. I cannot have my brandname, I cannot change prices, I cannot get paid directly."

The discontent is not universal. While the majority of the comments in a 43-page thread on the GameSalad site condemn the changes, there are some defenders of the move.

A GameSalad developer posting under the name BeyondtheTech characterizes the changes as necessary to help developers compete with large, well-financed gaming studios like Electronic Arts.

"As an independent developer, I just do not have the muster, nor the pull with magazine companies, Web sites, and reviewers to get the exposure my game might deserve," he (or she) writes. "With GameSalad, that picture completely changes for the better. ...Alone, it's tough to survive in the App Store. What some of us are earning right now are peanuts. Literally peanuts."

Indeed, with well over 250,000 iOS apps in the App Store, it's not easy to stand out. And there's more competition every day. Most apps lose money so in that sense GameSalad's pricing makes game development less risky, though at the expense of the upside.

It remains to be seen how much marketing muscle GameSalad will put behind its games. If it follows the literary self-publishing model used by companies like Xlibris, chances are that it will end up charging for marketing as an extra service rather than spending money to promote every one of its users' games. In order to have the resources to promote content, publishers have to be selective, and that may not be compatible with GameSalad's avowed interest in "democratizing game publishing."

GameSalad could succeed through crowdsourcing, becoming in effect a contest that offers a free development tool for free labor and produces a handful of hits that generate enough revenue to earn promotion. It could become something like 99designs for games.

But developers who believe they can succeed through their own abilities want to own their work. In an e-mail, Ricci elaborated on the reasons for his dissatisfaction with GameSalad's new direction. He said that it's necessary to have control of app pricing to adapt to the dynamic pricing that drives App Store sales and to compete with name-brand titles from companies like Chillingo.

"iOS Device owners generally buy an app on first impulse -- they see a name they know, like Capcom, and they but it," he wrote. "For every amazing game created with GameSalad (like Danger Cats) there are 20 poor quality ones; therefore having my games branded along with those garbage applications will drastically lower sales for ALL GameSalad apps, including the amazing ones."

He expressed skepticism about whether GameSalad developers would actually own any of the intellectual property they create. "As of yet we do not know if they are technically owners of the games created," he wrote. "However one thing is certain -- all of our apps will be uploaded and submitted thorough THEIR app store account and therefore THEY will receive all of OUR money at the end of each month."

Ricci said he's now looking into two other mobile app development platforms: Ansca Mobile's Corona SDK and Shiva 3D by Stonetrip.