Game Network Newsletter - January 2011

January 17, 2011 (Back to archive)

In This Issue



Ian Ni-Lewis, senior developer advocate at Google Game Developer Relations, talks about Google's strategy for educating game developers, the barriers to entry at the Chrome App Store, and Google's two days of seminars at GDC 2011


Ian Ni-Lewis
Ian Ni-Lewis

Q: Ian, what is Google's strategy for educating game developers and providing support for Google's various platforms?

Ian Ni-Lewis: The most important thing that we're doing to help game developers is to make great platforms. With SDKs and APIs for Android, Chrome, Google TV, App Engine, YouTube, and all of our other platforms and services, Google has shown a strong commitment to making our technology accessible to developers. We listen to developers and improve our platforms continually in response to their needs. For an example, check out the game-oriented features we added to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

We also support a strong developer community. We create great documentation at and, and we have online support forums for all of our developer products. The engineers and product managers who work on our platforms are active on our forums -- they read all of the posts, and keep that feedback in mind as they design future versions of our platforms. We also have dedicated developer relations engineers who write sample code, speak at industry conferences, and answer questions online.

One fairly recent development – one that I'm personally involved in – is the formation of a developer relations group that's dedicated to games. Our team is composed of game industry veterans and experienced Google engineers who understand how to make and sell games.

Q: When it comes to developing for mobile platforms and hand-held devices, developers have
choices. Why should they choose Android?

Ni-Lewis: It's interesting that you use the word "choices," because if I had to pick one word to describe Android, "choices" would be at the top of my list. Android runs on dozens of form factors and price points, and is customizable beyond belief. Yet underneath, all of those devices are running a remarkably consistent application model.

Android is a great platform to develop games for. With the release of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) in late 2010, Android has become a mature gaming platform. It provides OpenGL ES 2.0, OpenSL ES, and numerous usability and performance enhancements that are important to game developers. You can build Android apps in the popular Eclipse IDE, which is available for all major operating systems and boasts a library of hundreds of useful plug-ins and extensions. The APIs and tools are built on proven technologies with thriving developer communities. And you'd be surprised at how much an open source operating system can improve your life as a developer.

Q: What are the barriers of entry to the Chrome App store and what is the rev share model for

Ni-Lewis: The Chrome Web Store honestly has one of the lowest barriers to entry of any monetization vehicle that I have ever seen. The entire process is automated, and there is no certification or review process to go through prior to selling your app. The only barrier is a one-time $5 fee to set up a developer account. Each account can publish an unlimited number of apps. As you may guess, this fee isn't really a cost-recovery mechanism; it's mostly a way to control the number of developer accounts and keep out riff-raff like spambots.

The Chrome Web Store also has one of the most generous rev-share models I've ever seen. Google acts purely as a payment processor. Our fee is 5% plus 30 cents, which basically covers transaction fees.

Q: How do you envision game developers utilizing Google TV as ways to interact with consumers?

Ni-Lewis: Google TV is a really interesting project inside of Google because it brings together two of our most prominent technologies – Chrome and Android. Technically speaking, there are two different ways that game developers might want to look at the platform – first, as an embedded device running the Android operating system; and second, as a way to put Web content on the big screen. Speaking less technically, there's only one way to look at the platform: as the family's casual entertainment hub. It's built for the way that the vast majority of people pass their time: Web surfing, channel surfing, and playing casual games.

Q: What are Google's plans for GDC 2011?

Ni-Lewis: We've booked two full DevDays and filled them with material on Android, Chrome, Google TV, and other Google technology. The first day will be devoted entirely to Android, the second day to Web technologies. Many of the speakers are game industry veterans who just happen to work for Google.

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David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies, discusses the benefits to game developers of Unity's new Asset Store, growth areas, and what attendees can look forward to seeing at GDC 2011

Unity logo

David Helgason
David Helgason

Q: David, game developers have a few engines on the market from which to choose. What are the top reasons why they should choose Unity?

David Helgason: It boils down to what you're using your engine for. If Unity supports the platforms and the types of games you want to make, then Unity is a good idea, otherwise it's not. Fortunately, Unity supports a very broad range of platforms. We were the first to support the iPhone and now we support Android. Also the PC and Mac with a focus on old computers. So if you want to go really, really broad – for example, for kids with hand-me-down laptops – Unity is a good idea.

Another reason for choosing Unity is standardization. There is such a broad range of users and so many companies using Unity now; in fact, in the last 28 days, some 107,000 developers created something with Unity. That's quite a large number of developers, isn't it? And because so many people use Unity, there are a tremendous number of online resources, so much knowledge out there. As a result, it's easy to recruit people who work with it; Unity has become sort of a common language for studios or teams that they can use to communicate through.

Q: What are the biggest growth areas for Unity's business?

Helgason: I'd have to say Android. We've been on the Web for a long time, like five years. And we've been on the iPhone for two years and a bit. And we've been on Android for six months. The fact that Android is already something like 15% of our revenue obviously means that it's growing very quickly.

There are two other new areas that we launched in November. One is the Asset Store, a marketplace we created that permits people to sell assets to each other. The other is a publishing or distribution service that we call Union where we aggregate games.

Q: Tell me a little about the Asset Store. What are its benefits for game developers?

Helgason: The biggest one for game developers is being able to quickly piece something together, either for a prototype or for a final product. Developers can go in there and find things like scripts and tools and pathfinding libraries and 3-D prototyping packs with such nice assets as basic characters, ramps, stairs, wheels, boxes, and so on.

The second benefit is that once you've created something for yourself, you can actually sell it through the Asset Store and generate some extra revenue. So there are a lot of non-core assets available, like background cars and props created by other developers.

Q: Is 2011 the year 3-D gaming is really going to take off? Or are we still a few years off?

Helgason: Hasn't 3-D gaming been around for many years? I mean, there was 3-D gaming back when the Commodore 64 was around. And, today, most of the successful games on the smartphone are 3D. So I'm not sure that's a question I agree with.

I think that, in 2011, 3D will start being used for a lot of things other than games. It's already been used for games forever...but 3D has been hard for some people. It requires certain skillsets that the games industry possesses abundantly but most other industries do not. And being able to give 3-D tools to people who are, say, architects will allow them to bring their 2-D images to life in 3D. So I see a growth in 3D in 2011 outside of the games industry because the games industry has so much 3D already.

If your question has to do with 3D on the Web and on Facebook, yes, then we see pretty crazy growth in that. And we'll see some pretty amazing 3-D MMOs using Unity on the Web and in social networks.

Q. What does Unity plan to showcase at GDC 2011 in San Francisco? What can attendees look forward to seeing?

Helgason: Great question! We actually haven't announced that yet. But we have some very interesting stuff coming up both in the area of engine improvement as well as some stories about the Asset Store and the Union publishing/distribution service.

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Jeff Hemenway, VP of global gaming at Digital River, offers advice to small developers and indies looking to monetize their games, and previews the full day of sessions at GDC 2011's "Monetization Sponsored Track"

Digital River logo

Jeff Hemenway
Jeff Hemenway

Q: Jeff, successfully monetizing games is becoming increasingly complex. What sort of consultative support does Digital River offer developers looking to optimize commerce?

Jeff Hemenway: One of the great assets of Digital River is that we've been around for 15 years. So, first and foremost, developers can expect to get best-in-breed tools not only to optimize the initial game sale but also recurring revenue – subscriptions as well as micro-transactions or support of the free-to-play models.

Q: What exactly then does a developer get from Digital River? Is it a consulting service? Is it software?

Hemenway: It's really both. Because if we don't ensure that our customers are set up to succeed, we don't succeed. We operate based on a revenue-share model, so we only get paid when our clients make money. So we do a lot of consulting up front to make sure the stage is set for success. And then, on the back end, we've got all the tools to facilitate that commerce – from creating an e-store to optimizing subscription revenues through a very robust set of subscription tools.

Q: How do Digital River's monetization solutions differ from others currently on the market?

Hemenway: We have by far the most integrated and scalable solution on the market when you're looking at global solutions. If you only have a Facebook game that you're trying to monetize in the U.S., we have a few competitors who do this very well. But, if you're a developer or a publisher who is looking for an enterprise-level solution to not only do Facebook but also a PC game and you want to operate globally, have the payment types that matter, the fraud tools that protect you from piracy rings, language support, and multi-data center redundancy so you have the uptime that you need, that's really what sets Digital River apart from our competition.

Q: What advice do you have for smaller developers and independents looking to monetize their games?

Hemenway: Providing flexibility in the way the consumer pays is first and foremost. If they prefer to pay through a $2-per-month subscription versus buying a bunch of virtual items through micro-transactions, they should have that flexibility. If they prefer to just outright buy a game, they should be able to do that too. We all know that the consumer has become king again and the way you really optimize a game is by understanding how each individual consumer wants to pay and how you maximize that revenue with each.

Q: How has the rise of social network gaming impacted Digital River's business strategy?

Hemenway: It's had a tremendous impact. I came to Digital River just over four years ago and our target customer then was a traditional publisher who wanted to develop an online store and sell a game. In four years, we've embraced the transition of games from a product to a service, and obviously the way you monetize has also radically changed. We've invested heavily in our subscription management infrastructure because I do believe that model will continue to be around awhile. So it's changed the tools and the capabilities we have to monetize games.

Q: Digital River will have a full-day of sessions at the "Monetization Sponsored Track" at GDC 2011. What will be the main takeaway for attendees? Why should they attend?

Hemenway: I'm incredibly excited about this. You'll see that the day isn't really Digital River-centric at all. We're focused on bringing in experts within the various categories of direct marketing. We'll have some folks who will talk about revenue recognition from accounting practices and tax perspectives on a global basis so people operating these games can really understand what's acceptable from a revenue recognition practice and what isn't. We'll talk about the future of this space. We're not quite ready to announce who will be hosting and who will be running our keynote, but I think you'll see some industry veterans and some very credible sources. The person running our keynote will be talking about what the gaming business will be like three years from now from a monetization perspective.

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Paul Hyman
By Paul "The Game Master" Hyman

Paul has covered the videogames industry for over 15 years now, currently writes for, and was editor-in-chief of UBM's He can be reached at [email protected].

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