It's a wild time for the mobile gaming industry. On the one hand, mobile gaming has never been more popular with easy money up for grabs for game developers able to churn out games with simplistic and addictive gameplay, then load in tons of ads and in-app purchases for quick monetization.
Conversely, it's been equally tough for game developers intent on crafting premium gaming experiences for mobile audiences. Game developers who forgo ads and in-app purchases are faced with the uphill battle of convincing gamers to pay upfront for a premium mobile game. It's just not a financially stable business model and has led to a decline in great premium games being developed for Android.
Google itself has taken some steps to help developers with Play Pass offering Android users a decent collection of the Play Store's best premium apps and games as part of a monthly subscription, but a new subscription service for premium mobile games is looking to things to the next level.
GameClub believes there's still a place for premium games on mobile and is planning to offer Android gamers an ever-growing collection of the best mobile games that you won't find in the Google Play Store. Many of them are games that were developed for iOS and never ported over to Android, while others are forgotten gems that hope to find new life through the GameClub collection. The service is already live on iOS and is expecting to launch on Android in late March 2020.
The goal for GameClub is to deliver premium gaming experiences to gamers for $5 a month while doing most of the heavy lifting for game developers in terms of keeping the games up to date for modern devices.
Eli Hodapp is GameClub's VP of business development and the former editor-in-chief at TouchArcade. He took some time to answer questions we had about the current state of the mobile gaming industry and the potential that he sees for GameClub to connect gamers with better mobile games.
Android Central: First off, I would love to know your overall thoughts on the mobile gaming industry at the start of 2020. It's a very lucrative time with lots of money being made through in-app purchases, but do you think the rise of gaming subscriptions like Apple Arcade, Play Pass, and GameClub will find stable footing and emerge as a way for smaller developers to find a bigger audience without resorting to the "freemium" model that often ends up watering down the overall experience?
Eli Hodapp: Subscription services absolutely will find stable footing in the mobile game market, just like they have in the world of console and non-game apps. Microsoft's Game Pass is probably the best example of the amazing things that can happen in games with subscription, as it has become the default add-on that people with an Xbox spring for, and for good reason. According to Microsoft, Game Pass subscribers play 40% more games, in 30% more genres than they would have otherwise, with 91% of them playing titles they would not have played without Game Pass. Similarly, studies have shown that subscription audio services like Spotify actually broaden your musical tastes, with users consuming 49% more music and from 32% more unique artists six months after subscribing. It's an incredible value that allows people to experience loads of games without even the slightest tinge of buyer's remorse.
"Subscriptions allow for a fundamental difference in the way mobile games are designed, as instead of hooking and retaining players with endless loops that often rely on addiction mechanics, we can instead focus on immersion, story, a killer climax, and a great ending."
Mobile subscription services like GameClub offer these benefits, as well as serving as a safe haven for premium game experiences that otherwise wouldn't (and couldn't) exist on mobile. Subscriptions allow for a fundamental difference in the way mobile games are designed, as instead of hooking and retaining players with endless loops that often rely on addiction mechanics, we can instead focus on immersion, story, a killer climax, and a great ending. It's wild how games you can beat or that rely on skill to progress, rather than how much money you've spent, have become such rare entries on mobile app stores. Through services like GameClub, indie developers can go back to making fun games without worrying about how they're going to monetize. This is a huge difference from how mobile development currently works where artificial motivators and monetization mechanics serve as the foundation the rest of the game is built around.
Freemium has driven a massive expansion of the mobile gaming audience, but it's worth noting that consumers spend in non-game apps has grown more than 2x faster than in mobile games, according to App Annie, and the growth in non-game apps has been entirely driven by subscription.
AC: What differentiates Game Club from Google Play Pass, and the other attempts at a premium mobile game subscription services we've seen rise and fall in the past? What has been the typical response when you approach developers and publishers with your pitch?
EH: The primary difference between GameClub and Google Play Pass from a player perspective is that all of the titles in GameClub are totally exclusive. You won't be able to play them any other way than through GameClub, and we've put loads of emphasis on curating our library to fit a consistent, premium theme. We're aiming to be the mobile game equivalent to the radio station you always have on in your car because you know that no matter what track they're playing, you'll enjoy it. From a game developer perspective, the key difference is we do the heavy lifting updating the games — give us your game, we'll modernize it for today's phones and tablet and distribute it, and you'll see revenues.
"We're aiming to be the mobile game equivalent to the radio station you always have on in your car because you know that no matter what track they're playing, you'll enjoy it."
Comparing content, Google Play Pass has taken a different approach, in that it's simply a different way to pay for a giant collection of games and apps that were already available on Google Play. For people looking for everything and the kitchen sink, this is a great value. For gamers with a discerning eye that want the best of the best, all curated inside of a single service with loads of editorial content that explores the history and the craft of creating these titles, GameClub is for you!
Developers are typically incredibly receptive to what we're offering, as many of them love the idea of making premium games on mobile and without services like GameClub were simply stopped by the economic realities of the platform.
AC: What are the parameters or quality threshold you look for when searching for new games to add to the service? Is it important for the team to strike a balance across the different genres/game types? Any games you were particularly excited about getting for the service?
EH: The GameClub library as it stands right now is what I've been referring to "phase one" of GameClub. There's loads of incredible games that have largely vanished because the developers could no longer rationalize supporting them. In some cases, games were never brought from iOS to Android because developers didn't have the resources. We brought those back to life, focusing primarily on games that won major editorial awards, had high aggregate review scores or were from renowned developers. Additionally, on the Android side of things, we'll be bringing many bonafide iOS classics that were never released on the platform to Google Play for the first time ever.
The next phase of the GameClub master plan is to bring all the games back to mobile that would have been released on mobile devices had free-to-play not taken over. We're actively pursuing a number of great ports that will be GameClub exclusives that we're thinking will make players really happy to have on their phones. Finally, GameClub will eventually release original content, but that is at least a year off.
As far as games that are currently playable that I'm most excited for, I'm all about Breach & Clear. It's by Gun Media who are also behind the Friday the 13th game that exploded in popularity not too long ago. What I love about it is that unlike a lot of modern military games that are all about action, Breach & Clear makes you take an extremely methodical and strategic approach to that same gameplay. Some of your most important decisions take place before you even enter a room, which I think is a really cool dynamic that isn't often explored in games that have to do with modern combat.
AC: What have you and the team learned from the launch on iOS (which came pretty close after Apple Arcade launched) and what are the plans to launch the service on Android?
EH: The number one thing we've learned is that there is a demand from both players and developers for what we're doing. Gamers are basically telling us that quality mobile games are timeless.
"Gamers are basically telling us that quality mobile games are timeless."
In our early days as a startup, we were quietly reaching out to developers to secure content, expecting skepticism. But the ball got rolling quickly. The deals with game creators are pretty simple, and GameClub does the heavy lifting in terms of porting and updating games. Hey, if you're a developer of games for Android, especially if you're someone that made a great game that got overlooked, please get in touch via our site! I know there are some hidden gems out there, and we're still looking for games to include at launch.
We're really constantly learning and refining everything we do, from the engineering processes we use to update and support the library to the way that we explain to new players what GameClub even is. Right now, we're working on a really cool recommendation engine designed to help GameClub fans find their next obsession, and I'm really looking forward to releasing that. We have a vocal community and feedback-oriented company, so we're just always listening to and learning from our audience as to what they want to see from us next.
As far as Android launch plans are concerned, we're focused on global release in late March. We already have well over 100 games signed, and we're still working out what will be available when. I know some fantastic titles will be available on the day of launch, like Breach & Clear, Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon and for the first time on Android, Deathbat. GameClub on Google Play, just like on iOS, will have a free trial so everyone interested will be able to check it out for free.
There's a lot to unpack from Hodapp's responses, but the main takeaways from me is that GameClub isn't going to be a repackaging of games that we already have access to on the Google Play Store. There's also an emphasis on curation which is important for services like this — no one wants to subscribe to a game service filled with cheap knock-offs.
GameClub is available for a $5 monthly subscription and will go live for Android in late March 2020. You can check out GameClub.io to learn more and check out the games in the GameClub library.
What do you think of GameClub's vision for mobile gaming?
I'll be honest and say I wasn't overly thrilled about the idea of subscribing to another monthly subscription service. Having said that, I am intrigued by a good number of games I've seen while perusing the GameClub website. The fact that they're all games that I've never played before is a plus, and the free trial period will give me a chance to see if there's decent enough return for my monthly commitment.
But we want to know what you think about GameClub and its mission to bring back the golden era of premium games. Do you pay for premium games from the Google Play Store, and if so, are you interested in a subscription service for exclusive premium games? Sound off in the comments below.