3 gaming developers explain why they're supporting RIM's BB10 launch

Developer support will be key to RIM's launch of BlackBerry 10

Antti Pohjola is not ashamed to admit it: His main motivation for porting his mobile games over to RIM's next-generation operating system, BlackBerry 10, was the chance to get a free BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and some BlackBerry Alpha devices.

RIM has been working to entice developers with its BlackBerry port-a-thons.

Pohjola, a developer based in Finland who has created gaming apps such as Freejeweled and Blubbles, was among the developers who ported a total of 40,000 apps to BlackBerry during RIM's recent "port-a-thons." The Waterloo, Ont.-based firm offered PlayBooks, BlackBerry devices and some nominal cash prizes to attract more content to its BB10 OS and new BlackBerry devices, which will be officially launched on Wednesday. Beyond satisfying his love for gadgets, Pohjola said the BlackBerry port-a-thon offered some other rewards as well.

"I was developing lots of apps for MeeGo, so I wanted to compare the systems," he said. "I really love developing with Qt and QML, and the whole platform seemed dead to me when Nokia killed MeeGo. Luckily RIM made a new OS purely working with Qt, so I can say that Qt is alive again." 

The port-a-thons are a key element in RIM's attempt to turn around its fortunes. BlackBerry 10 is a complete, QNX-based redesign of its aging BlackBerry operating system, and is geared toward reversing RIM's sliding sales numbers and rekindling interest in the company's devices and services. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told a German newspaper he wants to have 70,000 apps in the company's BlackBerry app storefront for tomorrow's launch. And unlike RIM's early days when corporate apps were of greatest interest to its customers, BB10 may be judged in part by how many consumer-friendly apps and mobile games are available on the platform.

Alpha Zero to arrive on BlackBerry before iOS, Android
RIM has already announced that Gameloft and Madfinger Games will have gaming titles available for the BB10 kick-off. Funkoi Games, based in Silicon Valley, may stand out for offering a new shooter game, Alpha Zero, on BlackBerry before making it available on iOS and Android. According to Daniel Jeppsson, Funkoi's founder, there were some advantages in targeting the platform early.

"I think the BB10 will have a tough fight ahead to win back their market share. It is not always the best technology that wins out," Jeppsson said, drawing parallels to the fight between video formats VHS and Betamax. "That said, I think there is a significant, entertainment-hungry, fun crowd of people that developers can cater to on the BlackBerry platform."

Developing for BB10 was relatively easy and cheap, Jeppsson added. Funkoi was able to get Alpha Zero up and running in less than a day, including graphics, music, sound, video playback and life-cycle integration.

"An additional advantage for developers is the added visibility a good product can get on (BlackBerry) App World compared to (Apple's) App Store or Google Play," he said. "This might change soon, of course, which is another reason why we wanted to get there early."

As dominant as iOS and Android have become, recent research suggests RIM may still have a fighting chance. According to Vision Mobile's Developer Economics 2013 report, which surveyed more than 3,400 developers around the world, 38 percent of those who develop for BlackBerry devices use it as their lead platform.

Vision Mobile's Developer Economics 2013 report surveyed more than 3,400 developers about their platform of choice for development.

Moreover, developer mindshare for BlackBerry--the metric by which Vision Mobile gauges the appetite for a particular platform--has remained stable at 16 percent despite RIM's various struggles. "The major outreach effort undertaken by RIM during the build-up to BB10 release is having some positive impact," the report says.

Andrew Kamondy is among those who have been won over. The founder of 99cents in Toronto, Kamondy participated in a panel hosted by RIM on mobile gaming last year, and walked away with a stronger relationship with the company and a deeper understanding of BB10's possibilities.

"I'll be honest, it (BlackBerry) is my third choice," said Kamondy, whose firm makes titles such as Jackpot Street and Around the World. "But it could be my first choice depending on the app and the opportunity."

RIM is creating some close partnerships with developers that may go beyond what developers have come to expect from the likes of Apple or Google, Kamondy explained. "They (RIM) will push your game, so you could end up with more eyeballs."

One reason developers love to develop for iOS devices is the fully integrated tool chain available to easily and quickly debug an app, Jeppsson said. This is an area where RIM could do even more. "For game developers it is all about turnaround--the faster you can change something, recompile and run it on actual hardware, the better the end product will be," he said. "I understand why RIM is using a lot of third party tools, such as Eclipse. This is the fast and easy approach, but seriously, I have yet to meet a game developer that would not prefer Visual Studio, or any other IDE in fact."

Harvey Elliott - Managing Director and COO Marmalade


RIM and others work to supply BB10 tools
Some tool providers are already stepping up to assist with BB10 ports. Marmalade, which is based in London with offices in Sunnyvale, Calif., offers a cross-platform SDK designed for this purpose. The company hosted webinars and BB10 FAQ lists to help developers during RIM's recent port-a-thons. Marmalade's COO, Harvey Elliot, said the number of developers using the company's SDK for BlackBerry development grew from just under 3 percent of the company's customer base in August to 24 percent in January. The company attributed the increase to its promotional campaign with RIM and increasing developer interest in BB10.

"For us, the more platforms that exist the better. RIM has always had great infrastructure, they have great devices," Elliot said, adding that RIM's efforts to connect with developers in advance of the launch has been impressive. "They're not targeting apps, they're saying, 'We want developers.' That's an important distinction. And they're not just using a single channel. They've been hosting webinars, there have been port-a-thons. They're really spreading their communication options."

This nuanced approach is important to developers like Pohjola, who is working in his spare time outside North America. "I don't like spend my time on travelling, listening to keynotes," he said, explaining that RIM has offered solid developer support including a live chat service. "I even got private chat with one of the RIM guys when I had problems with my app signing keys."

No one is suggesting RIM's challenges are over, but the groundwork the company has laid for its BB10 launch may prove pivotal in keeping BlackBerry as a strong third ecosystem, Jeppsson said. "I think they have a great start. They understood that targeting developers and making great tools was key to get great products to their platform."