Big news today as two of the iPhone’s biggest game makers become one through acquisition. ngmoco, makers of such hits as Rolando 2 and Eliminate Pro, has purchased Freeverse, another hit game maker with some significant successes under its belt, including many early App Store hits. Flick Fishing and Moto Chaser might ring some bells, sitting as they did on the top 25 list for long stretches.
The acquisition brings together two of the most significant developers in App Store history, both of which have built their considerable reputations exclusively through their efforts with the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s a step that represents a big milestone in the life of the App Store’s maturing ecosystem.
On the surface, it doesn’t appear at this point as though the merger will affect what most App Store users see. According to ngmoco’s CEO Neil Young:
Freeverse, much like us, is comprised of true game-makers. Now with our combined forces, their titles can reach more people and the talented folks at Freeverse can keep doing what they do best, which is making great games.
Freeverse won’t undergo any changes in terms of its name, branding or management now that its owned by ngmoco. All Freeverse games will likely now include Plus+ network features, which allow gamers to have a more social experience akin to an Xbox live for iPhone users. Freeverse was already a partner involved in that ngmoco-started endeavor, beginning with Flick Fishing.
Even if the effects of this acquisition aren’t immediately apparent or even visible to the average consumer, that doesn’t mean this doesn’t represent a significant change in how the App Store operates. Freeverse is just the beginning for ngmoco, and a way to diversify its brand. The maker of Eliminate Pro and Touch Pets Dogs has itself acknowledged a shift towards producing primarily free-to-play games in the press release announcing the acquisition, which depend on additional purchases of in-app content to generate revenue:
Last year ngmoco added top executives from the games, platform technology and web sectors and launched its leading player network, Plus+. The company shifted its production structures to build free-to-play games.
Now it can offer more traditional single-purchase games via Freeverse to get the best of both worlds while establishing strong, coherent brand identity. It will also quite easily be able to adopt and implement one model over the other if either one becomes much more obviously profitable or preferable to consumers.
Mergers and acquisitions will help smaller studios like ngmoco that made their name on the App Store go toe-to-toe with big production studios like EA Mobile and Gameloft, which were established players long before Apple’s (s aapl) mobile gaming device lineup ever existed. It’s good news for App Store shoppers, since ngmoco has been nothing but innovative to date and should now be better able to continue bringing quality titles to market.
But it’s also a sign that the tumultuous, super-heated forge that was the App Store in its inception is cooling, and that the landscape is taking on a much more static guise. A status quo is asserting itself, and with that, a definite aristocracy of content providers that will become harder and harder to knock off their perches. Games will become more less varied and surprising, but quality will improve.
I hesitate to comment on whether or not this is ultimately a good thing for iPhone users, but I think it is. As with any new market, the frontier days are fun, but maturity and establishment brings with it more focused efforts at improving quality and lowering cost for consumers. It’s time the App Store started getting much better at what it does well, even if some innovation is lost in the bargain.
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