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Special Report: Amiga's Potential for Success in the PDA Market

Over the course of the last six months I examined the Personal Digital Assistant market in an effort to better understand whether Amiga Inc and Amiga developers can play an exciting role in this growing market. In this article I will share what I have learned providing my own assessment as to the potential for Amiga developers to be successful in this market.

During my investigation of the PDA market I made several visits to Pocket Gear, an on-line store where gamers and serious users can purchase software for their PDA. Most PDA software cannot be found in the high-street stores and thus users go to places such as Pocket Gear. The download figures for the games were freely available from the web site and so it seemed to offer an impression of the state of the PDA market. Chopper Alley, a 3D helicopter simulator released in November 2001 had a download figure of 48,496 (ARM version) while a racing car game called Racing Days had a figure of 15,790. At first sight it was possible to conclude that the PDA market was in a healthy state, and thus the belief of many Amiga developers that they could expect high sales seemed to have been confirmed.

Racing Days is the first racing game software developed for Pocket PC that performs real 3D action
However, in late March I made the decision to contact Xen Games to find out more about the PDA market; this contact was to produce some interesting results. Xen Games are a small company behind Strategic Assault, a strategy game that had received some great review scores. I asked Simon Jacobs of Xen Games about the figures I had found on Pocket Gear but to my disappointment he indicated that those figures in fact were only download numbers not sales numbers. What I had failed to realise is that many of the on-line PDA stores including Pocket Gear allow gamers to download software for a period, if they aren't satisfied with the product they simply don't follow up by purchasing it.

A review by Game Over Online gave Strategic Assault a rating of 82%
Simon Jacobs was extremely helpful but through this contact it became clear that although millions of PDA devices have been sold this has yet to be reflected in terms of software sales. According to Simon Jacobs, “a game will usually sell to about 10 percent of the people who download it. A good game can hope to sell between 5 and 10 copies a day in the current market for Pocket PC”. For a small company like Xen Games, sales such as these are fine as this volume allows them to operate at a profit with only a few good titles available to the gaming public. However, if Amiga developers are expecting enormous sales from the PDA market, it just isn't going to happen, not yet at least. I tend to agree with the comment made by Infinite Ventures at a recent PocketPC summit, “they're not hardcore gamers yet”.

Even though games such as Chopper Alley, Racing Days, and Strategic Assault have achieved success in terms of rave reviews and sales, many other games have been utter flops. The Pocket Gear web site indicates that games such as puzzle and board games no longer seem to appeal to PDA users with download figures ranging from a few thousand to as low as zero. Simon Jacobs emphasized that I should warn Amiga developers that, “they will be disappointed if they expect yet another puzzle game with brightly coloured jewels forming patterns on the screen to make them rich”. Out of the twenty games so far released for the AmigaDE, thirteen were puzzle/ board games but with there already over four hundred such titles available they face some stiff competition if their games are to be commercially successful. Amiga developers must be careful to produce innovative games, which will attract the attention of PDA users.

Although I have fired a few warning shots to alert Amiga developers to some problems they may encounter, I am confident that Amiga developers can play an exciting role in the PDA market. On the web site of Pocket-G, a small company which produces entertainment software for PDA devices, they provide some interesting information as to the background of the PDA market. They explain that following the launch of the PocketPC many software companies developed and released applications but due to the relatively small market for PocketPC software, the big companies quickly lost interest in this platform. As a consequence there remains in their words “a few small, dedicated and highly productive companies”. Pocket Gear confirms this view, as companies such as ZioSoft Inc, Amazing Games, Jimmy Software and Hexacto Games tend to be responsible for producing much of the high quality titles released over the past few years. It would seem that there is plenty of room in the PDA market for Amiga developers to play a full and exciting role and so fears that they might struggle to get a foothold are unjustified.

The two screenshots on the left are from X-Ranger while the one of the right is from Mini-Dogfight
The involvement of Amiga developers in the PDA market seems to have been timed well as it is my belief that users are about to experience a heyday in PDA gaming. Technological advances have radically transformed the performance and capability of handheld devices and will continue to do so. This has had a dramatic impact as games normally suited for desktops and set-top-boxes are now being developed to cater for the expanding gaming tastes of PDA users. For example, Mini-Dogfight is the first 3D air combat game, Racing Days is the first 3D racing game, while the recently released X-Ranger is the first FPS game for the Pocket PC that has full textured animation. Amiga developers are well placed to take advantage of the situation, as they are better suited to developing such games for the Classic Amiga. Payback is certainly a desktop game which should be able to take advantage of technological advances and so Apex Design will possibly deliver the first GTA style game to PDA gamers.

A recent survey carried out by PDA Buzz revealed that only 3.59% of respondents regarded games as being the feature most important to them. Respondents were more interested in features such as scheduling, contacts, documents (and eBooks), Internet access, audio playback, video playback, LAN access, e-mail, and ToDo/ Memos. The demand for serious software for PDAs is great with download figures for such software higher than those for games. The PDA Buzz web site indicates that Pocket SlideShow, a piece of software that allows users to browse, rearrange and display PowerPoint presentations was downloaded 62,743 times while abcDB DATABASE, a heavy-duty database was downloaded 51,392 times. Amiga developers should not only be interested in the gaming side but also in the serious side as the market for such software is thriving. So far not one piece of serious software has been released for the AmigaDE but clearly Amiga Inc should encourage Amiga developers to work on the type of software that users indicated were important to them in the PDA Buzz survey.

No matter who you talk to in the PDA market they always tell you that this is an ever growing software market. In a recent article on Gamespy, James Hills explains this development, “In past years it seems that the PDA game market sprung up just like the PC market did; people who bought devices for work wanted to use them for entertainment as well”. Even the bigger companies normally involved in traditional markets such as set-top-boxes and desktops are muscling in on the PDA market. Sega are one such company, they are working on PDA titles such as Spawn and Age of Empires. The involvement of Amiga Inc and Amiga developers in the PDA market could not have been better timed as this market is flourishing and any company that whole heartedly embraces the market will reap the rewards.

If you have any comments to make about this Special Report then e-mail Philip Cosby of Amiga Flame at:-

Web sites consulted for this Special Report can be found below:-

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