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Special Report: Why Amiga need the PDA developer community and how can they be won over?

After six months of exhaustive investigations I produced in June my first Special Report for Amiga Flame readers, which focused on Amiga's potential for success in the PDA market. In that article I reported that the involvement of Amiga and Amiga developers in the PDA market could not have been better timed as the market is flourishing and any company that whole heartedly embraces the market will reap the rewards. In this second report on the PDA market I want to explain why I feel Amiga need the PDA developer community and I will look at some of the ways they may be won over.

During the early years of the PDA market the big companies, disappointed at low sales gave up on the market. Developers did not give up but adapted to the changed circumstances by creating their own distribution channels and marketing techniques. In terms of distribution various Internet stores such as Pocket Gear were set up through which software could be purchased. They have even in recent years been bold enough to attempt with some success to encourage retailers to carry software. Not content with simply releasing software and hoping that they receive healthy sales, they have reached out to gamers and serious users through Internet ads on sites and through various promotions. If the involvement of Amiga in this market is to be fruitful then they will require the support of the developer community for they are more than capable of successfully delivering software titles to their intended audience.

The main reason why Amiga need the developer community is due to the fact that it is made up of such experienced and talented developers. In a recent interview with Pocket Gamer, Alex Thabet, Vice President at Hexacto Games explained why their games such as Lemonade Inc had won high acclaim from reviewers pointing out “that we constantly build on our previous development experiences which benefit our subsequent releases”. Developers have done more than build on their previous experiences as they have been willing to push the boundaries. Talented developers like Jimmy Software have been one of the leading forces in pushing the boundaries of the PDA gaming experience. Their latest game is one such title as X-Ranger is the first FPS (first person shooting) game for Pocket PC that uses full textured 3D real-time rendering with key frame animation. It seems only sensible that Amiga should draw upon the wealth of experience and talent to be found in this developer community.

In Lemonade Inc you have the chance turn a kid's game into a serious and profitable enterprise
The challenge that lies ahead for Amiga in the coming months involves convincing PDA developers that the Amiga Digital Environment offers them new possibilities worth exploring. Some people might write off Amiga's chances as being slim but although there are some obstacles to overcome there is reason to expect that there chances are better than they seem. Rather than keep what I have learned to myself I'll outline some of the ways, Amiga with the help of Amiga developers and users could win over the PDA developer community.

The first contact I made with a PDA developer was with Simon Jacobs of Xen Games, a small outfit who have produced a number of games including the highly awarded Interstellar Flames. His views on the AmigaDE reveal probably the most serious obstacle that Amiga will have to overcome. Simon Jacobs firmly stated his view that, “the main products of a cross-platform environment for PDA will probably be simple puzzle games and board games”. He simply isn't convinced that a cross-platform environment like the AmigaDE is capable of producing software that can push the platform forward. It is a perception likely to be shared by others within the developer community who feel that you need to specifically target that platform.

However, this perception that the capability of the AmigaDE is limited is one which can be challenged and must be challenged if it is to appeal to the developer community. The only way forward is to demonstrate to the developer community that the AmigaDE is capable of more than simple puzzle and board games. If this is to be made possible then further headway will have to be made with the provision of developer tools. There does exist an extensive list of development tools from Amiga such as Ami2D which adds to intent's 2D graphics system, Ami3D a 3D graphics system based on Hyperion's Warp3D, AmiAudio a powerful midi and audio system, SHEEP a next generation programming/ scripting language developed by Wouter van Oortmerssen, and the Amiga Component Model. Some developers are known to be working on tools for example Ruben Monteiro has been working on TinyGl, which supplies a subset of the OpenGL API for developing 3D software for AmigaDE while Gabriel Hauber and Ohno Scheffers continue in their effort to create Jami, a set of Java libraries for the AmigaDE. However, Amiga will have to take steps to complete the development of these tools and to ensure that developers have access to them. With these tools in the hands of Amiga developers it will ultimately be up to them to create software that will prove to the PDA developer community that the AmigaDE is capable of the finest software.

One of the most serious problems that PDA developers face in their market is that they have to contend with the fact that it is a fragmented market. As James Hill explained in a recent Gamespy article, “the market is split between Palm OS, Pocket PC, Linux, Symbian and others”. This has created all sorts of development problems, for example Flux had to produce three different versions of their sniper game The Mark. Some developers not familiar with a particular OS have had to turn to other development teams in order to bring their software to a wider audience, like Xen Games who had to turn to Eon Games in order to get a Linux port of Instellar Flames. The most profound impact of this split has been felt on those developers who tend to specialise in producing software for one OS. Their feelings about the situation can be found in just about any interview with such a PDA developer – disappointment with sales. In an interview with PDA Players Guide, Stefan Calle, Managing Director of Aim Productions stated, “We love the Pocket PC platform and its market and we hope that it will grow big enough to allow us to make that part of our business profitable”.

On the left is Flux's sniper game The Mark while on the right is Instellar Flames from Xen Games
The Amiga Digital Environment is the key to attracting PDA developers as it provides a solution to the problems faced by this developer community. For developers the AmigaDE offers a universal content environment that can provide a consistent development model for developers. The fragmented state of the PDA market could become a thing of the past as the AmigaDE provides a level playing field that could bring the multitude of smaller, separate parts of the market - Pocket PC, Linux, Symbian and others into one common PDA market. Amiga developers have already come to realise the potential of the AmigaDE; Ohno Scheffers recently stated, “it is a dream come true for developers: Truly write-once-run-everywhere, no need to do boring ports and bug-fixing on each and every platform you support. Lower cost of production, higher quality because all resources can be spent on just a single platform”. More importantly to developers the creation of a common market will boost sales (and profits) as their software will reach a far wider audience.

For the past two to three years there has been a convergence between the PDA and the cell phone markets. The PDA developer community have shown an eagerest to pounce on this new emerging market but many developers have found it frustrating that so many solutions are being offered. Panutat Tejasen of Jimmy Software listed each of the solutions – Pocket PC Phone Edition, Smart Phone 2002, Symbian Smart Phone, Java Phone, Pocket PC, and Communicator. For developers like Jimmy Software the answer has been to wait and see which solution will succeed but perhaps the AmigaDE might provide a solution. Amiga have over the course of the last few months been expanding in this direction with Amiga Anywhere Players created for Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone edition devices, and shortly for Smart Phone and Symbian devices. The advantages for developers can be quite substantial as developers will be able to create AmigaDE software for the broad range of cell phone devices and thus making development for this new platform viable.

The fact that any software produced for the AmigaDE will reach beyond the confines of their traditional market will also attract the interest of the PDA developer community. It is important to remember that through the AmigaDE, software produced will reach users of all hardware platforms – workstations, games consoles, desktops, set-top-boxes, cell phones, and personal digital assistants. Zeoneo are one company expected to reap the benefits of the AmigaDE for their titles such as Planet Zed can not only be played by gamers on PDA and cell phone devices but also by desktop gamers through the Amiga Anywhere Players for Windows and Linux. The possibility that the AmigaDE could provide PDA developers with a bridge to new markets is something that some developers might want to explore. Companies such as Hexacto, Sorcery Development Team, and id Gaming have all expressed a desire to expand into new markets such as the games console and desktop markets.

The Amiga Digital Environment has much to offer the PDA developer community; it helps to create a common PDA market, resolves the development problems experienced by PDA developers, it provides the means for them to take advantage of the convergence between the PDA and cell phone markets, and finally it provides a bridge to new markets. If the developer community are to learn of the benefits of the AmigaDE, then Amiga will have to engage with the community over the coming months. In my opinion there is a good chance that the selling points of the AmigaDE that I have outlined will be more than enough to persuade them that the AmigaDE is worth exploring and ultimately developing for.

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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