Retro gaming and small projects take the spotlight
Apple's iTunes store has published its annual feature with the best new content of the year right before the holiday season. If 'Best of' doesn't ring a bell it's because until this year this feature was called 'Rewind'. The purpose is still the same: recognise the effort from content creators and make life easier to those new customers who found an iOS device in their stockings.
Following the trend of the past months, iTunes — and the App Store in our case — is receiving more human input from it's editors in the form of free app of the week, editor's choice and a number of lists with their own banner or simply grouped on the front page. The Best of 2012 feature is a curation exercise by Apple's editorial staff along with annual charts for best-selling apps and games.
This edition is packed with a lot of content broken down into small categories, bringing more apps from developers that wouldn't be highlighted in previous years under the old format. Let's see last year's results before drawing any early conclusion. In Rewind 2011, for instance, Instagram and Snapseed were selected as iPhone and iPad apps of the years respectively. It's easy to say now that they've been sold to Facebook and Google that these weren't small garage projects. On the games front, Dead Space HD took the award, following Apple's tradition of pampering AAA studios that put out titles that show the technical capability of the device.
A look into the indie scene
After giving it some thought I've noticed that App Store curators were already mentioning titles by small great developers such as Tiny Tower from Nimblebit and Tiny Wings by Andreas Illiger. In the middle of a rough market flooded with Chillingo's casual attempts at "the next big thing" and free-to-play farmers, this sounds like a commendable thing to do. However, both Tiny Tower and Tiny Wings were already amongst the most downloaded games in the charts.
Seeing where we're coming from, this years' 'Best of' feature has to be a celebration of indie game development. Not only App Store editors have picked people's popular choices but they've also added categories that aren't necessarily mainstream. Basically the groups 'Casual Games', 'Disruptive Services', 'New ways to play' and 'Showpiece Games' are the typical things you would expect: these are our most popular apps and the ones that make out platform unique. Look how cool we are.
The awesome Letterpress demonstrates how the asynchronous multiplayer mode can work in a word game with more taste than Words With Friends for free. Bad Piggies is an absolute winner, iterating on the contraption building mechanic dressed with the loveable secondary characters of Angry Birds.
Not necessarily in the charts
Yet there's still room to praise fantastic games that for one or another reason haven't picked up in the charts. Dedicated iPhone gamers will be familiar with Slingshot Racing, Punch Quest, Organ Trail, Mikey Shorts, The Sandbox and 10000000, which remain hidden from the charts and therefore the general public. You get the same feeling with iPad games featured such as Eufloria, Splice, Outwitters, Beat Sneak Bandit and Waking Mars.
This doesn't mean that the Chillingo's, EA's and Gamelofts aren't there. Given the amount of questionable titles they put out every week and their performance in the charts, you could think they would get a couple more in this feature. In contrast, smaller developers who only managed to release one or a maximum of two games in 2012 got some credit from the App Store editors. In some cases where the creators have been open about their failed revenue models playing with free-to-play mechanics, it's encouraging. It shows someone is watching this ecosystem and don't want these studios to go somewhere else. At least they include them in the list.
Note: there are also some notable omissions and changes in different countries. No Pocket Planes? I always found funny how different stores would have different winners and apps and games going in different groups.