Friday Slide: Finding iPhone Games At Comic-Con

We were on a hot streak. After two productive yet exhausting weeks covering iPhone games at WWDC and E3 in June, Comic-Con looked like it would be the next big trade show for Slide To Play. With high hopes, I tucked my press pass into my hat band and headed to San Diego.

We certainly didn’t think that it would be that hard to find a new iPhone game in San Diego last week. After all, Comic-Con has exploded in popularity over the last few years, as Big Hollywood has begun to take advantage of the captive core audience for a marketing orgy.

Every major media company with a TV show or movie looking for nerd credibility was in the San Diego Convention Center, and 125,000 fans did not let them down. They stood in line for hours to get a True Blood or Big Bang Theory cast member’s autograph, they dressed as the most obscure characters imaginable, and they bought enough memorabilia to pack tacky attics and dens all across America.

With all this geeky energy in the air, we assumed there would be more iPhone games in the crowd. However, manning a booth at Comic-Con requires more effort than just showing up at a developer conference like WWDC. We only saw new iPhone games from a handful of developers, like the makers of Battle Bears, Pocket God, and Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent.

We love our independent iPhone game developers.

One big media company had bigger fish to fry at Comic-Con. Disney, who recently released a Tron app that contains a free online game, wasn’t there to make money on the App Store. Their goal is to increase the box office take for Tron when it hits theaters, and they saw San Diego (and the App Store) as one big marketing opportunity.

If you downloaded the Tron app onto your iPhone and turned it on during Comic-Con, you got a free pass to Flynn’s Arcade, a replica of the original 1982 movie’s dream arcade. Classic cabinets like Donkey Kong, Centipede, Pac-Man, and the original Tron arcade game were all available to play for free, and when you were done you could enjoy a Coke Zero (the location’s sponsor) in a neon dance hall pulled straight from the movie.

Now that’s what we’re talking about: Deep pockets shelling out for geeky credibility. What does this tell you about iPhone games at Comic-Con? If you’re already making gobs of money, like Disney, and you can afford to buy the attention of subculture trendsetters, San Diego is your oyster.

But if you’re an independent game developer trying to make a few bucks on the App Store, you’d better wait for GDC or WWDC. It’ll be a better opportunity to stand next to your fellow developers and make your pitch directly to the gaming press, instead of getting upstaged by a corporation that’s bought the whole spotlight.