The iPhone is now not just your phone, iPod and web pad – it’s your PSP as well. The game demos at the SDK launch looked fantastic, and I think great things are in the offing for games on this platform. Time to dial up the hyperbole, but not quite to the level seen with Roughly Drafted’s take on iPhone gaming. Am I being blindly optimistic or is there something to back this up?
Well, for starters, consider the line-up of companies who’ve already said they’ll be developing games for the iPhone: Sega and EA both demo’d games at the SDK launch, and since then others have announced upcoming games, including Artificial Life, Aspyr, Feral Interactive, Freeverse, Gameloft, iD, Pangea, PopCap, THQ, and Namco Bandai. Plus I know one additional large games company that is likely to enter to the market, and whose entry would be huge.
But aside from great games houses developing quality games, I think iPhone gaming will be massive for a few simple reasons.
It will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers
If you enjoy the odd game but haven’t bought a Nintendo DS, then the iPhone could well appeal. This sort of customer would not want to carry two devices around with them, so the ability to play decent games on their phone will be a great plus point. Sure, you can play games on most phones right now, but none of them have such an alluring screen as the iPhone does. Those occasional games will look great.
At the other end are people who already have a PSP or DS, or who are thinking of getting one. As you could see in the demos – both the hardware and the software development environment are good enough for serious games houses to port versions of existing console games to the iPhone. More of these will follow. If you have to have buttons, then get a dedicated mobile gaming device. But if not, why blow your cash on both and iPhone and a PSP/DS?
A counter argument to this is this – who doesn’t consider cost? The iPhone is £269 (or the iPod Touch is £199), compared to £129 for the PSP or £99 for the DS Lite. Most people get their phones free, so you’re looking at a premium to play games on an Apple device. Others like to have dedicated, separated devices – this one does this, this one does that. Plus the PSP etc. have instant-on and game save on power off (although most people keep their phones on 24-7, so instant-on isn’t so much of an an issue).
So how can Apple convince those who will effectively have to pay extra up front, that theirs is the games platform to choose? There are some unique selling points that the other platforms just can’t match.
The sales and distribution method is immediate
No more cartridges. Just buy and immediate download. My last post was about the innovation of the App Store. This is especially true for games, as Apple have effectively created a mobile version of Valve’s Steam (http://steampowered.com). But with one great advantage – there’s no need to hunt around for it. The store’s right there, on every device they sell.
As John Carmack of iD Software said on Slashdot:
The iTunes distribution channel is really a more important aspect than a lot of people understand. The ability to distribute larger applications than the over-the-air limits and effectively market your title with more than a dozen character deck name, combined with the reasonable income split make this look like a very interesting market. This type of developer / customer interaction is probably the wave of the future for mobile devices…
And the games that will be available? Developed by major games houses in a software development environment that’s good enough to port existing games over in a couple of weeks.
Innovative controls and games
The iPhone’s buttons aren’t suitable for gaming, so it relies on the touchscreen and the accelerometer for input. The three games demoed, especially Super Monkey Ball, showed how fun a game can be just with tilt as the input. One of the complaints that some have about playing modern games, is that remembering the multitude of controls before you can get started takes much of the fun and immediacy out of gaming. You only have to look at the Wii to show how successful a non-conventional control system can draw new gamers in. I can see many simple and fun games such as Trism springing up – check out this preview: http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/02/29/trism-iphonetouch-ac.html.
It also means that gesture-based systems are likely to be developed, such as that pioneered by Lionhead with Black & White, but this time without having to mimic a gesture with the mouse.
It’s truly mobile
This is a games console that’s always connected, so you should be able to play multiplayer online games anywhere. These could be iPhone-specific and new clients for existing games. So we could see anything from multiplayer networked Pong (already available on jailbroken phones) to online tennis matches, to an MMMOG versions of Eve Online and Halo. That’s a tasty prospect. Now, if you’re playing over the mobile network, then I’m sure there will be issues of latency. But I’m also sure these can be overcome. Could we see mobile and (non-mobile) console clients interacting? Mismatched levels of graphics could come into play here, especially if you’re playing a first person shooter. By having connectivity everywhere, the iPhone will enable gaming to continue whereever you are. Switch over from a console-based session to an iPhone session…
Another prospect is the possibility of location-aware games. The iPhone’s location feature isn’t all that accurate – it’s no GPS – but it could lead to some interesting stuff. As Alex Iskold said on Read Write Web:
The possibilities range from setting the mood of a game based on the surroundings, to connecting players based on geo location.
Well let’s not forget that this gaming platform is really going to be launched on new hardware – the 3G iPhone that’s rumoured to be coming out in June. This could well see a beefier CPU, more bandwidth, and GPS. And if they included the ability to output games to a tv, we could see the iPhone morph into a casual console for in town and at home.