With the iPhone, developers have a decent Software Development Kit and solid end-hardware on which to run their code. This makes developing a lot easier, and I think we are seeing a shift away from Java and Flash-based games. As TUAW says, “iPhone is dominating independent gaming“. When developers can easily create and sell games that make US$250k in 6 months, then you are going to attract a lot of developers.
But the main differentiator is the distribution channel, which attracts the users. Or as Keith puts it:
the App Store…is a familiar, enjoyable browsing experience. It doesn’t suck the very soul out of you
That nails it. There is now huge impetus behind the App Store, and in particular as a channel for games. So much so, that Apple may be about to introduce a Premium Games category.
The problem for the mobile network operators is that they just haven’t been that interested in games. Half-heartedly trying to sell a few titles across a multitude of platforms is not going to materially affect anyone’s bottom line. So it’s unsurprising that they have effectively been squished by the iPhone steamroller.
It’s not all Apple of course – Nokia’s N-Gage is doing ok, but it hasn’t had such a significant impact on the consumer. Android is likely to see some traction in mobile games sales this year, providing developers can code around differing hardware configurations.
Beyond phones and back again
What wasn’t mentioned is Apple’s wider impact on mobile gaming, not just on phones. The iPhone isn’t a dedicated portable games console – but are these slowly being squeezed out, as with dedicated MP3 players? I’m not suggesting that hardcore gamers are going to give up their Sony and Nintendo devices. But for many people it’s a question of “good enough”. Can a device that’s not made primarily for gaming provide a gaming experience on a par with dedicated devices?
Nintendo and Sony are obviously not going to roll over – the DSi is being introduced in Europe in 2009, and PSP2 rumours continue to pop up. Nintendo have done away with backward compatibility in the DSi – cartridges are soooo last century. You can download games over Wifi for from the DSi Shop. MP3 player and a camera have been added. It seems likely that the PSP2 will add voice capability, and possibly touchscreen as well.
So hardware requirements are levelling out. It will be interesting to see if Nintendo and Sony go for full connectivity – effectively creating phones out of gaming devices. It depends how far they wish to take convergence vs. keenly focussing on a particular market segment.
I still think it a big factor is the ease of the distribution channel. In this respect, everyone’s playing catch-up with Apple.
As ever, comments are very welcome.