Why the iPhone/iPod Touch will Succeed as a Gaming Platform

September 10, 2008

Most readers by now have read or heard about the new iPod Nano 4G and the iPod Touch 2D. It’s kind of hard to miss with the blogosphere buzzing like a bee waiting for Queen Bee Steve Jobs to announce what product you will want next and how it will revolutionize your life. The latest announcement has a strong push on games and the touch platform as a serious contender for a gaming platform. But they aren’t the first cellphone manufacturer to try and create a gaming platform for the cellphone. And they definitely won’t be the last. So why will Apple succeed where others have failed?

There are many reasons why Apple can succeed. They’ve circumvented the carrier with the app store, making the “deck” (as they call it in the mobile game industry) useless (which is already was). They’ve created a huge buzz for the platform and product and rewarded developers with a large portion of the revenues (70%).

But the biggest reason that the touch platform will succeed is because it’s a standard platform for developers. I can’t emphasize this enough. As a former mobile and console game developer, there is a significant difference in developing for the two markets. Mobile games are about volume, which means they’re about porting the product to every phone under the sun. Though Nokia attempted to reduce fragmentation with n-gage, a) the n-gage sucked, and b) they wanted the games to work on all Series 60 OS’es. This brought back the problem of fragmentation. And I don’t just mean screen size, key layout, and all that other jazz that most people think about. There’s also differences in OS or VM that cause the API’s to perform differently under the same code. As a result, games focus more on portability versus playability.

The touch platform resolves that by keeping tight control over the entire platform. Apple controls everything from the component to the API. That includes screen size, key layout, operating system, and API. When you control all that, you’re a console maker. Look at the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. They control the entire vertical market as well. This affords developers to focus on content once they complete their engine. This is the way console games are made. Especially on handheld, you know exactly how it’s going to peform on every device, so the focus isn’t on porting, it’s on playability.

Now I’m not saying it’s a sure thing that the Touch Platform will succeed. There are many other aspects to creating a successful gaming platform. Just ask Peter Moore about the Dreamcast. You need developers, developer support, strong marketing, etc. But the Touch platform definitely has a chance. The battle will really heat up when Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft come out with their next generation of mobile consoles (MS doesn’t have one now, though they got their toe in the water with the Zune).


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