[6 April 2010]
Gaming for Apple is an estimated half a billion dollar industry, but the company behind the iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad still seems reluctant to embrace the popular diversion.
Despite the launch of the “magical and revolutionary” iPad with more than 700 new games this past weekend, gaming gets little face time in the ads and Web site designed to tout the device.
Instead the iPad is all about seeing the “Web, e-mail and photos like never before.” Images of the iPad as a music player, a book reader, a newspaper, an email reader, a photo frame, flash up on the screen for visitors to the official home page for the iPad.
It isn’t until you dig into Apple’s breakdown of apps for the device that gaming is mentioned. Under the headline “Over a thousand apps made just for iPad. With more coming every day” are 11 example apps with descriptions, big pictures and a link to buy. Nearly half of the examples are games.
Last year, according to Flurry, a company that tracks and analyzes iPhone and iPod Touch sales, there were more than 30,000 games available for Apple’s twin multi-media devices. And those games pulled in an estimated $500 million.
But perhaps Apple realizes that while people buy and play games for the iPhone and iPod Touch in surprisingly large numbers, many of those sales are likely driven by convenience.
When it comes to portable gaming, I play far more games on my iPhone these days than I do on my Playstation Portable or my DS. That’s not because the iPhone has the better selection of quality games, though there are quite a few; it’s because my iPhone is always there. I don’t have to think about bringing another device with me just in case I find myself with time to kill. I also don’t have to plan my potential day of time-wasting by picking out which games to take with me ahead of time. Instead, my iPhone gaming is driven by convenience. Stuck in a doctor’s office or at an airport gate waiting for a delayed flight, I slide out my phone and start up a game. Early for a meeting or waiting for a friend, I can browse iTunes on the hunt for new games to play.
For me, at least, the success of the iPhone as a gaming platform is directly connected to the fact that I carry it around with me to do things other than play games on it. I need my iPhone to make calls, I check e-mail with it, I arrange my schedule and jot down notes. Its ability to play games is never the reason I carry it with me.
Now look at the iPad. Big, beautiful, luxurious in its design. But, and here’s the significant thing, what purpose does it serve beyond time wasting? And another significance, at least for me: It can’t be tucked away in my pocket.
So now, preparing for a day out working, traveling, having fun, I have to stop and think about whether the iPad should come along. Once that happens, once you have to think about taking along a device, it loses much of its power. Now, having stopped to consider, knowing that taking along an iPad means a bag, the device is directly competing with my DS, my PSP, my laptop for space in that bag ... Whereas the ubiquitous iPhone slides into my pocket without a thought because it is a phone, a phone that does other things, not the other way round.
The iPad can certainly deliver robust and increasingly interesting gaming experiences, but where the iPhone is a phone at heart, the iPad seems to be an e-reader at heart, a far less necessary base device.
Maybe Nintendo is right to say it doesn’t fear the iPhone, the iPod Touch or the iPad.
Speaking recently with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime about Nintendo’s DSi XL, an oversized version of the popular, portable DS, I brought up the iPad.
What sort of impact, I asked, have the iPhone and iPod Touch had on Nintendo’s stranglehold on portable gaming? Are they concerned about the iPad?
Apple “is not having an impact on Nintendo when you look at our business, our volume, our hardware, our software,” Fils-Aime said. “I’ve seen data that suggests that while consumers are constantly downloading Apps, they play with them for a few times and then they are moving on to the next thing.
“Clearly it doesn’t look like their platform is a viable profit platform for game development because so many of the games are free versus paid downloads.”
Fils-Aime believes gamers will stick with Nintendo’s portables over Apple’s because in the end the gaming experiences are very different.
“If our games represent a range between snacks of entertainment and full meals depending on the type of game, (Apple’s) aren’t even a mouthful, in terms of the gaming experience you get.”
Brian Crecente is managing editor of Kotaku.com, a video-game Web site owned by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at kotaku.com/tag/well-played.