Friday Roundtable: The Big 4: Will Apple Change the Games Industry?

There’s no denying how much of an impact Apple has had on a number of key markets over the last decade.  After all, the term “iPod” is now just as familiar as things like Google and PlayStation.  In fact, iPods, iPhones and iPads are no longer just luxury portable audio players with a large fruit emblazoned across them: you can use them to check maps, browse the internet, and even play games.

The notorious App Store now hosts over 425,000 apps to download for use on Apple devices and a good number of these are games.  With your average title usually costing much less than those found on the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS systems, Apple is offering a very competitive gaming service.  But is it on par with the competition in terms of quality?  More and more developers such as Gameloft and EA are jumping onto the Apple ship and dedicating hefty budgets and teams to producing titles for the mobile gaming market.  The quality of such titles improves by the day, and recent games such as 9mm and Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard are prime examples of this. But will Infinity Blade be the death of Zelda?  And is Angry Birds really the new Super Mario Bros.?

As Apple’s popularity continues to grow at a ridiculous pace, Seb, Tom, Chad, and Armand look past the mountains of portable audio players and tablets to discuss one of gaming’s most burning issues: Will Apple change the games industry?

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Sebastian:

Apple won’t own the game industry. Apple isn’t doing anything to even try. I’m on a MacBook right now, I know they definitely don’t care. Does the iPhone play great games? Absolutely, that’s really the only reason I still have an iPhone; it’s got better games than every other phone out there, and almost – if not – every game comes to the iPhone. Even if it isn’t the best phone, if it has the best games, then oh well, I like it. I’m a gamer, games just happens to be one of those things I like.

Apple isn’t a “threat” to anybody in the same way the Wii wasn’t a threat to anybody. They make a great product that developers can make money on by selling cheaper (but still great) games to people. People treat it like it’s coming to monopolize gaming or something. But here’s the deal: Gaming is just not important enough to Apple to even bother, like hardcore gaming to Zynga. I can’t figure out how to put it any better than that. Everyone has a damn iPhone. Everyone. It changed how phones were made. Apple just needs to make sure it has quality casual and hardcore games, and it’s fine.

But in reality, there are a lot of games on the iPhone. Armand has previously said that all (or most) of the apps on the iPhone are trash, and I agree with him. Even moreso, most of the games are trash. But that is also true of every console. Most of the games on every console are trash, but comparatively speaking we are only playing the “good ones”. The same with the iPhone. There are a lot of great games, even though most of them are trash. In fact, Apple actually does something with games that most consoles (portable or not) don’t, i.e. actually price their damn games correctly.

Every game having the same price leads to a lot of consumer risk and letdown, and people are less willing to buy games because of it. All of us have experienced this. But if the industry tiered game pricing like the App Store does, I know damn well I’d be buying a lot more games. I’m not going to pay full price for a game that everyone knows doesn’t deserve it. I’m going to wait, and chances are I won’t end up buying the game at all because I’ll forget about it, or buying it used which doesn’t help the people who made it at all.

Infinity Blade is an exceptional iOS title but would you pay $40 for it?

The real iPhone games (Infinity Blade, Chaos Rings, Dead Space, etc) are $10-$15. Is your game not worth that? Price it something different, and way more people would be able to buy it. Nobody buys games over $15, so you can’t just start charging $30 for your game, because nobody would pay for it. This is how consumers rule the marketplace instead of publishers. More people make money with this deal, and more consumers are happy.

Obviously I’m not talking about XBLA or PSN games, where games do sell under a tiered pricing system. I’ll close with the famous example: Valkyria Chronicles, a fantastic game even for people who don’t like strategy games like me (“they’re not modern” you know), sold like crap. The media bitched and said, “What’s wrong with you people? Why u no go buy this now?” Nothing. Price went down to $30 and the damn thing flew off the shelves and became a hit that has spawned two sequels so far. If that game had just been $30 in the first place, it would have sold way more than that. That’s how you price a game, and that is something that Apple and its App Store are doing better than (most of) the games industry.

Tom:

I’d like to point out before we get down and dirty with this that I adore Apple. In my eyes, they can do no wrong. I’ve owned a Macbook for six months and  it has provided a brilliant insight into what I can expect from them, and I’m looking to expand my collection.

On that note, I think that if Apple made a games console, I’d buy it. There would be no question in my brain as to whether this would be a waste of money. I’d be so caught up in the sheer idea and moment of the release that I wouldn’t be able to resist blowing £200-£500 (sorry to change the currency, Seb) on their console. Right now, I am downloading and updating to OSX Lion on my Macbook, although I’ve been told that I should wait a few weeks. Common sense goes out of the window when Apple releases something new.

But at this current moment, I am thinking clearly. I know that an Apple console is not what I need, and certainly not what I want. When I think of Apple as a brand, and certainly as an operating system, I think of sexy and flawless. But somehow, when I think of Apple and gaming combined, I think of awkward, ugly and ultimately something that could only be the by-product of two things that should never have bonded. Like cousins.

On the App Store front, whether it’s on their standard OS or on iOS, Apple are definitely ticking all the boxes. There is nothing I can say against them. As Seb has spoken about, the tiered pricing is superb, and exactly what consumers have been waiting for, and the fact that you can download games and other applications right to your hard drive or what-have-you is still a novelty. Despite the fact that every single other service is providing digital downloads now, it still seems like Apple are the ones renowned for it. The App Store is, in a word, iconic. From what the App Store has shown us, Apple are completely prepared for a games console.

However, and slightly contrary to Seb’s points, I don’t think that the lack of an Apple console (so far) is strictly down to the fact that they don’t care; it’s the ongoing war between Microsoft and Apple that gets in the way of a fourth gaming competitor.

Microsoft have the Xbox 360 and the PC – both of which are legitimate gaming platforms. Microsoft currently makes up a vast proportion of the gaming market. Indeed, the market is already packed, and it seems there is a games console and games company out there for everybody, whether you’re a casual gamer or a more dedicated hardcore enthusiast.

But with people like me, who would impulsively and recklessly purchase Apple’s newest release obediently and without question, the likelihood is that Apple’s console attempt would hypothetically be financially successful. The undeniable problem is, however, that new beginnings for consoles are hard, and with so many other consoles out there (I must mention this again!), the longevity of a new entry is highly questionable.

Chad:

I’m coming off the opposite end of the spectrum from Tom. I’ve just laid my five-year-old MacBook Pro to rest, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have it out of my life. I’ve used both Apples and Windows/DOS PCs for years, but I’ve pretty much had it with Apple’s overpriced status-symbol computers and computer accessories. I’ve owned an Apple II, three Macs (two PowerPC and one Intel), and an iPod over the years, and every Apple product I’ve purchased post-2001 has involved initial giddiness followed by long-term disappointment.

Not as sleek and shiny as you remember it.

My MacBook was sexy as hell in 2006. Unfortunately, yesterday’s sexy is today’s chunky and obsolete, and since Apple’s products have built-in obsolescence and limited upgrade options, they are ill-suited to gaming since Apple puts out new iPads/iPhones or whatever you’re going to game on faster than you can say, “Don’t eat the cuttlefish.” Console gamers only have to buy a new system every five years or so, and PC gamers usually update their towers periodically. I don’t see how a system with a new yearly standard can compete with the general stability of a console or PC.

In addition (as Seb noted), Sturgeon’s Law applies in full force to the App Store: 90% of the apps on there are junk. The fact is, there aren’t enough compelling games to make someone go out of their way to purchase an iWhatever as a gaming platform as opposed to a PS Vita or a 3DS. If you have one of the devices, the games are a plus, but they aren’t why you purchase the device (unless you’re some kind of masochist). It’s always been the same way with the Macintosh – you might occasionally play a game or two, but in general they lack the flexibility and upgradability to be full-fledged gaming machines.

In my journey from Apple fanboy to almost-functional-human, I’ve learned some hard truths. OS X is a dolled up version of Linux. MacBook cables occasionally melt for no apparent reason. And Windows 7 is about as stable as any Apple OS I’ve ever run, and it doesn’t look as sterile as a steamed Super Mutant at that. And also, it’s much cheaper in both initial cost and the cost of additional software. For these reasons, I have a hard time seeing myself ever purchasing another Apple product, let alone seeing them dominating the market.

Sebastian:

Whoa, Chad, I didn’t say 90% of the App Store is junk. Most of it is crap, but there’s a good 40% of really useful stuff, and the best games of any phone out there. It is not a gaming platform, and can’t really be compared to a 3DS or Vita because 1) it would beat the ass off handhelds, and 2) it’s a smartphone.

My point was that what you call crap on the App Store is the same crap you see on game consoles, and of the same frequency. But the good games are great, and there are absolutely enough of them to justify owning an iPhone, even if you just bought it for the games. I guess that makes me some kind of masochist.

But this isn’t about Apple in general, this is about how they would affect the game industry. If they thought for some reason a console would be a good idea for them, yeah, it probably would sell a lot, but the industry is overcrowded in general, and Apple is already doing so well for itself (obviously the $76 billion is all coming from people wanting to have a status symbol) that there’s no need to release a console. There aren’t even that many good games on the Mac App Store yet, so we’re getting ahead of ourselves talking about consoles.

Tom:

I fear that the only reason people out there are jumping to the conclusion that Apple will make a games console and that they are somehow “dominating” the market is because of what both Seb and Chad have pointed out – that 40% or 10% of apps, depending on how you look at it, are spectacular. You get some that become so integrated in people’s day to day lives that you can’t imagine your iPad or iPhone without them. But titles like Angry Birds and World of Goo are really the only thing that cause people to think that Apple would make a good games console.

Really, Apple have already got a pretty popular games console on their hands – it’s called the iPad. It has so many apps available, many of which are games, and is a very popular device. But if you look at the games in question, and most other games available for iOS, you’ll notice several things that show it is unlikely that Apple will make a “real” games console, and how hard the transition would be for them.

For one thing, the graphics. Yes, they’re spectacular 2D renderings on “retina displays” (whatever that means), and it probably wouldn’t be hard to upgrade the graphics that a game provides, but at the end of the day, these games look like toys, and nothing more. We’ve learned from the Wii’s release that nobody cares about that kind of approach to gaming.

Second, one of the important things about games for consoles is their depth – you can play for a while and it’s not all the same (arguably). But when you play Apple’s minigames, as it were, you’re basically just repeating the same actions over and over again (Plants vs Zombies, although a great game, is also a great example). That’s not the sign of a game that’s anything special, and by that logic, Apple do not provide a brilliant addition to the gaming industry. You play the games provided whenever you have the time, and they’re impressive, but there’s nothing that makes you stay on them for hours and hours, and they’re certainly disappointing by modern console standards.

Finally, and probably the biggest bump in the road for Apple, is their lack of game developers. As you can see simply by browsing the App Store, small businesses and independent developers are more than happy to submit their applications to be sold under Apple’s bannerhead, taking some profit and making everybody happy. However, do you really think that if Apple immersed themselves in the big wide world of consoles, that developers like Ubisoft, EA and Bethesda are just going to let Apple sell their products?

As has been praised by Seb, the App Store is incredible, but it’s certainly not the right medium to sell games over. In reality, Apple are just running another version of Steam, or Origin, and judging by the controversy surrounding that right now, Apple’s “Games Store”, or whatever they might call it, would probably have a hard time breaking into the market and getting enough major titles on board to be noticeable.

Armand:

I couldn’t agree more with Chad. I too have used my fair share of Apple computers and products, and after far too much money sunk into the brand, I’ve come to the conclusion that Apple doesn’t make practical or even very good products. Apple make a status symbol, a luxury item for the kind of people that would spend $2000 on a purse. They will either break down in their first couple of years, or become obsolete as yet another new OS or model is released. I’m sure plenty of gamers will buy into the whole “I’m cool cause I use Apple products” mentality, but those people will not make up the bulk of the gaming market. How can you even buy games after blowing your entire bank account on some shiny new Apple system? Gaming doesn’t fit into this scheme at all. For all its “popularity,” the iPad costs $500! I could buy any gaming system on the market plus a bunch of games for $500.

The truth is, Apple have never cared about gaming. In fact, they’ve scorned the whole of gaming culture for decades and only recently stumbled into our world when they discovered (surprise!) that people wanted to play games on their phones. Mind you, not quality games made by larger studios or developers with a resume of good games, but often just junk to kill 2-3 minutes with while waiting for their espresso. Apple’s core market is people with too much expandable income, or those who strive to be those people. As I mentioned, this might make up some gamers, but it won’t dominate the gaming market. Just like casual games didn’t destroy all gaming, just like the Wii didn’t make everything about motion controls.

Also, to Tom’s earlier point: Microsoft doesn’t “have” the PC. They make the Windows operating system, but beyond that, the PC is a lively marketplace with more companies involved than we could count. People don’t exclusively use Internet Explorer or Windows Media player. We have so many options, you might think Windows came with its own app store. Only it’s called the internets, and isn’t “owned” by any one company that can censor the content. The gaming market on the PC is wildly rich and diverse, and I have so many gaming options that even with absolutely zero money, I have more games to play than free time. That’s what makes the PC such a great gaming platform. We’ve been doing it for decades, and though we’ve had our ups and downs, things seem to be getting better all the time!

This whole “Apple taking over gaming” brouhaha is just hype, a marketing spin to convince people who don’t know better that their favorite overpriced gizmo is “the coolest”. Apple doesn’t care about gamers. They never have, and I don’t see them changing anytime soon.

Sebastian:

So EA and Epic are…not big publishers with big franchises with big games on the Apple iPhone?

Is quality really that hard to come by on the App Store?

If EA and Epic aren’t “quality games made by larger studios or developers with a resume of good games”, then I must be mistaken.

Infinity Blade and Dead Space are some of the top selling iPhone games. Turns out that we can’t hold the espresso and shoot necromorphs at the same time.

Stereotyping people that buy a product (especially when such a large amount of people do) doesn’t do the service that you’re intending it to.

Armand:

Those games make up less than 1% of the market, whereas the bulk of it is just fart machines and Angry Birds knock-offs.

And you can call it stereotyping, but it’s a simple fact that anything Apple makes can be replaced by a much more affordable version of the same product by another company. You can spend $2500 on an Apple computer, or get the PC equivalent for about $1000. Same hardware, same internet access, same music and movie abilities (no gaming on the Mac), yet there is a $1,500 difference. Why are you spending all that extra money if not for a brand? It’s not stereotyping but a well understood industry fact. Apple makes luxury products. It sells a brand identity. That’s what you’re getting with that extra $1,500.

Hell, my iPod didn’t last a year. Sent it in, got a new one that lasted two weeks. Sent that in, and got a new one that didn’t work out of the box. Sent that in and got yet another one that lasted about 3 months. Finally went out and bought a $30 knock off, and that’s lasted me 3 years.

Sebastian:

The idea that everyone, every single person that has ever bought an apple computer has done so because “OOH LOOK AT THE PRETTY LOGO ON IT” is almost as amusing as the criticism behind it. As is the immediate categorization of the App Store. If even the good games are just one percent of the overall App Store market, with there being… how many iPhone apps? I don’t recall, but let’s say 10,000, a number I am drastically cutting for effect. If even just one percent of that is good, we have a lot of great games. I have been able to find this treasured 1%, and since I’m not doing anything special, I can say that the rest of the population can find it too.

This however shouldn’t be an argument over Apple’s legitimacy, as I have said. This should be focused on Apple in the games industry, and you know what, if we count the industry as providing good games on a good system to consumers… hell, maybe they are a part of the games industry after all.

Armand:

How do you justify the massive markup Seb? What justification is there for charging so much more for identical hardware? It’s a status symbol. Just like how a purse that costs $2000 has the same function as a $50 purse. Why pay so much more? Because people want brand identity.

Some apps really do take the biscuit.

And I use 1% because you listed 4-5 games, some of which are essentially console ports. Really, 4-5 games out of 10,000 is far less than 1%.

And as I mention, how can you justify a $500 price tag for a handheld system? Is it REALLY providing so much more than a 3DS or whatever Sony is offering? Is it REALLY that much better than an Android phone or another tablet? No, it’s just got a glowing Apple logo on one side.

Sebastian:

I absolutely think that the iPad is overpriced, though I don’t really think the iPhone is. That doesn’t mean that the points I have just made are invalid or are non-existant. I didn’t pay for the “brand identity” or the magical privilege of caressing that sweet sweet logo, but because I wanted something that worked.

I only picked four or five examples for brevity, because I really only need four or five. There are obviously many more, from PvZ to Death Rally to Words With Friends (again, brevity).

The apps are why people go to the iPhone/iPad, even in the face of a silly name and less hardware features. Like games, the apps make or break the device, not the logo. While I like the hardware of Android and other competing devices in the mobile  market, that doesn’t mean that they have the game apps, or games, that the iPhone has. If they do, then I would have long since given up my iPhone for another phone.

Games, are what we’re talking about. What other phone has a comparable game lineup to the iPhone? And yes, the ads and prices and all that are crap, but they have the best mobile games.

Armand:

As you say Seb, games are what we’re talking about, and Steam is a gaming platform (or sorts) for the PC. This is a discussion about Apple dominating the gaming market, and as such, comparing it to other app-based systems alone won’t cut it. We aren’t just limited to mobile gaming markets, but the whole of the gaming world.

If we’re JUST talking about portable gaming, I would still take a Nintendo handheld over an iPad or iPhone because of the massive price difference, and because Nintendo has a long history of making games for gamers.

Gamers buying systems for brand identity just creates fanboys. I prefer to go with publishers, developers, and platforms that care about their gaming customers. I don’t think Apple gives two shits about gamers.

*  *  *  *

Share Your ThoughtsBnB writers have shared their thoughts, and now it’s your turn. What do you think?  Is Apple going to impact the way in which we purchase our games on all formats and, moreover, how much we pay for them? Will big, immersive titles disappear in favour of shorter or more episodic content? What would an industry with Apple as a considerable player look like?

The table is yours.


Comments
2 Responses to “Friday Roundtable: The Big 4: Will Apple Change the Games Industry?”
  1. Armand K. says:

    In all fairness, my bias here is a bit much… 😉

  2. Gregg B says:

    What doesn’t get mentioned here is that even if the iPhone, iPod and iPad had a solid repertoire of games then it still wouldn’t change the fact that your digits get in the way of the screen. Is there any sort of discreet iStylus for these things? Nearly every game I play on the iPhone that my brother owns ends up driving me mad because 33-50% of the screen is obscured by my mits. The screen’s small enough as it is! This isn’t always the case on an iPad because of the larger screen size but I can think of hundred better ways of spending my money than on one of those castrated netbooks.

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