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Summary:

If you go and do something like found Electronic Arts, which then goes on to be one of the dominant forces in video games worldwide, people tend to take notice of things you say. Yesterday in an interview with Venture Beat’s Dean Takahashi, Trip Hawkins, EA […]

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If you go and do something like found Electronic Arts, which then goes on to be one of the dominant forces in video games worldwide, people tend to take notice of things you say. Yesterday in an interview with Venture Beat’s Dean Takahashi, Trip Hawkins, EA founder and current Digital Chocolate executive, said that Nintendo and Sony are probably “freaking out” over the rampant success of the iPhone as a gaming platform.

The threat of the iPhone to Sony and Nintendo, and their PSP and DS(i) respectively, is not the number or quality of games available for the platform, but rather the value proposition it represents from a business standpoint. According to Hawkins:

The iPhone is by far our most effective platform. We make as much money with these games on one device as we do putting a game on 100 different cell phone platforms. Between the iPod touch and the iPhone, I think the platform is freaking out Sony and Nintendo.


So it comes down to a question of investment vs. return, as does any sound business decision, gaming industry or not. If Apple can tip the scales sufficiently in their favor, the repercussions for the gaming industry could be immense. It could mean smaller dev teams, a quicker turnaround and or/development cycle, and less focus on branding and franchises (casual games succeed based on mechanics, not mascots), all of which could eventually affect not only mobile gaming, but the home console industry as well.

I’m not sure I like where this is going. Yes, I like playing Bejeweled 2 on my iPhone, and I’ve been known to enjoy a number of other games as well, but I just started playing GTA: Chinatown Wars on my DSi, and it reminded just how much catching up the iPhone has to do when it comes to gaming. The iPhone definitely offers a better gaming experience than any phone I’ve ever owned, but for real gaming, nothing beats physical control keys and buttons. I can’t even express the difference in words, but if you’re at all a gamer, you probably know what I’m talking about.

I’m hoping developers and studios don’t lose sight of this with all those dollar signs in their eyes. By all means, continue to develop for the iPhone, and do the most with what the platform offers, but don’t turn to it exclusively. Casual gaming is great, but for it to become the primary focus of the industry would be like all musicians turning their efforts to country because it sells best. I pray neither of these things ever happens.

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  1. Nice write-up. I wonder how much of an overlap there really is between the PSP/DS and the iPhone/iTouch. I’m enjoying the games I’ve got on my iPhone, but it’s still a phone and data device to me first and foremost, and I don’t play games too much when I’m out because, aside from having stuff to do while out, I don’t want to nuke the battery.

    Would a kid looking for gaming want an iPod Touch or a DS or PSP, I wonder? Isn’t there something to be said for those two uses being largely separate?

    It’s one thing to get people using a device they already have in a way they weren’t originally intending — games are a lovely add-on! — but the real money comes from those people buying the device specifically to play games, yes?

  2. With the 3.0 software that will be coming out, gamepads will be made with access to the dock connector. When that happens, nintendo and Sony really are in trouble.

  3. I’ve always been more of a casual gamer, so Palm devices, and now the iPhone have been my console of choice.

  4. Good article but I think you are missing the point when you contrast the rise of “casual gaming” and the established “serious” gamers.

    No matter how successful previous gaming platforms have been, they have flourished in a small, insular, and very protected market. No one platform has taken over because no one platform has any appeal outside of the small group of “serious” gamers and their preferred games.

    What the iPhone platform has done is surpass all of the others overnight by bringing in a group of almost all brand-new gamers. The iPhone has opened up the market by bringing in people who didn’t (and most importantly never would), buy into any of the others.

    “Serious Gamers” might still be convinced over to the iPhone platform as it evolves, but it doesn’t matter if they are or not. The whole concept that there are “serious” and “non-serious” gamers is on it’s way out. The idea that gamers are all adolescent males who are interested in shoot-em games and driving cars is on the way out.

    The market for games and the identification of who is a “gamer” just expanded exponentially and the idea that only very serious young men with Game Boys or PSPs are into “gaming” is waay out of date.

  5. I hope also, they will develope new products with quality and not with quantity.

  6. “With the 3.0 software that will be coming out, gamepads will be made with access to the dock connector. When that happens, nintendo and Sony really are in trouble.”

    Exactly!

    The only thing holding back top-tier gaming on the iPhone right now is the lack of any traditional controller. That ends with the release of iPhone OS 3.0 in a couple months.

    Nintendo and Sony have a couple months before Square, Konami, etc. start pumping out their best titles on the iPhone. Apple’s model is far more profitable than anyone else’s.

  7. Constable Odo Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Developers want to make money. If you had a business, you’d want it to make as much money as you possibly can. There is no reason why Apple can’t develop a gaming machine with traditional controls. Maybe at some point in the future they will. How old is Apple’s SDK? Not even a year old yet. The iPhone and iPod Touch are not really traditional gaming machines. They just happen to be able to play games as a sideline. Nokia built those N-Gage cellphones with traditional gaming controls, but you see how far that got Nokia.

    Go stick with your DSi or PSP if that’s what suits you. Nintendo and Sony aren’t going out of business. But the Apple offering is good for people that haven’t become jaded by a particular platform. Maybe people that never picked up a DS or PSP are very happy with what the Apple platform brings and they don’t have to carry around an extra device. I personally think the PSP is a great device, except for that damn useless UMD drive. It sure gives a crappy internet experience and you can’t stream anything to it unless you have some damn Sony device. Sony crippled the PSP as far as I’m concerned. I like to watch movies on it but you can’t even use it for YouTube unless you install some home-brew firmware and I’m not about to do that. I’ll use it as is and hope Sony gets a clue.

    You want traditional controls but I don’t think that’s necessarily the key to making great games. I also wish Apple would allow access to the dock connector to use a gaming cradle or a plug-in controller, but so far it hasn’t happened. But that’s Apple’s decision. Just give Apple a little more time. I think people are being far too critical for a platform that’s been around less than a year to try and compare it to platforms that have been in existence for years and still haven’t moved forward as much as they could have.

    This arrogance of “serious gamers” is silly. Playing games is supposed to be fun and relaxing. I thought serious gamers only used high end dedicated gaming consoles and gaming PCs.

    1. Gaming consoles and PCs aren’t portable. Wasn’t that obvious?

  8. What to read on the GigaOM network Thursday, April 16, 2009

    [...] Staff | Thursday, April 16, 2009 | 10:18 AM PT | 0 comments Are Nintendo and Sony “freaking out” over the iPhone? (TheAppleBlog) Motorola tries to recapture past glory with AURA (jkOnTheRun) NBC serves up more [...]

  9. What I hope Apple does is to make the next iPod touch/iPhone also have physical button/pad controls. Nintendo and Sony could then just hang it up, especially Nintendo, which has a completely back-assward approach to download games with the DSi. The downloadable DSi-only titles should be bigger and better then DS cartridge games (DS cartridge games are tiny), but instead we get a handful of lousy mini/micro-games, even paid demos.

  10. Good information.

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