Apple has made significant steps towards cornering the mobile gaming market (though that “premium” games section so far hasn’t come to pass), and both Sony and Nintendo have likely been forced to re-examine their portable offerings in order to try to regain ground. I doubt either of those companies or Microsoft would appreciate competition from Cupertino in the home console arena, but more and more industry insiders are coming forward with predictions that that’s exactly where Apple is headed.
According to Kotaku, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has predicted that Apple will not be satisfied with the small taste of the gaming market they’ve had with the iPhone and iPod touch. During Ubisoft’s fiscal year-end conference call early this week, Guillemot commented that “[T]here’s also a new entrant in the business. Apple, with the iPhone. And we don’t think they will stop there.” The CEO made the statement after discussing the gaming potential of set-top boxes, OnLive’s remote gaming system being the most highly publicized such device in recent memory.
It should be noted that Guillemot’s older brother Michel runs GameLoft, which is one of Apple’s most successful and prolific gaming partners. Ubisoft partnered with GameLoft to bring Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles to the iPhone. Really, the two companies are in as good a position as any (with the possible exception of EA) to be aware of any gaming moves made by Apple.
The problem with Apple developing a gaming console to take on the PS3, Xbox, and Wii, is that traditionally, profit margins have been slim to nonexistent on the hardware itself until late in the product’s life, with most of the revenue coming from game sales. With the iPhone and iPod touch, at least, Apple seems to be depending on the reverse formula, in that they don’t make much money from software, and instead use it as incentive for selling hardware.
A much more reasonable prediction is that Apple won’t take on the core gaming market that provides the bulk of Sony and Microsoft’s fan base, but will instead appeal more to casual gamers that would be attracted to the Wii, or to PSN/XBLA titles. While there have been calls from fans and Apple watchers to open up the Apple TV platform to app development like the iPhone, nothing so far has come of it. The platform isn’t faring as well as Microsoft’s Xbox is, in terms of living room media center devices, but adding app capabilities to it could blow that competition wide open. Apple must’ve considered it, and could just be waiting to see if it will be worth the time and money to open up the platform to developers vs. focusing on the mobile market if the risk appears too great.