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iPad: It’s All About the Games

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Businessweek article, the iPad (s aapl) is going to be all about the games. A large portion of the few companies elite enough to actually get their hands on a pre-release version of the iPad are game developers. Gaming is big on the iPhone/iPod touch platform and our own Weldon Dodd’s analysis of sales in the App Store on its one-year anniversary revealed that 79 percent of iPhone users have purchased a game. Contrast that percentage with the percentage of games shown in the iPad commercial: zero. Why this dichotomy?

Practically ever iPhone commercial shows someone playing some kind of game and showing that the iPhone platform is both for productivity and fun. Whether it’s Monopoly or Crash Bandicoot, we usually see a game somewhere in the commercial. Games are fun and the iPhone naturally feels like a game controller. From the moment games left the arcade, we’ve been used to some kind of fairly small handheld controller for our interface device. You cradle it in both hands: one on a multidirectional tool (stick or directional pad) and another holding the device and pressing buttons. Staring in the days of Mattel Football and the Atari 2600 to the Xbox and Playstation, it’s something we’ve gotten used to. Nintendo changed the rules with its Wii Remote providing an interface device that feature more motion in the mix and had us hold the device more naturally.

iPhone games still generally expect us to cradle the device in our hands and use our thumbs to simulate the directional pad and buttons. An additional control scheme of device orientation and motion is featured in many games, but the majority of iPhone games utilize thumb tapping and dragging as the primary control. While I have not been lucky enough to lay my hands on an actual iPad, it seems to me that the traditional iPod/iPhone thumb control scheme will not adapt well to the iPad. Games that work great on the iPhone platform will simply not have the same user interface experience on the iPad. They can’t; the screen is too big and the device will be held differently. Unless you have really big hands you won’t be able to move your thumbs across the whole screen. How am I going to protect Dave’s house from the zombies now?

Herein is the problem. Apple needs killer games to show off how diverse the iPad will be and currently there are none. Steve touted in his keynote the fact that we are already used to the iPad because we are used to the iPhone. That’s only partially correct. Existing games will technically “run” on the iPad, but their play will be entirely different due to the different ergonomics. The game developers will have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how people will hold the iPad and update their games to take this into account. Is it better to assume game play will happen with the iPad flat, or will more people hold the iPad up to play the game? How clunky will using the accelerometer be on a device so large? The only way to answer these questions is to have a real live iPad in hand for testing.

Apple’s seeding of iPads to game developers is not about Apple’s commitment to the gaming platform, but a recognition that games will not translate well from the iPhone to the iPad. Lexulous and Monopoly probably won’t have a problem, but games that rely on fast tapping and hand-eye coordination (meaning the really fun ones) will likely not scale and new iPad owners will be frustrated with their shiny new toy. Apple needs these games to work and work well on April 3.

What will the first game be that shows off the unique features of the iPad the way Crash Bandicoot and Rolando did for the iPhone? How will we interact with these games and finally involve our whole hand and not our thumbs? I can imagine some genres of games that will shine on the larger iPad device, such as racing games (the iPad will make for a nice big steering wheel). Will other games be redesigned for the iPad or will they simply include new controls? Most of all, will we have to buy new games for the iPad or will they simply be free updates? I’ll leave that to the game developers who were lucky enough to have an iPad before everyone else to protect us from boredom.

38 Responses to “iPad: It’s All About the Games”

  1. Agreed.. board games are going to be fantastic – as will strategy and RPGs. I can’t believe the amount of people that are knocking the iPad – but you know damn well, these are the same people that probably crapped on the iphone announcement, and now can’t live without one. There are so many games I can’t wait to play on IPad – the large screen makes perfect sense.. and browsing the web on a couch without being tied to a laptop or mouse is going to be fantastic.

  2. Nice article to read about iPads.
    Every time I read a good article, I usually do 3 things: 1. Forward it to my close friends. 2. Bookmark it in all my favorite social bookmarking sites. 3. Be sure to visit the same website where I first read the article. After reading this article, I am really thinking of going ahead and doing all three of the above!

  3. I for one would dearly love to see any of my new and original games reproduced to run on this absolutely superb iPad.
    If there are any programmers out there who’d like to take this on then please get in touch pronto.

  4. James. Braselton

    Hi. There. The. Ipad. Won’t. Be. Out. Until. April. 3. Soon. How. Can. There. Be. Games. For. The. Ipad. If. The. Ipad. Is. Not. Out. Yet

  5. James. Braselton

    Hi. There. Ipad. Gaming. Would. Be. Alwsoume. With. The. Ipad. iBook. Store. With. A. Book. Shelf. Yeh. Book. Shelf. Movies. Books. With. Embeded. Video. On. You. Tube. Looks. Cool. Cool

  6. Personally, I wouldn’t lose a moments sleep if not a single game was ever created for the iPad. Games keep your interest for the day, week or month it takes you to finish it. I think the vast majority of people who spend this kind of money on a device are looking to do more than play games. But that’s just my 2¢.

  7. They talked about iPad-specific games in the keynote, and the guy from Gameloft showed Nova (or whatever was the name of the sci-fi shooter) – and if a bigtime company like Gameloft is developing games for this device, others will surely follow.

  8. I could think of lots of current games transfering well to the iPad, just from the larger screen size alone. Virtual Pool for one I would love to play on the larger screen. Maybe the developers can add new gestures to enhance it but that’s one game I am looking forward to, and to playing over wifI as I do now.

    Another great touch game is Home Run Battle. How about Tap Tap revenge. Board games. With its size the iPad could really take off with board games. Their are plenty current games that’s well suited for the iPad, and I see their being unique games tayloard specifically to it.

  9. I would love board games, card games and Bolo (remember Bolo on the classic Mac) on the iPad. If someone gets a MacOS9 emulator past the censors (Apple) that would be awesome… to play OS9 games Maelstrom, Arashi, Marathon, Solarian, etc. etc.
    Some have been reworked to Mac OS X versions but many great games would run sweetly in an emulator.
    If it was possible to rework Bolo for the iPad/ iPhone /iPod Touch that would be fantastic. It was a fun game where the multiplayer gameplay and realtime chat was really immersive. Twenty years ago!!! Loved the Bolo. PeterSW

  10. Agreed.. board games are going to be fantastic – as will strategy and RPGs. I can’t believe the amount of people that are knocking the iPad – but you know damn well, these are the same people that probably crapped on the iphone announcement, and now can’t live without one. There are so many games I can’t wait to play on IPad – the large screen makes perfect sense.. and browsing the web on a couch without being tied to a laptop or mouse is going to be fantastic.

  11. Why aren’t there any games in the iPad commercial? Because Apple doesn’t make any, and the commercial shows only apps made by Apple. Easy.

    This argument is a fairly common mistake in media coverage of games for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad: writers assume that “games” equate to “games equivalent to those played on console systems or those manufacturers’ portable devices.” It’s true that those sorts of games can suffer on the iPhone for lack of hardware controls (although some people certainly seem to enjoy the recent *Street Fighter* port), and the virtual controls that approximate the hardware sticks for the iPhone apps will probably not translate as well to the iPad. On the other hand, there are scads of iPhone games that have *nothing at all* to do with approximating the arcade/console experience. How would you possibly play Flight Control on a PS3 or PSP? Or Scrabble? The iPad will excel at these games, just as the iPhone does, and its increased power and screen real estate will make possible some games that were previously unthinkable for the iPhone.

    Personally, I’m not a gamer. I haven’t owned a console system since the ColecoVision, and the last PC game I bought was the original Baldur’s Gate (and I never finished it). I plan to buy plenty of games for the iPad, and I’ve got a short list of five or six to buy on launch day (in their iPhone versions if iPad ports aren’t available). And I can’t be the only one.

  12. I can imagine many genres of games which would translate perfectly to the iPad’s larger screen. I think we’ll see a lot of games rely more on advanced mouse-like interaction rather than simple tapping or accelerometer controls.

    For example, many tower defense and RPG games on the iPhone are generally pretty simple due to the small screen size and lack of touch accuracy. On the iPad, we might be able to see some full-fledged tower defense and RPGs the likes of Defense Grid or Torchlight. Perhaps even some full-fledged Command and Conquer-style RTSs. Not to mention games like Flight Control and Harbor Master, which could add a lot of depth to their gameplay.

    You’re right in saying that twitch games like NOVA, DoodleJump, etc. probably wouldn’t work too well. But as Gazoobee said above, I’m all for replacing these casual games with games that would appeal more to the hardcore gamer.

    • A world with both would be great! I’m guessing on day 1 we are going to see a whole new way of gaming on the iPad that will be unique to that platform.

      Obviously using the entire device to fly a plane or steer a car will be awesome, but I’m wondering what else is out there. Those games rely on precision movement. Not having used an iPad, my imagination is rather limited on what else will be unique to it.

      Hence, why I think we are seeing the heavy seeding in game development. These designers need to used an iPad and figure out how to control the game based on the devices weight distribution and size.

    • Gazoobee

      Just a correction, I didn’t mean to imply that “casual” games should be replaced with shooters. Quite the opposite in fact.

      My point was that when people (like the author apparently) talk about games, they are almost exclusively talking about shooters and driving games. In fact however, up until very very recently (15 years?), these categories of games didn’t even exist. For most of the history of the human race, more complicated, board based, or book based games were popular. It’s only the invention of the computer itself that has enabled the new categories of “shooters” and “driving games.”

      My criticism of the article was that the author is essentially blind to this distinction and is working with a definition of “games” that is faulty. My hope is that the iPad will engender what I consider to be “real” games and de-emphasise the newer, action/violence based games, which are far from the whole game market, despite what all you kids today think about it.

      The only reason shooters and driving games are as popular as they are is because teenaged males are central to the community of computer users. If the iPad truly brings in people that never used a computer before, then hopefully the demographic will shift back to a more normal cross-section of society and other types of entertainment will emerge.

      “Gaming” is not equal to “Games that teenage boys like.”

    • What made you think I was talking about shooters and their ilk? I explicitly stated in my comment that I was speaking of intelligent games like strategy and RPGs, games which are certainly not considered popular among teenage kids. It seems like you misinterpreted “hardcore” (which, admittedly, was poor word choice) as simply meaning popular and dumbed-down action games.

      I think I understand what you’re talking about when you say games for the iPad will become more mainstream, but I just don’t see it happening. And I’m not really sure what your definition of a “real game” is. Perhaps you could give an example?

  13. chipwinter

    Before our family of four got an iPod touch, none of us had ever played computer games: No Wii, no XBox, no Sony stuff. Not even computer games on the PC.
    But, since then, we have spent well over $150 on little games: Flood-It, Rolando, etc.
    I think the iPad will just increase the number of casual- or non-gamers.
    Any “real” gamers it might bring along is just gravy.

  14. Gazoobee

    No offence, but I think you are totally missing the obvious here.

    You make reference all the way through the article to “games” but you don’t specify what kind of games you are talking about. The kind of games I have on my iPhone for instance would run *very* well on the iPad without any modification at all. Probably this is because what I think of when I think of “games” is not what you think of when you do.

    If you’re talking about the action games, the shooters, and the car racing stuff, then yeah, iPad will probably not be very good at them at all. Fortunately for Apple, that is far from being all the games that people buy.

    Personally, Im hoping the iPad might bring back some decent, more complicated type games and push all the “let’s drive really fast and kill people” type of games to the side. It could easily happen when you consider that the iPhone/iPod has grown the market for smartphones to include more than just your average teenager or gamer.

    • I completely agree that many games won’t need modification to run on the iPad.

      Apple’s focus on gaming in determining who gets seeded with an actual iPad rather than simply relying on the emulator indicates that Apple recognizes these’s developers need to have an actual iPad in hand.