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How the iPhone 5s could help Apple move beyond casual gaming and capture serious gamers

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Apple has always had a bumpy relationship with “serious gamers.” Macs continue to be the lesser computer for Call of Duty and League of Legends folks, and despite plenty of success with mobile games in Apple’s App Store, the Apple TV’s living room gaming experience hasn’t necessarily been its shining feature. But all of that could change with the iPhone 5s, which now stands as Apple’s strongest, and best, chance to really enter the gaming market.

The number one reason why this market could fall into the Cupertino company’s hands? The environment of handheld gaming at large is currently undergoing a major change.

As it stands now, the landscape is divided at the emergence of the “casual” gamer, the Angry Birds and Candy Crush loving user who wants to spend a few minutes playing at a time. This type of user is Apple’s bread and butter, as 240 million registered users are playing games connected to Apple’s Game Center, according to Silicon Valley Business Journal. This is a huge statistic, but iOS games don’t necessarily attract traditional gamers looking to sink hours and hours into their game of choice.

However, they’re not happy with their other handheld options, either. Sales for Nintendo and Sony haven’t been going well, and that’s leading to a big power vacuum. According to Asymco, Nintendo has sold 186 million mobile devices since 2003, but is failing to gain traction or establish a new “console era” with the 3DS. And Sony’s portables have long trailed its competitors, failing to match smartphone or Nintendo sales.

Nintendo has responded to this slump by boosting its accessibility — with the 2DS as a clear play to get casual gamers in on more serious fun. Sony, on the other hand, might be thinking about switching strategies, backing out of handhelds in favor of a low-cost console in the potentially game-changing PS Vita TV. In short, traditional gaming companies are scrambling to match the ubiquity of mobile devices, leaving the field wide open for Apple to get serious.

Another piece to this puzzle is, obviously, inside the iPhone 5s. While the 64-bit A7 and the sensor-processing M7 could be overkill for everyday use, their ability to handle big graphics as seen in the Infinity Blade demonstration today shows that Apple could start encouraging developers to create bigger, more immersive titles for mobile. Graphics are a huge part of the gaming experience, and it means a lot that the small phone can handle big environments.

If the phone is able to juggle great graphics with longterm battery usage and stable speeds — reviews pending, of course — then it’s already well on its way to top the 3DS and the Vita for gaming. Opening the doors for longer, more in-depth games in the vein of BastionXCOM and, yes, Final Fantasy could turn the iPhone 5s — and future iPads likely to use its technology — into full-on console competitors, especially if it can tap into more recognizable titles.

Apple TV could be the missing link. Thus far, Apple’s set up the pins with the iPhone 5S, but a revolutionary Apple TV could knock them down and kick off an era of gaming for the company. It’s one thing to reliably produce a cohesive gaming experience on the phone, but it’s quite another to have a seamless play experience with a big-screen TV at the ready. If a (possibly new?) Apple TV can transmit the iPhone 5s’s blazing graphics, then it could even go toe to toe with the PS Vita TV and the Ouya.

Everything is falling into place for Apple to finally make its big move in gaming — and prove that it’s worth its salt for more hardcore gamers.

8 Responses to “How the iPhone 5s could help Apple move beyond casual gaming and capture serious gamers”

  1. Dale Pizzuti

    I, myself am a hardcore gamer and I am unimpressed with the few meager titles available in the App Store for this market. If anything tells us that gaming has become more important in this age, it’s that GTA 5 has made more money than any single piece of media. Ever. I love iphone games like Modern Combat 4 and Wild Blood. Those involving games are close to console quality and I believe that the App Store needs more of these. Thanks for the informative article.

      • Lauren Hockenson

        I disagree that handheld gamers aren’t “serious.” In fact, I spend plenty of time on my Nintendo 3DS and I think it offers a really rich library of games that classic gamers would enjoy. Granted, I think that serious has narrowed in some people’s eyes to competition games like CoD or LoL, but that’s neither here nor there. Hands down, I think that the 3DS is the best Nintendo has to offer right now.

        The issue is that we really ARE a long way from good, accessible 4K gaming. In the interim, I think that the secret to cracking the games code is an affordable and efficient console that plays games you can sink hours into, while also offering mobile games on-the-go. Apple’s got a shot at that here, and if it’s executed right, they’re going to have the closest thing to that paradigm.

  2. Take it easy there…
    One can debate how many console gamers are serious gamers ,if that is for PC only or consoles too. Handheld… i have no idea who uses them, i’m assuming 14 and under but i wouldn’t call handheld gaming serious gaming.
    Then you got to remember that a GPU in a phone is tiny and low power/heat. The marketing BS is marketing BS there is no magic powder to make crazy good GPUs for mobile devices.
    New gen console GPUs are 3-4 times bigger on same or similar process and are free to use a hell of a lot more power. In PC you get even more. The new consoles are borderline outdated already compared to PC but mobile devices will need a few years to catch up to consoles and by then PC will be chasing 4k gaming.
    Mobile gaming can kill consoles but not just yet and serious gaming is going 4k.