The funnest editorial ever

Well, not really, but I did have a lot to say about iPhone gaming after attending a group demo yesterday. I’m looking at Apple’s move into mobile gaming with a wary eye, but I won’t deny that there’s plenty of potential there. The hardware/software/sale ecosystem the company has created with the iTunes Store is the perfect way to perform an end-run around the Sony/Nintendo duopoly, and at its best the iPhone represents the touch interface of the DS combined with the power of the PSP. It’s gonna be a long and rocky road, but I really do think Apple has potential to become a major player in portable gaming — or, at the very least, a major provider.

I mentioned that I’d suddenly taken a shine to video on iPhone yesterday, and it coincides with my getting my hands on a 3G review model Apple has lent me for a few weeks. My old iPhone is fine, but the faster speeds of the 3G network really change the acquisition dynamic: basically, if you have an urge to listen to or watch something, you can grab it over the air instantly for a few bucks. I didn’t mess with the iTunes Store much on my own phone, but on the faster version it’s kind of difficult not to abuse the service. And I think that will be a huge benefit to Apple’s gaming initiative. Want a game? Go online and grab it. The file sizes are surprisingly small, and even on America’s crappy 3G networks the download speeds are quick. The iPhone’s biggest drawback is the lack of must-have games, but once those start arriving it’s going to make for a compelling system. Meanwhile, Sony and Nintendo are locked into the retail paradigm; while it’s true they’ve been moving toward digital downloads, DSi and PSP 3000 make baby steps in that direction. Frickin’ DSi is still locked in to 802.11b wi-fi, and in any case you can’t exactly download anything unless you’re on an access point.

If Apple does this right, their online system will be a fulfillment of the potential inherent in mobile gaming, but without all the crappiness. Even the most obvious interface issue (i.e., not having a built-in D-pad) may not be a deal-breaker: yesterday ngmoco’s Neil Young demoed the upcoming Dropship, which is controlled with a virtual D-pad that actually seems to work. The secret is that it recenters on your thumb no matter where you touch the screen, so you don’t have to worry about drifting. Not a perfect solution, but a solution nevertheless.

Me, I’m holding out for a tilt-controlled Rocket Slime sequel.

14 thoughts on “The funnest editorial ever

  1. The inherent problem with the “iPhone as a gaming device” argument is the extremely high cost of acquisition and ownership when compared to the current portable gaming hardware (DS & PSP).

    In order to obtain an iPhone and then use it for the entire 2-year contract period would cost the user about $900 + plus the cost of games (cost of hardware plus the extra $30 per month that AT&T charges for the iPhone calling plans over and above their normal cell phone plans). Add to that the contract cancellation fee if one isn’t already an AT&T customer which can run a couple hundred dollars.

    Compare that to the DS ($130 + games) or the PSP ($170 + games) and you’ll see why Apple’s gaming initiative is unlikely to find the kind of mass market success that the DS & the PSP have.

  2. What Jet Pilot said, plus the fact that tilting and sliding can only go so far in terms of game input.

    Bomberman for iPhone tried a gamepad-like approach. It’s terrible. Super Monkey Ball, Tetris, that damned racing game: all terrible, control-wise. Even the emulators you can load up on jailbroken units are terrible to control. Mario can run and jump, but not both at the same time. (Fortunately, Link fares a little better!)

    Maybe The Casual Gamer will disagree, but I see gaming on the iPhone as a niche market forever, constrained by the very hardware design that gives the iPhone its unique appeal.

  3. Of course, the cost complaint is countered by the iPod Touch, which is an iPhone without the AT&T shackles and costs just $50 more than a PSP.

  4. iPhone would really take off as a gaming platform if they redesigned it to be held to your head like a taco when using it as a phone

  5. Which is countered by the argument that it’s $50 more than the most expensive gaming device currently out there. That means there is still a cost barrier.

  6. And the fact that you can also use it as a phone and an iPod. Of course, with phones and iPods there are reasons to use them, whereas I’ve never found a mobile game that was worth playing.

    (Incidentally, I wonder why they’ve never tried an MMO like Kingdom of Loathing on a mobile platform. Sounds like the perfect use case to me.)

  7. That’s curious. When I had my router set to 802.11g it refused to connect. When I bumped it down to 802.11b, it was able to make the connection. Please explain that.

  8. I get laughed off when i mention it at a certian gaming forum, but i honestly think, five to ten years from now, nintendo (er, and sony) are going to be seriously threatened by apple and other multimedia devices on the handheld front. my word: mark it.

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