Since the launch of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, the two devices have sold 100 million and 50 million units respectively. Though a large portion of gamers still remain in that 13-24 sweet spot, as gaming becomes more mainstream, the technologies appeal to more and more people. (In 2008 we saw casual games explode, and some great TV ads featuring the playable games on the iPod Touch.) Over the past few months, however, we’ve seen Apple begin to take a foothold in handheld gaming.
At this point, Apple is the ultimate Jack of All Trades, providing a decent, slightly above-average experience for all of its features. Now imagine if they were iPhone a specialist in each, with market-leading capabilities in all of its technologies. The DS market share has to do with its ability to deliver a superior handheld device. The Blackberrys are because it’s the best smart phone. Apple has started slow but is gaining momentum in every field. The iPod Touch already has many of the tools to become a superior device (easily-accessible app store, a unique gimmick: accelerometer), but just needs to capitalize on some of its flaws. That’s why I’m extremely worried if I’m Nintendo or Sony.
The great thing about the iPod Touch is that its games are not even limited to children. I’ve seen people of all ages playing Tap Tap Revenge on the bus. Over the past year, Apple has made it clear that gaming is a priority, and that they’re working hard to have games developed for the device.
The two big issues that still present for competition are
1) price point; and
2) software development.
On Amazon, the 16GB iPod Touch still runs at $285, whereas the DS Lite goes for $129 and the PSP 3000 goes for $169. (Though the 8GB is closer at $239, for someone to be a heavy music and game user, they’ll likely go for at least the 16GB model.) That makes the price difference over $100 for the PSP and over $150 for the DS Lite. The price point will remain a looming factor for those looking for a simple gaming device. Especially considering both devices are adding, or have added audio playback. Besides, you can always use the DS to make a homebrew iPod.
Since the price point of the iPod Touch or iPhone (which is considerably more expensive) are unlikely to truly compete with the DS or PSP, the next most important thing for them to work on is software development. Currently, the vast majority of games available for the iPhone are more casual/puzzler-type titles. (read: Shovelware) One big problem is that it’s very difficult to maintain quality control in the App Store. However, when game systems like the DS and PSP have much more in-depth titles for the more “core” audience, it’s certainly hard for the iPhone to compete on that level. As Apple decides what its audience is, and what it wants its audience to be, I believe that getting core games developed for sale at the App Store will be crucial for Apple to break into this market. They’ve already had a couple more complex titles released (like X Plane), but there is still great room for growth. Additionally, there are a couple emulators available for the iPhone, but when developers like SEGA, Bungie or Rockstar start putting out games for the iPhone, things will get really interesting. In fact, that would be a great way for Midway to turn their business around. Make a Mortal Kombat port to the iPhone for $10.
Also, casual gaming doesn’t have to mean bad gaming. If games like Audiosurf come to the iPod Touch, it’ll give real gamers a real reason to play. Right now my iPod Touch is an MP3 player that happens to also play some games. Why can’t it be the other way around? The iPhone/iPod Touch is now at 30 million units sold and counting. It’s time for developers to start taking advantage.