Did you guess the DS? Wii? PS3? Xbox 360? PS1 even?
Well, you’d be wrong. In fact, the most successful of all gaming platforms is the iPhone. To give you an idea of just how well it has sold, the next most successful console is the DS which (across its many iterations) has sold 147,860,000 units as of June this year. Between the iPhone and the iPod Touch, Apple has sold over 40 million more units then Nintendo.
This is quite an impressive feat and it is understandable, therefore, why Apple have never made a product that is specifically a console; they rightfully claim the iPhone as their entry into the gaming market.
They have done well.
In 2009 there were 13,000 iPhone games, by 2010 over 1.5 billion iPhone games had been sold. These numbers are stupidly high. Apple can rightfully claim the top spot in terms of the most far reaching and best selling games platform.
But are they the best?
The problem with Apple and the iPhone is that most of their games sales come from casual games and the problem with casual games is that they are never any more than a fad. Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope, Angry Birds; these are among the best selling games in the App Store and yet I know that I certainly would have no qualms about deleting them from my phone in order to make more room for another album. After all, it’s only a casual game, right?
This view is in direct contrast to some of the games I have on my PC, which I know I never want to throw out. I have had such good memories from playing games like Portal or even Lego Star Wars that I can’t part from them. In the same way that my parents kept a lot of their books from when they were children and teenagers for me to enjoy, I too will keep some of these games to show to my own kids one day!
Casual games are almost always a temporary distraction and the classification of games that we call casual will come in and out of fashion depending on how they are promoted and, more importantly, who promotes them.
On that note, I turn to Steve Jobs. This was a man who was brilliant at his work. His primary role was to hype and he did this superbly. I am grateful to him for the brilliant job he did.
You see, the main reason that the iPhone is doing and has done so well is because of the massive support people have put behind it and invested in it. Much of that support came from the work of Mr Jobs. What he would do is not simply announce a new product, the way most companies do through a dry speech with a few awkward jokes thrown; in an attempt to look professionally appealing to the general public. No. He would bound on to stage, charismatically proclaiming without an ounce of shame that not only was his product the best thing since sliced bread, but also that sliced bread was no longer required because, inevitably, there was now an App for that. By many he was viewed as almost a Willy Wonka of the technology world from the way he made his products seem magical, rivalled in ability to hype only by Peter Molyneux.
I am not proclaiming Steve Jobs the sole reason for the iPhone’s success. That would be ludicrous. The stylish design of the iPhone, pretty operating system and massive App store are of course huge selling points. However, Mr Jobs played a large role in convincing people that these accessories were better than the accessories offered by other phones, like the Nokia N95, one of the most feature rich phones ever to be made.
As you probably know if you read this column regularly, I am principally opposed to hype. However, in the case of Mr Jobs, I am going to make an exception. Due to the hype that he started over the iPhone, thousands of new jobs were created in producing Apps and games for the App store. Android phones appeared. Phones that are (in my opinion) of higher quality than the iPhone, but owe their existence to it all the same.Theyhave been produced in direct competition to the “i” brand. Further, the success of small but innovative games on the iPhone was partially responsible for the emergence and popularity of indie games. Many developers, like Straandlooper, started off by producing games for the iPhone.
Steve Jobs did a great kindness to us. I am thankful for that.
However, now that he has passed away, I fear for the future of the “i” brand as a gaming platform. Let’s face it, the iPhone isn’t that great. It has a tendency to freeze, it often gets a dodgy signal and its life is abysmally short for a console that costs so much (£50 a month on some contracts). The iPhone needs someone to gloss over these facts, promoting it beyond the features it provides. In the months since Mr Jobs was taken ill, casual games companies like Glu Mobile (PopCap’s biggest competitor) have reported a loss. Companies like PopCap themselves are steadily being bought out.
I can’t see a decline in the popularity of the iPhone and casual games happening immediately, but I expect it to begin slowly from this point onwards. Apple is launching the iPhone 4S, the fifth iteration of the iPhone, on October 14 of this year. I’m willing to bet that without Steve Jobs at the helm it won’t sell as well as its predecessors. Also, over the next few months and years I sincerely expect casual games to decline in popularity, especially with so many gamers riled against them and no Mr Jobs to promote his Apps to the masses.
Think about it carefully, Steve Jobs is sadly gone and has been out of the picture for several months due to illness. At the same time, Apple’s biggest competitor in the games industry, Nintendo, has already directed it’s focus towards hardcore gamers over the casual variety; the WiiU, due to be launched next year, is aimed very definitely towards the hardcore market.