There’s an article over at RedHerring which argues that the hype surrounding the iPhone and iPod Touch as gaming devices is just that, hype.
The article points out that while the gaming experience on the iPhone is superior compared to that of other smartphones, it still lags way behind the gaming capabilities of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. This is admittedly true, but this argument ignores the larger picture. Namely, the iPhone doesn’t need to compete directly with the DS or PSP in order to be a successful gaming platform.
The iPhone is a button-less device, and is therefore at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to playing a number of games. So in that regard, the article is spot on when it quotes a research director at Gartner who said:
“Certainly the gaming experience on the iPhone is superior to what you get from an average mobile device, however, I think that people who are buying a DS or PSP will continue to do so.”
But this misses the point entirely. What makes the iPhone as a gaming platform so exciting isn’t that it’s going to compete with Sony and Nintendo for the hardcore gamers, but rather that it appears to be opening up an entirely new market of gaming by appealing to the casual gamer. An analogous example would be that of the Wii compared to the Xbox 360 and Sony PS3. Hardcore gamers are always going to choose the Xbox and PS3 over the Wii, but what’s made the Wii so successful is that it’s been able to appeal to a somewhat untapped demographic via its unique gameplay. People who rarely played video games in the past were lining up to buy the Wii. The Wii essentially made video games more accessible to the masses by making it more user-friendly. The iPhone seems to be going down the same path. There have already been over 200 million downloaded applications from the iTunes app store, and there’s no sign that things will be letting up anytime soon. People who would never dream of buying a DS or PSP are downloading iPhone games by the MILLIONS, and though they might not be intense RPG’s, they’re cheap, fun, and downright addicting.
And just like the Wii, the unique feature set of the iPhone allows developers to get more creative when developing games for the platform. So while the iPhone might not be the device of choice for serious shoot-em-ups, it’s important to remember that there will also be a slew of games on the iPhone that won’t be suitable for the DS or PSP. The iPhone has an acceleromator, a multi-touch screen, GPS functionality, and Wi-Fi capabilities, and developers have just scratched the surface when it comes to incorporating those features into games.
Also, the iPhone is a lot bigger than just games. Sure, over 25% of downloaded applications are games, but that still leaves a huge 75% that’s devoted to a wide variety of other applications. In that regard, comparisons to the DS and PSP are misguided as the iPhone is not simply a gaming device, but rather a device that can be any sort of device you want it to be depending on what applications you download. It can be a gaming device. A music device. A learning device. A movie device. And the list can go on and on.
It’s also important to remember that the iPhone SDK hasn’t even been around for a year, and that the applications are just going to get better and better as the platform continues to attract talented developers. And with major game publishers such as EA and Sega devoting a lot of resources towards iPhone development, the difference in quality between iPhone games and console games will inevitably get smaller and smaller.
Hardcore fans of the DS and PSP won’t be picking up an iPhone anytime soon, but that’s irrelevant. What’s important is that people who have no interest in serious gaming will be picking up an iPhone or iPod Touch.