The iTunes App Store, fueled by the popularity of gaming applications, continues to grow at an astounding rate. Though Apple has never taken gaming too seriously, it did a complete 180 once it noticed how well they were selling on iTunes. In fact, the iPod Touch is now advertised more as a gaming device than it is for its ability to play music and movies. Now that Apple has ‘gaming’ in its sights, arguably for the first time in its history, could a dedicated gaming device with a D-pad and buttons be next? Given some recent developments, it might not be as crazy as you think.
Last week, a rumor went around suggesting that Apple is planning to introduce a section for premium games on the iTunes App Store, with titles priced at $19.99 and above. While raising the price of applications might seem counter-intuitive, a premium section for more expensive applications might be the bait Apple is using to convince major publishers to devote the resources necessary to develop games that can rival the depth of titles available for the Nintendo DS and the PSP.
While a premium section on the app store would help highlight some of the more advanced games available, and also provide publishers with a strong incentive to churn out more console style games, that won’t be enough to transform the iPhone and iPod touch into complete and well-rounded gaming platforms. The iPhone and iPod Touch are great for casual gaming, but they weren’t designed with serious gaming in mind. In reality, they’re multimedia devices that also happen to play games, and developers have found a number of innovative ways to use the touchscreen and accelerometer to create a very enjoyable gaming experience. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a device with no physical buttons will always be lacking when it comes to hardcore and advanced gaming, no matter how creative developers get. There’s no way of getting around the fact that certain types of games just work better, and are more enjoyable, with a D-pad and physical buttons. It’s therefore hard to envision iPhone and iPod Touch users buying $20 games precisely because its hard to envision a game that will give you 20 dollars worth of enjoyment solely with a touchscreen.
Now, consider a dedicated gaming device with physical buttons, accompanied by an accelerometer and multitouch controls – suddenly the possibilities for innovative games branch out in a number of interesting directions, and the potential for titles that are actually worth 20 bucks becomes a reality. I mean, people already pay more than 20 bucks for games on the DS and PSP – and add to the mix the simplicity of delivering software to users via iTunes, and a 20 dollar premium section on the iTunes App Store starts to make a whole lot more sense.
As the app store currently stands, cheap applications remain the top sellers, and any titles priced over 5 or 6 dollars aren’t likely to become bestsellers anytime soon. There’s no reason to think that a $20 premium section on iTunes, no matter how prominently displayed, will sway users to fork over extra cash. Even extremely polished and widely praised games such as Rolando sell for less than 10 bucks. If the rumors of a premium section on iTunes are true, then Apple will have to offer users a more complete gaming experience, and a dedicated gaming device with a D-pad and physical buttons fits the bill
When Apple goes after a market, it makes no compromises in providing consumers with the best user experience possible, and if Apple is genuinely going to pursue the ‘gaming’ angle, the iPod Touch won’t be where Apple ends, but rather where it begins. A dedicated, designed from the bottom-up, gaming device might just be the trick Apple has up its sleeve. Otherwise, a $20 premium section for games on iTunes seems like an idea doomed from the start.
Some have raised the possibility of Apple-branded add-ons that could provide users with a better gaming experience, and there are already some cool 3rd party add-ons currently in development for that exact purpose. But why sell add-ons when you could sell a new device entirely?
Apple has never been that keen on gaming, so an Apple branded gaming device might admittedly sound off the wall. Then again, Apple coming out with a phone would have sounded just as preposterous a few years ago.