iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

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iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

Super Stickman Golf 2

iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

Super Hexagon

Apple's approach to gaming admittedly led to a glut of shovelware, but the flip-side was many higher-quality games showcasing a level of creativity, innovation and experimentation not seen since the days of 8-bit machines. This happened in part because individuals and small teams could do whatever they wanted, without pressure from focus groups, 'industry norms' and publishers. 'Being in central Canada, our options were limited when pursuing a career in games development, but the iPhone changed all that. It wasn't that Apple opened a door, but it created one that simply wasn't there before,' enthuses Holowaty, who adds Noodlecake probably wouldn't exist at all if it wasn't for Apple. Additionally, a lack of traditional controls (iOS devices have multitouch and can sense positioning in space) forced developers to rethink how people interacted with games. Controls suddenly had to be intuitive, rather than mapped to controllers familiar to hardcore gamers but impenetrable to the public at large.

Small, focussed titles thrived. 'Games like Doodle Jump and Super Hexagon may not have been valued by traditionally cautious games publishers, but they found their audience on iOS,' says Ng. Importantly, they were also allowed to stay small, as Pickford explains: 'Titles succeeded that didn't make sense in the videogame world imagined by the likes of Nintendo and Activision. Angry Birds would have been padded out with a long story, cut scenes and voiceovers, a campaign mode and multiplayer, alongside the game originally envisioned, just to get concept approval. The immediacy and simplicity that made it work would have been lost.' Instead, as Southall says, Apple, 'whether accidentally or deliberately, facilitated a very creative environment that gave rise to many quirky and interesting titles that could also be commercially successful'.

Once Apple saw money rolling in, it slowly began to acknowledge games, featuring them in prime positions on the App Store. Developers are typically unimpressed with such efforts, but interactive artist Zach Gage counters: 'Every week, Apple shows off a bunch of games that appeal to large demographics and a few that push the boundaries a bit. It's not showing as many wildly experimental products as I'd like, but Apple has a good track record of understanding its audience and encouraging people to try new things, in a manner that doesn't overwhelm.'

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iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary Edition

iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

Combo Crew

Despite iOS gaming flourishing, there are arguments Apple should take a more traditional approach, offering 'standard' controllers, vetting games to keep garbage out of the App Store, and turning the Apple TV into a games console. 'People saying all that stuff don't understand how Apple works or why the company's historically been successful,' asserts Gage. He explains Apple doesn't take advantage of every revenue stream it could be in, instead 'engaging in certain areas in which it can tell a story'. For iOS, this means 'leaving your living room and laptop behind, and having a powerful experience on a device all about touch, convenience, simplicity, and accessibility'.

Targeting the 'big three' in gaming would, according to games developers, have killed Apple's prospects in the industry stone dead. 'Apple succeeded through stepping away from the traditional console space and into new territory, not going toe-to-toe with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo,' believes Ng. 'That's what Apple's done in every market it's entered, and unless there's a fundamental shift in the company's founding principles, it won't suddenly switch to a me-too approach.' Flesser agrees: 'When a company's chasing after a public by doing what is expected of it, it fails. Apple must continue to surprise with new, fun and exciting input methods rather than a 'traditional' route.'

Game Bakers creative director Emeric Thoa adds that those clamouring for Apple to be more traditional in gaming misunderstand the current state of play within the industry: 'Apple's making money because loads of people make quality content for its platform. Apple's only concern is selling more devices. It's Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft trying to get Apple's share now, not the reverse.'