It seems whenever certain companies release a piece of tech kit, everyone clamours to bang the ‘Apple is doomed’ drum, or at least shake the ‘Apple screwed up in not getting there first’ maracas.
Mostly, such people should keep their oddly musical pundit aspirations to themselves, but when the Amazon Fire TV arrived, I had to concede such grumblers at least had a point regarding gaming.
Amazon’s made a big deal about its little black box being more than just a means of shovelling TV and movies into your eyes, noting it also supports “blockbuster” gaming titles that start “from just 99 cents”. In a move sure to bring joy to the hearts of developers worldwide already feeling the pinch from app-store pricing, “pay less, play more” yells Amazon, while showcasing a cheap-looking controller that might well instead evoke “pay less, pain more” if you use it for very regular gaming sessions.
Nevertheless, this is an audacious living-room land-grab that leaves Apple looking rather leaden-footed. Although the Apple TV continues to evolve, it does so at a lethargic pace, only very occasionally adding the odd new channel that no-one in particular asked for, and ignoring other applications the device might be good for, such as gaming.
To outsiders, this must seem strange, especially given that important gaming pieces have been in place within Apple’s ecosystem for some time: iOS has a huge range of games, many hundreds of which are really very good indeed; and AirPlay enables any game to be slung at a TV via an Apple TV.
More recently, iOS games controllers entered the mix, providing console-like controls, rather than you sliding fingers around on glass and cursing as Sonic the Hedgehog blunders on to a spike and impales himself like the blue-furred idiot that he is.
A closer look, though, shows cracks in this line of reasoning. Existing iOS games controllers are pricey and mostly mediocre, games support is spotty, and those games that do support controllers often require the touchscreen for menus.
The Apple TV itself still lacks its own App Store, and even if it had one, developers say creating games for it would be akin to working with an entirely new system, given how radically different the interface would be from other iOS devices. Even if they did make the effort, the Apple TV has a tiny amount of on-board memory, and so is hardly suited to anyone installing high-end games; a suitable bump in storage would almost certainly be met by a hefty change in price-tag, either splitting the Apple TV line or moving a solitary offering well outside of the current impulse-purchase price-bracket.
So: the controllers aren’t much cop, developers argue it would be a ton of work to support a more games-friendly Apple TV, existing hardware can’t cope anyway, and a new Apple TV might put people off by being prohibitively expensive.
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Still, none of those problems is insurmountable; the bigger issue is probably that Apple still doesn’t seem to get gaming, nor seem to really care about it. Once, this was a boon to the platform, Apple leaving alone developers sick of platform-owner interference, but with a resurgent Sony courting developers for Vita, Microsoft fighting for the living room, and now Amazon entering the fray, it would seem that if Apple were to ever get serious about gaming, now would be the right time.
This makes me for the first time seriously reconsider that other piece of pundit madness: the idea of Apple buying Nintendo. It’s something I’ve routinely readily dismissed in the past, but Apple could now do with a like-minded games-savvy partner, with great IP and a penchant for innovation, and it certainly wouldn’t be a smart move to risk such expertise ending up in another tech giant’s hands.
I still think such a partnership is very unlikely — Nintendo’s more or less said it’d sooner implode than sell out; but a joint venture could solve Nintendo’s woes and Apple’s gaming gap, assuming either company actually cares and isn’t instead intent on going headlong into gaming’s future with blinkers on, ignoring everything going on around it, and merely hoping for the best.