If this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was any indication, major developers are beginning to see iOS as a serious gaming platform. Apple’s appearance signified their desire to turn the casual gaming market into a full-blown industry. There’s some serious money to be made in the Games section of the App Store, and every shop from one-man development houses to software giants are trying to cash in on this booming segment.
Remember the girl who racked up $1,400 worth of charges playing a Smurfs game on a her mom’s iPhone? She did it with microtransactions; in-game purchases that directly charge a user’s credit card. This is an extreme example, but it goes to show the power of in-app purchases. So called “freemium” games like the Plants vs. Zombies 2, which cost nothing to download but charge for perks as you play, quadrupled their revenue in 2012.
Standard premium games can even make some residual cash with microtransactions. Deus Ex: The Fall, another title shown at E3, costs a rather pricey $6.99 to start, then gives players the option to purchase items to improve their character once the game begins. Unlike Plants vs. Zombies 2, Deus Ex isn’t prohibitively difficult. That $6.99 can get you through the entire game without purchasing enhancements. Plants vs. Zombies 2, on the other hand, has been catching some flack for making the game impossible to beat unless you make in-game purchases. If developers mislead their users into microtransactions, they better be prepared for the backlash.
If there’s one thing Apple has mastered, it’s making Apple stuff work really well with other Apple stuff. Its proprietary streaming service, AirPlay, lets iPhone and iPad users play games on any screen as long as they have an Apple TV or a computer running iTunes.
There are already plenty of AirPlay ready games to whet the appetite of avid gamers. Take the first-person shooter, Modern Combat 3, for example. This not-so-subtle adaptation of the Modern Warfare series offers console-quality graphics with the portability of a Playstation Vita. But when mirrored with AirPlay on a big-screen TV, your iPhone or iPad goes from a handheld gaming device to a touchscreen controller for a larger-than-life war simulation.
First-person shooters are only the half of it. Apple is taking a page out of the Wii’s playbook by bringing the intuitive interface of the iPad to family game night. SketchParty TV, one of the most popular family-friendly games, brings the collaborative fun of Pictionary to your living room TV by turning your iPad into a mirrored drawing pad. The best part is, you won’t have to worry about the drawer’s hand obscuring your vision. Every stroke on the tablet is seamlessly transmitted to the television for all to see.
This widespread connectivity and playability lends even more credence to the idea of iOS devices cutting into Playstation, XBox and Nintendo’s market share. With franchises like EA Sport’s FIFA series getting mobile announcements at E3, not to mention rumors of an Apple gaming console gaining traction, it’s a great time for TV-friendly titles to make some bank.
Gameloft, a company built entirely around mobile titles, uses ads extensively in its App Store offerings. Its popular Brothers in Arms series, which received substantial E3 coverage, features advertisements for their own games, other companies’ games, purchasable items from within the game, and even third-party products. The trick to in-game ads is making sure they don’t impede on the actual gameplay. Like most free games, Brothers in Arms serves up their ads during convenient lulls once checkpoints have been reached.
A recent patent filed by Sony would suggest they’ve lost sight of this cardinal rule. Although the exact plans for the patented technology are still unclear, the abstract does mention the ability to temporarily suspend play in order to serve the user an advertisement. It’s one thing to deliver ads after a player has completed a stage, but interrupting a gamer mid-level to sell them something is guaranteed to ruffle some feathers.
If any company knows how to turn an existing tech sector on its ear, it’s Apple. The App Store’s presence at E3 indicates gaming is next on that list. For other developers, it’s clearly time to respect iOS as a gaming platform. Nobody wants to look like one of those guys who said the iPhone would crash and burn.