Cult of Mac: the iPod Touch is not a serious gaming platform

We sometimes argue in the BBG editor's chatroom about whether the iPhone / iPod Touch can really make any headway against the DS or PSP as a gaming platform. Ultimately, we all agree that it's not really a gaming device that can compete with a dedicated handheld — although Joel is much more optimistic about it than the rest of us — but that's not to say it can't have excellent, innovative games on it. But now Apple is positioning the iPod Touch as exactly that: a mobile game platform. Steve Jobs described it during the "Let's Rock" event as "the best portable device for playing games." Uh, no. Hell, even Cult of Mac is skeptical: they've just posted a great breakdown of all the reasons why an iPod Touch is nothing of the sort.
The Nintendo DS was designed as a gaming device, and despite Sony’s ‘media player’ rhetoric, so was the PSP. iPod touch was designed as a media player (or, you could argue, as a smartphone, with the phone bit subsequently being wrenched out). Apple is usually very focussed, designing devices and software for specific purposes, but this isn’t one of those occasions. It’s unlikely a device not designed for games can ever become a truly major gaming platform.
That's open to quibbling, of course: the iPhone and iPod Touch will certainly have excellent games and people will use them to wile away millions of hours on gaming. That is success of a type. But it's an excellent point in its way: gaming will always be an afterthought on an iPhone, something to be done only when it isn't being used for its primary purpose. That's going to limit most games to the truly casual variety. No one will ever look at their iPod Touch as competition to the Nintendo DS: no matter what Jobs says, it isn't playing in the same space. Why The iPod Touch Will Never Be A Major Gaming Platform [Cult of Mac]
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18 Responses to Cult of Mac: the iPod Touch is not a serious gaming platform

  1. Todd Sieling says:

    If the Touch platform delivers games that people like, will pay for, talk about, and most of all play the hell out of, how is it not a serious gaming platform?

    The kinds of games that each platform is best suited for will vary, but Touch devices are easy to program, offer a very flexible interface framework, and a robust distribution channel. Even if the side by side specs with DS/PSP devices don’t seem impressive, the combination makes Touch devices a serious contender to me.

  2. musicalwoods says:

    For the iPod Touch to be a true gaming platform, I think Apple would have to release a peripheral with buttons and a D-pad/joystick.

  3. Andy Wilton says:

    Ferry @ 5:
    Basically I wouldn’t really buy a game system that is pretty much locked out of certain genres of games entirely.

    On that basis, I don’t think you can buy any handheld game system. Consider:

    NDS: no analog stick, so broadly unsuitable for anything requiring finesse in controls – driving games, combat flight simulators etc.

    PSP: no touchscreen, so hopeless for conventional (C&C-style) RTSs.

    GBA: both of the above – disastrously constrained!

    Any system’s going to have to make some compromises if it’s supposed to fit in your pocket, so IMO it makes more sense to consider what a given system can do, not what it can’t. Clearly the iPod Touch is well suited to play-in-browser-style puzzle games, driving and flying games, and should be able to handle a decent RTS. And these are all pre-existing game types: consider what’s likely to happen once people start experimenting with multi-touch and accelerometers.

    At E3 in 2004 when the first NDSs were on show, a lot of industry people were asking whether Nintendo were making a serious mistake bringing out such a weird system. Two screens? One of them a touch screen? What kind of games would benefit from that? In the event, people experimented, came up with some brand new kinds of games, re-imagined existing kinds, and now it’s got a far broader range of titles than PSP or GBA ever managed.

    The iPod Touch has a much lower barrier to entry than NDS both for development and distribution. With no carts to manufacture, a bold, idea-led game could easily cost ten times less to bring to market. That’s going to encourage a lot of innovation.

  4. Dr Tran says:

    No Mario, No Pikachu, No interest.

  5. jonathanpeterson says:

    I don’t think people are going to buy an ipod touch as a portable gaming platform – but plenty of people said the Wii couldn’t compete with the Xbox and PS3 because it didn’t have a traditional dpad controller.

  6. Doomstalk says:

    #9: I’ll buy into the iPhone as a gaming platform when the words “precise” and “responsive” are used to describe the touch screen. I mean, I get frustrated sometimes trying to accurately tap the tiles in Mahjong for Christ’s sake.

  7. OLAF9000 says:

    jbang i agree with you on the market canabilization part were the ipod touch to recieve a gps and bluetooth headset capability, but unfortunately its what the people want. not only that remeber famously that for a product to succed in a market place in this case an mp3 player with x-features cannot be a fully featured device that also happens to play mp3s. in reality this is how apple marketed the ipod touch as a media device and not a run of the mill do anything gadget, remember the sony mp3/video enabled palmtops with palm os? theres a reason they dont exist anymore and it had to do with marketing and high price points for their entry level palmtops. with the ipod touch it truly is a portable computing powerhouse capable of so much more, but apple runs the risk of touting it as such because people expectations would go up and failure to meet those expectations with limited killer apps for this platform would mean doom for the ipod touch. if you dont believe what im saying about this the proof is that apples stock plunged 4% after their new apple lineup for failure to meet expectations to deliver new capabilities to their exisiting ipod touch and for failure to introduce a tablet pc. jhon devorak explains this nicely in his columns though…

  8. jbang says:

    OLAF: That seems a bit too pre-emptive.

    The reboot of the iPod classic interface came about half a decade after the original. In those 5 years we saw a slightly evolved touchwheel (that lost buttons, not gained them) and a colour screen. Photos and videos were also added, but that’s about it.

    The iPod will not have GPS until the iPhone has evolved a greater feature set. It’s a business decision not to cannibalise sales of a higher tiered product.

    And remember… it is a Media Player. And even if you want to call it a gaming platform things like Bluetooth and GPS are sort of irrelevant to it’s success. People looking for those features are generally looking for a phone. And in that case it seems stupid to chastise Apple for neglecting a market it essentially helped create.

  9. dculberson says:

    Andy, excellent and informative comment. Thanks.

  10. Zarniwoop says:

    “And these are all pre-existing game types: consider what’s likely to happen once people start experimenting with multi-touch and accelerometers.”

    Nothing, probably. I wish people would stop acting as if accelerometers are something new. Even Stephen Fry fell for that one in his Guardian column. They’re not. New game types haven’t sprung up as a result of the one in the Wii, and they won’t here either. The DS has a touchscreen, so all you’d be doing in making a multi-touch based game is just a slightly more advanced game type of something which already exists.

    I think the iphone/touch is too constrained a platform for games to really take off on it. Whilst CoM is wrong to say that devices not designed with games in mind can become serious gaming platforms (look at the PC), the lack of any physical buttons is really going to limit apples mobile standard. It’s not even as if Apple’s welcoming the GBA and NES emulators with open arms, either.

  11. Ferry says:

    Lack of any real buttons does seem to kill it for a large chunk of game types. Even the wii in most instances relies not only on motion input but button presses as well to play a game. I cant imagine playing games that require quick multiple input sources on a touch screen.

    Not to say that there aren’t things that the touch cant do well; I could easily see it running something like puzzlequest, which is a killer game.

    Basically I wouldn’t really buy a game system that is pretty much locked out of certain genres of games entirely. I’d buy it as a media player that can do some games, but gamers aren’t really going to be flocking to it unless they are the most casual of gamers.

  12. edgore says:

    “plenty of people said the Wii couldn’t compete with the Xbox and PS3 because it didn’t have a traditional dpad controller.”

    The Wii does have a traditional dpad controller – probably the most traditional one in the current generation. What it lacks are analog sticks.

  13. Baratacus says:

    If it has a headphone jack, it has blue-tooth capability. A blue-tooth transceiver is the size of a compact flash card and plugs into any standard headphone jack.

    If you need a D-pad, a game requiring one can integrate it into the GUI on screen. (multi touch screen… hello?) If you need the physical buttons to press, an plastic overlay for the screen with molded buttons would be something you could build at home or probably purchase for 5 bucks on ebay. Not only is it capable of having touch screen pads, it has the ability to have analog control.

    The ipod Touch may not be full featured right now, but it has the foundation for limitless expansion. Apple doesn’t need to develop them because they can sell the development licenses and collect royalties for a zero risk zero overhead. Why do you think they put a dock port on it in the first place? when a USB port would have been more than adequate for its current out of the box aplications?
    its only a mater of time before the third party distributors have contracts with apple for building input devices such as cameras, game pads, and yes, GPS receivers.

    You have google maps with a wifi position start locater built in for a cheap mapping solution. If you need true GPS with street by street updates, you may eventually be able to plug a $40 GPS receiver into your display. Text to speech will give you voice prompts for those that complain about having to read the display as they drive.

    Apple may have plans for putting out their own peripheral stuff, but in the past, that’s not the way they’ve rolled.

    As was said earlier, multi touch screens and accelerometers are nothing new. If apple doesn’t open up the iTouch for development or start releasing their own add-ons, its only a matter of time before someone else builds a multitouch wifi enabled device with open source.

  14. Not a Doktor says:

    I’m sure this will end up like cellphone games; everyone has bought one with high hopes, and yet never played for more than 5 hours

  15. Frogbeater says:

    I will point out that I have an iPhone and I have purchased Nintendo handhelds.

    With the casual gaming available on the iPhone (even at this early point in the developer communities life) I can say with a level of confidence that I won’t be buying a Nintendo handheld in the foreseeable future.

    I always used my gameboy/ds for rare moments of distraction, and the games on my iPhone certainly fulfill this requirement.

    I don’t imagine that my 10 year old nephew is going to be interested in iPhone gaming, but 30-somethings might find their iPhone/Touch a suitable replacement.

  16. OLAF9000 says:

    anyone who has seen the specs for the ipod touch knows its more powerfull than a psp, unfortunately the lack of a D+pad+button/case add-on from apple or a third party makes REAL games a no-go for this ipod. if apple is trully serious about games this thing needs a game controller thats built into ac a case kinda of like th old sony erricson phone which had the bottom detachable gamepad for its fone. just a small suggestion for apple :( also the ipod 2.0 is the beginning of the end for apple, no gps, no improved user interface a-la vintage ipod classic virtual scroll wheel, no blue tooth, no Hard drive discmode capability makes it a has been, could of been contender…

  17. Mista Spakuru says:

    As somebody who has both an iPhone and a DS, I have to say that the iPhone has already made it to the level of play that I require. Waiting room entertainment, essentially.

    I never liked the weak graphics on DS games, so I end up either playing the time wasters like Snood or Brain Academy, or the Super Mario series. I think if the option to have controls, i.e., directional pad, A&B buttons, on the iPhone/iTouch was there, it’d be just as good as a DS.

    Even this early on, the iPhone has some decent time wasters: Tris, Hanoi, Cube Runner, Tap Tap, etc. Plus, they’re free. Tris is great, but I think they had to pull it. The official Tetris for iPhone sucks in comparison.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, casual gaming is by far the biggest market, and the device is fine for playing casual games. The thing to understand about iphone/ipod touch gaming is that the App store changes everything for casual games.

    It is ridiculously inconvenient to buy games for the average phone, and if a process of purchase is even the tiniest bit inconvenient, a casual gamer won’t do it. On the iphone you have

    – free ubiquitous internet
    – instantaneous one-tap purchase
    – automatic installation
    – guaranteed compatibility

    The app store is set to crack the casual gaming market wide open. Casual gamers will not buy a DS or PSP, but they will buy a game.

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