The AppleTV As Dominant Game Platform?

Part of the Apple announcement included a demonstration of gameplay. People expected this to be part of the package, and there has been a lot of talk about the AppleTV vs. the consoles like PS4 and XBox. An article such as this is typical, as as some of the comments that follow in them, but in some ways most of those defending consoles are missing the point, or making assumptions about the future.

Controllers

The new AppleTV will come with a very simple controller that features a touch interface (basically, a really tiny Force Touch trackpad), plus 4 buttons. The buttons include one to access Siri, one “menu” button that is a way to go back to some presumably obvious state, and volume up/down buttons. The controller also has motion sensing so you can wave it about and have apps react to the motion.

Most commenters are assuming that this is the only controller Apple will make for it. Right now, out of the box, the AppleTV will come with this one, simple remote because that’s part of what Apple does. They will want you to buy any future custom remotes they make, and pay a premium for them. Expect there to be 3rd-party remotes in the near future. Unlike using Classic Bluetooth on iDevices (which require you join the Made for iPod program), the AppleTV uses Bluetooth 4.0, so basically anyone can make a remote (and those can also work with iPhone and iPad as well, given the universal approach to app development).

So just because there isn’t a hardcore game-oriented remote available now doesn’t mean Apple won’t create one in the future. I expect it will come if it turns out that gaming becomes a bigger thing on the AppleTV. But how that unfolds may not be as people expect.

Casual Gamers

When people first saw the Nintendo Wii, hardcore gamers dismissed it. The games were low-definition, and play was focused on simple mechanics for simple games. And the Wii, briefly, outsold the PS3 and XBox 360. It didn’t last long, but it allowed Nintendo to build up a user base to sell high-margin games to, in a market that isn’t as demanding. That market is the casual gamer. These are people who will play a game for an hour or so to kill some time. They want simple and fun on a machine that didn’t cost a lot of money.

The AppleTV may fill a similar role. These are games that don’t require controllers with a plethora of buttons, switches and triggers. Sure, you probably won’t be playing the next Assassin’s Creed or Halo on an AppleTV. But those aren’t games that casual gamers want anyways.

Trying to “defend” consoles against the AppleTV implies that these people see the AppleTV as a threat, or assume that Apple wants to position the device against consoles. One shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of the AppleTV. The other assumes Apple is naive enough to think that the hardware in the AppleTV is up to the job. A dual-layer Blu-ray (like that used in the PS4) holds 50GB of data. The upper-level AppleTV has 64GB of storage. There is barely room on the device for a single copy of an Elder Scrolls game. Clearly, this is a device not intended for this type of gaming.

Independent Gamers

Where the AppleTV is a “threat” is the independent game market. Making a game for a Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo platform comes with some barriers (although, to their credit, all 3 are trying to make it easier). You need to join their developer programs, use their tools, and generally work through their distribution systems.

Apple is similar, in that you have to join their developer program. But their program is $99/year, not the one-time $2500 that Sony charges for their kit (Microsoft apparently charges $500 for their toolset). Apple’s program gets you development tools, access to their developer chat and on-line support tools, as well as access to beta software. But joining the Apple program also means you can publish your games on iOS and OS X devices. Sony doesn’t offer anything but Playstation, and being a Windows developer means additional costs.

Putting your game on AppleTV can also allow you to put it on iPhone, iPad and Mac. Games already on Apple platforms can now add AppleTV as a target. This could give the AppleTV a library of hundreds of thousands of games in very short order.

But is any of this a threat to the PS4, XBox, etc? Not at all. In fact, what it can do is act as a launch platform for game developers. They can get started in the Apple world, and if they see success, include Sony, Microsoft and others in the future. It lowers the barrier a bit by giving indie game studios access to one of the biggest app-buying communities out there.

Stop Comparing Them

The AppleTV is not a competitor to high-end dedicated game consoles. That isn’t the point of the thing. People need to stop comparing the AppleTV to the Playstation and XBox, because they are different animals. Just because they sit in the living room or home theatre, and connect to a TV, doesn’t make them competitors. My 8-year old Honda Accord has 4 wheels and an engine. It doesn’t mean it is a competitor to a Ferrari 488.

The closest console competitor is the now-moribund Nintendo Wii. It could potentially be seen as a competitor to the Ouya, but even that is a stretch. Any gaming on the AppleTV will be, for the most part, more casually-oriented. Apple isn’t fooling themselves into thinking they can take on the PS4 or XBox One with this thing.

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