Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Game, Therefore iPhone?

Ever wondered just how well the iPhone stacks up against other dedicated handhelds like Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS? How's this for tantalizing: The iPhone is theoretically even more sophisticated than Sony's PlayStation Portable, says Doom and Quake creator John Carmack, who calls it "an extremely nice platform to work with" according to the San Jose Mercury News.


Could we be looking at an iPhone version of id Software's Doom 3 somewhere in the handheld's future? id is considering porting some of its titles to the platform, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Apple recently introduced its iPhone Software Development Kit and showed off an iPhone-specific version of its upcoming cross-platform Spore, a tectonically hyped "god" game from The Sims creator Will Wright. Sega likewise demoed a copy of its popular tilt-o-matic "Super Monkey Ball" arcade game, which uses the iPhone's internal accelerometer. Everyone seems pretty excited about the iPhone's potential as a serious mobile game device.

The way the media puts it, developers are lining up left and right to catch the train. My only question is, why didn't Apple have this ready to rock and roll when the iPhone debuted last June? When the iPhone shipped with nary a game in site, I'll admit to being stunned Apple and perennial tech evangelist Steve Jobs spaced such an obvious opportunity. Sure, you can argue in hindsight that Apple planned to support mobile gaming all along, but given the towering success of mobile gaming in the U.S. market, why wait six months to a year, leaving impatient iPhone owners to scrounge on their own for workarounds?

Research firm M:Metrics estimates Americans will spend over $600 million on games for mobile phones in 2008. On the other hand, however, only 3 percent of phone owners in the U.S. download a game to their phone each month. Now figure in the development costs to create versions of games that work on all the disparate models available. Depending on its iterative longevity, i.e. how many times Apple plans to bump the iPhones specs in a given multi-year period, the iPhone could be a far more lucrative and stable island in an ocean of ephemeral and effectively forgettable phone models from mainstream manufacturers.

As speculated, the iPhone will probably do all its gaming business via iTunes, making it easy to find, track, and organize games without the odd, amateurish proprietary tools or workarounds associated with one-off cell phones.

I've never touched an iPhone. I'm not even curious in a gadgety way about Apple's super-device. It's completely redundant in terms of everything I need or would use a PDA for, personally. But if it turns into a serious -- and by serious I mean more than just "Peggle-playing" -- game platform, I may have to pick one up after all. Apple expect to have an install base of 13 million by the end of 2008. If the games are unmissable, factor in buys from non-customers like me and I don't see why the iPhone can't go screen-to-screen with the PSP, and maybe eventually even the DS.

"Compared to Apple, the other things that go on in mobile development, that's all amateur hour," adds id Software's John Carmack.

QFP, i.e. "quoted for potential," anyway.


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