What Does The Future Hold For Apple Gaming?

The latest firmware for the iPhone and iPod Touch and a new, more powerful iPhone both hit this week.

Gameloft CEO Michel Guillemot says that the two are the most significant changes to hit the still emerging gaming platform to date, but points out that Apple still has a ways to go before working out all of the kinks in iTunes gaming.

"I think these are very significant," he said. "Firmware 3.0 is really important because it opens the iPhone apps to the Internet world. It gives a lot of choice to users, the possibility to purchase levels, to contact your friends, to be open to the Internet."

For Gameloft the new firmware, due out today, means creating games that are more open, more customizable to users.

"You can purchase the levels you like, you can race in the cities you like, all of that is something that will make a sort of revolution," he said. "It is amazing what Apple is doing with 3GS, you are really reaching a kind of console power now. With this new model you will be able to create games that are perfect console games, give an experience to users that are second to none."

"For the first time gamers can choose to play on a dedicated console or choose to play on an iPhone, but have no compromise in the experience."

While Gameloft doesn't yet have plans to make games specifically for the 3GS iPhone, due out on June 19, Guillemot says that one day they likely will. Until then, Gameloft games will be scalable.

"I think the games will take advantage automatically of the new iPhone, to a certain extent. For the specific features in an iPhone 3Gs we will have to wait a bit. It's a little early to give you exactly which games will have what. "

While the new firmware brings with it plenty of new game-centric features and the iPhone 3GS is more capable of handling games, there are still plenty of kinks to work out in the App Store.

Prices range from free to $10 and developers regularly complain that their titles get lost in the constant stream of games adding daily to the more than 50,000 apps in the store.

Some have pointed to Gameloft as a culprit in the pricing problems on the system. Several of their games hit the store for $10, much higher than the typical iPhone price. Guillemot defended their pricing model, saying that games on the device should sell for $5 to $10.

"We feel at that price there is still a lot of value for consumers," he said. "It is the right price point in terms of value for money."

But pricing and visibility are a constant source of concern even for big developers like Gameloft.

"There are two trends right now in the App Store," he said. "One is to say we should remain in what is the logical price for a game of that quality on a device of that quality. But there is an attraction in saying that you can reach millions of people, so price isn't important.

"I think the App Store is something that has never been done before. It's a new experiment for everyone including Apple and developers. I think everyone is adapting in real time to what this eco system is."

"Gameloft is looking at all of this as well and adapting also when we can."

Pricing, though, will become less of a concern with the iPhone's latest firmware, Guillemot thinks. That's because more games will likely rely on the ability to sell content within their title to make money.

"It will open a completely new way of monetizing games," he said.

While visibility is a struggle for everyone in the increasingly crowded App Store, Guillemot has faith in Apple solving the problem and doing so without needing to create a stand alone store for games.

"I think everyone is surprised by the level of success of the App Store, getting from zero to 50,000 apps in one year is a challenge for everyone," he said. "It's a challenge for everyone to get visible when you have that many appsl, but I think Apple is working regularly to fine tune the store so the best games get the best visibility."

Guillemot doesn't want a gaming store because he thinks the open nature of the App Store is one of its greatest strengths.

"The logic of it is to be wide-open like the Internet, but to also be promoting people who make a premium experience for users," he said. "If they were to create a specific App Store for games we may lose the Internet effect of it, the openness of what the App Store has today.

"It's a delicate balance to handle," he said. "To keep the richness of apps and to still promote or put forward the apps that are really bringing a significant value or experience to users."

While Gameloft and other developers struggle with the issues inherent in a blossoming gaming platform, there is one thing that most will agree on. The iPhone and iPod Touch, with more than 40 million users, is a viable and very real platform for gaming.

"It is a real gaming device," he said. "It may have even grown the market, instead of cannibalizing it."