Apple needs Gaming as much as Gaming needs Apple. The games business at Apple currently is, as Steve Jobs said about the Apple TV, a "hobby". Tim Cook agrees – you guys aren't changing the world with this one. But you sure can! Steve Jobs famously said Apple strives to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts – it is therefore Apple's responsibility to contribute to the rise of video games in society as they too, are at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.
Now that you've successfully stumbled into the games business with the app store, know that this was never a coincidence. It's time to stop playing the amateur.
Millions upon millions of happy Apple customers are enjoying their first game experiences on their iPhones and iPads and you point them to Game Center? That app is an embarrassment in the games community. There is a distinct absence of passion for games in Cupertino, CA. Apple is known for quality, but you are doing games a disservice by letting this half-assed attempt slide by. There have been too many times where Apple and Gaming crossed paths – most notably and successfully, the Apple II in the late 70s. The most notable failure was the Pippin, but let's forget about that – it was mid-90s Apple. Enough said.
I blame the Pippin for introducing a laissez-faire approach to gaming in Apple for more than 10 years and ceding the gaming market to Windows. This brings up the argument of closed versus open systems, but that's just a matter of strengths and weaknesses regarding curation. Maybe Steve Jobs wasn't a huge gamer, but he certainly believed in the power of the video game medium as far back as 1990, specifically for education, a market which Apple is currently trying to revolutionize.
According to Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, Steve finally "cracked" how to make an Apple TV set. I hope that games are a part of this supposed vision because guess what? The Other Guys are ahead. Microsoft has been using the Xbox to run the living room screen for more than a decade after negotiations with Sony for providing the PS2 operating system got ugly. I wouldn't say Sony is over it yet, but thanks to Kinect it's finally paying off for Microsoft, especially when they start integrating it with Windows. Sony is currently being restructured by its new CEO, Kazuo Hirai, who just happens to be the ex-Playstation chief. Sony wants to reinvent TV too, but they also have a not-so-secret weapon: the Playstation brand. With Hirai openly thinking of using Playstation software to run phones and tablets, you better believe it's going to be in their TV. Nintendo also plans on building their own app ecosystem with details pending at this year's E3, but if you know anything about the games industry you'd know to never underestimate Nintendo. With Google's commitment to Google TV, you bet game publishers will love the flexibility of Android if Google scores big.
This isn't just a race to see who can build the best game platform. This is a new chapter in consumer electronics and the war is being fought in the living room. I'm sure you're well aware of this war, but do I need to spell it out again? Apple. Needs. Gaming. And not your current half-assed attempt. I wish I had the chance to play a video game with Steve Jobs so he could walk out with the same enthusiasm I have for the artform and inject it into Apple.
So how can we improve this? It just so happens that the video game industry needs a complete restructuring. Apple's good at that! Some are saying that the next round of consoles will be the last and I agree – smartphones and tablets will eventually be so powerful that consoles will be deemed unnecessary. Can you see that? The stars are aligning. Let's start with your Airplay technology (below). Since any media can be streamed from any Apple device to any TV using this technology, this means iOS games can go from the small screen to the big screen. Especially with Game Center.
One problem with this: Where are the controllers? You have 2 options which are not mutually exclusive: Since Apple is religiously against buttons, I won't ask that you make a controller (yet) – but let other companies make Airplay-compatible controllers. Keep in mind that establishing standards is a good thing, and sell them at Apple stores. The market will go nuts. No big commitment yet and you're already raking in that massive 30% app revenue cut (more on that later) with high-end technology consumers who want high-end games walking in your stores. That's a lot of cash. I genuinely don't see Apple giving up control of their user experience, but you'd have even more cash if we think different and make your own standard controller. With buttons. See what I did there?
The second – and highly more likely – option would be to leapfrog over traditional controls and offer a Kinect-like interface through your mythical Apple TV set. Microsoft plans on licensing their Kinect technology to TV manufacturers, which already sets them up to license Windows as well. The urgency for Apple to compete in games is at this point getting redundant. You already solved half of the puzzle: Siri. The best-in-class voice software would have to be matched by a best-in-class motion software. I know you passed on Kinect, but hey, you own an eerily similar patent anyway. Gotta love the US patent system! With augmented reality on the horizon and virtual reality attainable in our future – these are our building blocks.
So what about that huge head start Microsoft and Sony have in the living room? Suddenly, it's gone. We don't need consoles anymore, remember? Just software. Microsoft and Sony's deep relationships with retailers like Best Buy and GameStop? Who cares. We buy our media digitally now, most of it from iTunes where over 200 million credit cards are stored – more than Xbox Live, PSN, and Steam combined. Best Buy? Every time I hear "Best Buy" a laughtrack plays in my head. And let's be honest: you hate dealing with other retailers. But Microsoft and Sony still have very deep and critical publisher and developer relationships – this is where you can change the game and undo all your half-assery. This is where we need commitment.
$60 retail game? Let's say goodbye to that. If Xbox Live, PSN, Steam, iOS, Android and the entire indie game scene have anything to show, it's that the $60 game shouldn't be a standard. How in the world are we supposed to expand the gaming audience when a new video game costs $60? Compared to a $15 CD, $12.50 movie ticket, or a $40 TV Season, that's ridiculous! High costs deter both consumers and producers and we must bring these high costs down.
The Other Guys helped bring these walls down with sophisticated online software, but Apple is on the verge of completely tearing it down. You have the free or ad-supported app and the $0.99 app all the way to $1000. Put that on the TV screen and it's magic! Nintendo argues that the $1 game is hurting the industry, but I agree with Tricia Duryee of All Things D, God of War and Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe, and Trip Hawkins of EA that Nintendo is fundamentally wrong. This is where we can get creative.
I completely agree with TJ Galda of EA who at DICE 2012 said we need to look towards TV as a framework. TV builds an audience overtime. Episodic gaming is better for everyone: A developer can release a game for $10 and keep creating content or release a traditional stand-alone game for whichever app price best suits his or her game. This is great for independent developers, but also gives AAA developers a lot more flexibility and room to take risks. A top-tier studio can release their game in episodes because god knows games already have too many sequels. Instead of spending $240 and setting aside 100+ hours to start the Assassin's Creed series, one can play it in episodes. It's more convenient and less of an immediate commitment, which would drive more consumers to trial games. Or game developers can release their full game and produce a traditional sequel/trilogy using the flexible app store prices. A subscription service is possible too – the infrastructure for that already exists.
Apple should also make the ‘free to play' game a standard. Remember that $60 game? What if it started out as free, and you just paid later to get the rest of the game or its episodes? If the first ‘episode' or ‘level' in a game was always free, consumers would love you and and try more games! You already do this on a tiny screen with mobile games. And consumers already play free promotional demos of games on Xbox Live, Playstation Network, and WiiWare – the difference here is that the demo is actually the game, where you've opened a future revenue stream for both Apple and its developers at $0 in the largest digital media mall in the world. Kind of cool, huh? Everyone wins.
More from Alfredo Gil
• Geometry Wars: A New Era in Video Games "The game industry experienced explosive growth due to the new ‘casual' gaming audience and it will be interesting to see how these trends will influence the next generation of consoles. Personally, I hope a bridge is drawn between ‘casual' and ‘hardcore' gamers."
• On Fanboys "There's nothing wrong with being a fanboy. In our consumerist culture, we cling to brands we connect with."
There is a stigma among consumers that games under $60 are not up to par and Epic Games' design director Cliff Bleszinski went as far as to say that "the middle-class game is dead." This system eradicates this dangerous trend. Starting every game for free and making every ‘episode' or ‘level' a standard $5 or $10 (depending on length of game) will hook the many people who are weary of that $60 sticker price or think a $40 game isn't worth the investment. Having the near-ubiquitous audience of the iTunes store more than offsets the revenue from a drop in a game's price.
Gaming needs to expand, it needs to be more convenient, and it needs to be on the consumer's time. You're going to get a lot of shit for doing it this way, but developers will love you and publishers will envy you. Sound familiar? And you're Apple, so you're going to get a lot of shit regardless.
Maybe you're 10 steps ahead of me and will be revealing a new Game Center and game distribution platform – that would be awesome! If not, please take my advice and figure your shit out. Or, I don't know, hire me? I'd love to help out and infuse my passion for games at Apple. I'm graduating from Emerson College with a Marketing Communications degree this May and I'll have more than enough time on my hands. We haven't even gotten into things like game curation, online gaming, iCloud, software development tools…you get the picture.
Oh, and if any managers from all the other game companies I contacted are reading – you know my phone number too! Best Buy and GameStop?…sorry.