Since Apple’s announcement last week of the new Apple TV and tvOS, there has been a lot of discussion of the role that Apple TV will play within the gaming industry. In this post I will discuss the potential of Apple TV for casual gamers.
As someone who doesn’t own neither a TV nor a gaming system and consumes media through smart devices or a computer, you wouldn’t initially expect that I’d be taking such an interest in the product’s potential. But as we learned from the keynote, Apple TV, which is built upon iOS and runs on existing hardware developed for older iPhones and iPads, will feature its own App Store.
This is massive.
Firstly, any application created for iOS can be easily ported to tvOS. This is exemplified below in which Ray Wenderlich ported Zombie Conga from iOS Games by Tutorials to tvOS in less than 10 minutes, apparently without even having to change any code.
Secondly, Apple is explicitly marketing Apple TV, along with its media capabilities, as a gaming device. “The future of TV is apps” according to Cook, and from a quick look at the product’s landing page or tvOS developer’s page, or the amount of time dedicated to gaming at last week’s keynote, it is clear that gaming is at the forefront of what apps Apple envisages for Apple TV.
Thirdly, mobile gaming is here to stay. Presently gaming represents about 40% of App Store downloads and 75% of its revenue. Since the launch of the App Store in 2008, mobile gaming has developed an interesting shift in gaming stereotypes in which female gamers aged 18+ now doubly outnumber the number of male teenagers under 18 (ESA Essential Facts 2015).
On launching in 2006, the Wii shook up the gaming industry in which casual gamers, or those completely new to the field, were drawn to the innovative control system (the wiimote) and fun titles like Wiisport. Throughout the last six years Sony and Nintendo’s dominance of the mobile gaming market has been replaced by Android and iOS. Compared to previous mobile games which (generally) created a smaller-world experience of a existing console title, present mobile games are cheap (less than a dollar) and tailored to fit within a person’s hectic schedule by offering an experience that can be squeezed into a few minutes.
Okay so Apple TV can be used for gaming but don’t such devices already exists?
The microconsole market exploded in 2012 when the Android-powered Ouya launched a kickstarter financing campaign that was financed overnight, becoming the fastest product to reach over a million dollars. Since then Amazon have launched the Fire TV, Google the Nexus Player, Sony the Playstation TV, and this November Value will launch the long awaited Steam Machine.
For the casual gamer, the benefit of a Nexus Player or Apple TV over a dedicated microconsole is that they are more than a gaming console. After initial overwhelming public support for Ouya, the company was sold this July due to unmanageable debts. Many Apple TV purchasers will primarily be concerned with entertainment purposes like HBO, Netflicks etc., but the option of gaming will always be easily accessible via the App Store.
An evolving platform
The new Apple TV will run on the Apple A8 processor, first introduced last year in the iPhone 6 series. We can safely assume that Apple TV will receive a more frequent update than throughout the last few years, and thus the 2016 model will probably sport the new Apple A9 processor (which will launch this month in the iPhone 6s series), thus giving 70% more CPU performance and 90% more graphics performance. Thus, theoretically, year on year gaming on tvOS should see a somewhat substantial performance increase.
- Limited app size: Each app is limited to 200Mb download size but using the On-Demand Resources API, additional content can be downloaded in the background. As a quick and dirty comparison, an original Playstation 1 game needed to fit on to a compact disc (up to 700Mb).
- Limited local storage: There is no local storage so if a game needs to save any data, then it must use iCloud (limited to 1Mb), CloudKit or their own dedicated back-end server.
- Controllers: Apparently all tvOS games must support the included remote, and cannot be solely dependent upon an external controller. Although this is logical as Apple don’t want people to be unable to play downloaded games, it means that a game developed for use with an external controller (guitar, gun, gamepad etc.) will need to have some type of playable method via the (limited) Siri remote.
Apple TV or similar microconsoles are little treat to High end console gaming devices like PS4 and XboxOne, however the uptake in mobile gaming shows that the industry has more clearly forked into two. What remains to be seen is if these micrconsoles can edge out their own substantial third section of the gaming industry.
For those casual gamers who already own an iDevice and frequently play a game or two, Apple TV facilitates a simple transition to the world of living-room gaming. With a potential vast array of games, controller support and future hardware updates, it will be interesting to see what Apple TV can achieve over the coming year. However, just as the original Xbox had Halo and the Wii had Wii sports, tvOS needs something big to not only survive against similar competition from Google and Amazon, but compete within the casual console gaming field itself.