I saw this article from The Inquisitr yesterday but had already zeroed in on my interest for the evening so I let it pass. Then tonight I saw this follow up piece on Techmeme and decided the topic was something I wanted to address.
The basic gist of the two posts is that the iPhone, because there are a couple cool games on it, is the next great gaming platform. To quote Duncan Riley of the Inquistr...
The new iPhone IS a gaming platform.
Om Malik over on GigaOM asked the same question this morning, and noted figures from Cellufun that iPhone users are playing games at a rate four times that of other mobile phone users. And why wouldn’t they? the phone is built for gaming. Full color, decent sized screen, easy to navigate a game by touch or moving the phone, as opposed to the cumbersome keying required by other phones.
The second piece actually goes even further suggesting that the iPhone's success will inspire a new generation of Mac games...
One of the last holdouts of the PC v. Mac wars is gaming. The iPhone is going to bring the game companies and a world of amateur develoeprs into the OS X fold, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe they’ll notice the increasing market share of the Mac on desktops and put a little more effort in there. Not to mention all the other developers hard at work learning objective-c right now. All those folks buying iPhones and then buying a new mac, well, they’re going to need more programs, too. I’m just saying.
Now first let me say that there are a few neat games for the iPhone and the App Store makes it very easy to purchase them. I don't deny either of those facts. But before we plan a coronation there are a few factors to consider here...
1. Thumbs Vs. Fingers: The iPhone has no buttons. Despite the above attempts to make touch out as some kind of advantage the truth is that every gaming platform since the original Nintendo console has required the user to use their thumbs to navigate. The iPhone requires a user not only to learn an entirely new way of playing but to learn a way of playing that is completely counter intuitive (because to use touch to control the screen you then block your view of the screen). Combine that with the sometimes dubious recognition of screen taps and the difficulty of distinguishing between some gestures and you have a pretty awkward control interface.
2. Lack of specialized APIs: Companies like Microsoft and Sony have spent millions of dollars developing APIs that specifically make game programming easier. Anyone who ever tried to program a Windows game before DirectX came along knows just how difficult game programming can be without such an API. 3D sound alone was next to impossible before DirectSound. Apple, as far as I can tell, has put no effort into this (other than to support OpenGL which is certainly a nice start)
3. iStandard Graphics: The few serious iPhone games we've seen have been great but lets not get carried away here. The graphics are no better than those on a PSP, DS, or even Windows Mobile. So it isn't as if the iPhone excels in the area. It certainly doesn't excel to the point where it will draw developers in.
4. Big Brother/Little Brother: Remember that most mobile platforms have Console or PC equivalents with huge install bases which make developer skills go further. PSP programmers can use the same skills they user for the Playstation, Windows Mobile developers are equipped to program for Windows PCs and XBoxes, even Nintendo DS developers have the Wii (though my understanding is that these two platforms are the most divergent of those listed). Bottom line, the Mac install base is still pretty tiny and while learning iPhone game development will allow you to write Mac games that isn't such a sought after skill
5. Frameworks: continuing on the development note most games are written using existing game engines. There are some pretty advanced game engines already pre-packaged and ready for game developers to write with on just about every other platform. The Mac on the other hand seems to have none (though in fairness that's based on only a few minutes of searching).
5. A License to Play: Games don't necessarily go to the best platform. Game console vendors are in the business of having the best games. That means going out of their way to make sure they have the hot games and the most popular licensed products. In the end, getting games on the platform becomes a business in its own right. But not only has Apple shown no interest in this business the very idea of it is almost contrary to their "you should want to develop for us" attitude.
6. Power Problems Galore: Your average PSP can manage about 6 hours of constant game play before dying. To be blunt my iPhone can barely manage 6 hours of sitting in my pocket since the 2.0 upgrade. I'm being a little over dramatic here but not by much. The iPhone just can't compete on battery life.
The above items are actually just the tip of the ice berg (the list was 3 times as long but I didn't want this post to be unmanageable). In the end there are so many things stacked against the iPhone as a gaming platform that I'm surprised it has any games on it at all.
That isn't to say there won't be a few more cool games in the iPhone's future but as a gaming platform its a bust. Hard for developers to develop for, incapable of game play in a standardized fashion and far more expensive than any other gaming platform on the market.