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For & Against: Apple will change portable gaming forever

Apple

In the next few weeks, Apple will launch the App Store, allowing owners of iPhone and iPod Touch devices to download applications created by third-party developers. Sega and EA have already demonstrated how games could function on the platform, but will it really take off and change portable gaming forever?

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Philip Morton – For: The way that Apple has designed the App Store gives it a key advantage. Since games are distributed exclusively by digital means, gamers are more likely to purchase them on impulse and apps can be delivered instantly. This model seems to be working with Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and the Virtual Console, so why not here?

Patrick Coakley – Against: Digital-only distribution still has caveats, and while Steam, XBLM, PSN, etc, are some of the best things to happen in gaming in recent years, many people are still going to prefer buying games in the store. In many cases of digital distribution, you are still able to get around any anti-piracy mechanisms, so this could be a very dangerous situation. The iPhone community is already made up of many users that have “Jailbroken” their units, which means they are able to load up all kinds of other software that’s being developed unofficially. Apple has made a big push for their recent SDK release, but it doesn’t look like everyone is on-board for what they have planned for the platform.

For: Motion sensing has proved extremely popular with the Wii. Apple are bringing this technology to portable gaming before any of the major platform manufacturers, so this should give them an advantage, especially in the casual gaming domain.

Against: I’m not so sure motion sensing technology would work well on a handheld. I think controls should try to be traditional, which makes it more accessible since having a motion sensor-based game would require you to look like an idiot in public, like when you play the DS and have to use the microphone. Perhaps casuals will enjoy the idea, but you can never win over the hardcore with gimmicks. What the iPhone needs is a way to control things like any other handheld, and without proper buttons it’s going to take time to find out what works, since slapping on a D-Pad and some buttons in the UI won’t cut it.

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For: From what we’ve seen and heard from EA and Sega, it seems that the time and effort it takes to port games to Apple’s platform isn’t a great deal. This should encourage developers and publishers to consider it as an additional revenue source, even if games aren’t developed exclusively for it.

Against: Even if developers take the time to add support for yet another handheld platform, the likelihood of the iPhone getting something huge is incredibly low. With very little support from other companies, and no first-party support from Apple themselves, it’s hard to see a library of games amassing any time soon. As the iPhone uses technology not common in the DS and PSP, it’s also going to be hard to port games over easily without having to rethink the controls entirely.

For: Although people won’t buy iPhones and iPods for gaming, the sheer number of devices in circulation in a year or two will be hard for the major publishers to resist. With portable consoles like the DS and PSP, people might question why they would need one, but Apple has the advantage of having two products which most people see as a essential; a music player and a phone.

Against: Apple could penetrate the market theoretically, but realistically the chances of them taking a big piece of the pie out isn’t likely. I can see the iPhone having a very small niche, but nothing more. The main problem is that as an entirely new and somewhat unknown gaming platform, there is going to be quite a bit of caution in the first year or so as developers test the waters. Apple may try to market the device as all in one, but it’s still going to just be an iPod with phone capabilities at the end of the day.

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So, will Apple’s platform change portable gaming forever? Let us know in the comments below. The App Store launches in the next couple of weeks.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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