Innovation & Design

The Future of iPhone Gaming


The best way for Apple's iPhone to get in on the gaming market is to develop a popular game, says an expert

Tom Hubina, President and CEO of Amplified Games, spoke during the second day of GDC, giving a presentation titled "iPhone and Beyond: A New Hope for Mobile Gaming." As the head of a new company that is focusing on fatfreegames.com, a community oriented gaming site for the iPhone and other mobile devices, he was well set up to talk about the future of game content on the iPhone.

On the positive side for the iPhone, he noted that there are many gaming opportunities in using the Apple's device, including being able to target customers directly. There are also numerous business models that can be used, including micropayments and try-before-you-buy. The price threshold to develop games on the iPhone is cheap too, between $15,000—$20,000 for both web apps and native iPhone games. Many developers have already taken advantage of it, and right now, Apple is listing over 250 titles on their web apps site.

Still, the system carries with it certain flaws. Hubina noted that, while the iPhone has touch screen capabilities, the accuracy is less than that of a mouse. The system also has good graphical capabilities with a large bright screen, but there's still noticeable latency, which can be a problem with action heavy games or even something like Tetris. There's also no sound in the system's browser, the network can be clunky to deal with and there are multiple programming languages to develop for the system, which might be confusing and off-putting to some.

The promotional half of things is made easier by Apple's own web game application list at www.apple.com/webapps/games, in addition to other portals online. Advertising allows you to target specifically iPhone users, of which he said there are four million right now. Hubina also noted that viral advertising between users has proven highly successful.

The advice he gave in retaining customers was very simple: make a good game that people want to play. Besides that obvious point, Hubina added that he thought community features were key in customer retention, with everything from leaderboards to tournaments and even user generated content.

The issue of actually monetizing these games is a tricky one, he noted. Ads are possible, but he said that you needed about a million impressions to make it worth it; standard banner ads are hard to use, as are context sensitive ads. Subscriptions are another option, Hubina added, but content updates have to be pretty frequent to legitimate the cost. He also said that currently, downloadable methods aren't available legally, but Apple is releasing that SDK for the iPhone soon.

Speaking to competition from other mobile 2.0 devices, he said that while things like Windows Mobile and Blackberry have their own followings, their browsers aren't as good as the iPhone's. Hubina noted that, while there are capable browsers for those systems, they have low penetration and poor support for dynamic content. He also noted that those other platforms have fractured hardware bases compared to the iPhone, though he sees that as a more likely possibility should Apple introduce new iPhone hardware configurations.

Looking towards the future, Hubina mused that 3G phones, from companies like Google and Sprint, might affect the market. On the iPhone front, he wonders how Apple will proceed with their iPhone gaming model, whether they will insist on something like iTunes or something a bit more open, which could have large consequences for the future of gaming on iPhone.

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