An interesting statistic was put forward at the recent London Games Conference. According to a congregation of 1,000 industry professionals, the biggest influence on gaming at this point in time is Apple. Now, there’s nothing definitive to this survey, nor are there any wild, inconclusive statistics, but it’s certainly surprising given who was sampled.
So what has changed over the years? In this particular example, it’s the iOS App Store, but in a broader sense, it’s how the concepts of publishing and distribution have evolved past the reliance on physical mediums. In fact, there’s a good few examples of the publishing role being undertaken purely by the developer, and the massive successes to be gained in this new model. Although, in actual fact, it harks back to the days of the 8-bit PCs of yesteryear, and the creation (and, for the most part, subsequent shutdown) of a large number of self-publishing development teams, but that’s an article for another day.
Apple’s role in all this isn’t one of pioneer, but rather one of universality. Put short, they have created an incredibly easy environment to work in that is far reaching in terms of device penetration and pure audience numbers. They have created an ecosystem that, while utilising heavy restrictions, is consistent for both the developer and end user. Call it a limitation of freedom, perhaps.
Apple’s role in all this isn’t one of pioneer, but rather one of universality.
It’s this apparent ‘limitation’ that has really seen the App Store flourish with regards to gaming. I’m not sure what the exact statistics are, but there’s some very vocal complaints about the majority of games featured on the App Store lacking depth and originality, and I’d honestly say that it’s a fair complaint, but that isn’t the point. The App Store has introduced people to gaming without them even realising it. To a fairly uninformed member of the non-gaming public, playing video games is a complex and expensive distraction, requiring investment in dedicated pieces of hardware that don’t always have viable, alternative purposes. However, hitting up the App Store to download a $1 piece of software to a device they already own and use for other reasons is a tantalising prospect, given that there’s also quite a selection of titles that have entered popular culture (i.e. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja et al) for simply being fun.
Hitting up the App Store to download a $1 piece of software to a device they already own and use for other reasons is a tantalising prospect.
This is the influence that Apple has had on gaming, and we’ve seen repercussions in our supposedly ‘core’ market. When the Unreal engine gets ported to a device like the iPhone, it’s clear that those bigger development teams are now looking at a way of getting a slice of the profits. The best example that I’ve seen so far is the licensed companion app for some of the larger console titles. This has ranged from a striped down, but story-separate version of a game (Dead Space 2 and Dead Space on iOS; Mirror’s Edge and Mirror’s Edge for iOS), to something resembling a strategy guide (the Arkham City Map App). These titles usually offer some kind of incentive in the main version of the game as well (Dead Space for iOS unlocked some basic DLC in the console version, for example).
The App Store is not without its faults: the proliferation of software on it, and the controlled methods of marketing usually result in a lot of software being buried within, relying on word of mouth tactics to gain a share; the restrictions that Apple place on development and content verification; and the lack of transparency within the laws governing Apple’s censorship of titles and content. And sure, we might all shrug off the entire kit and caboodle and choose to ignore anything that comes from Cupertino’s mouth, but I guarantee that a large majority of people who identify themselves as a gamer, who own an iOS device, probably have some kind of game on their device that they’ve played longer than they’ve actually realised. To me, that is Apple’s success, and you didn’t even realise it.
At my place of work, they’ve recently decided to make the iPhone the official "standard phone" throughout the business. As a programmer, I can see both good and bad sides: a very good side being that potentially 15,000 people in my business have the exact same piece of hardware in their hands, and a reasonably powerful one at that.
A bad side is that all the computers at work are Windows based, and you need a Mac to develop on iOS. An even worse side is that Apple’s development language of choice, Objective-C, has some of the most ridiculous syntax I’ve seen in any real programming language. But I won’t bore you with any more programming nonsense.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Apple. I don’t like how popular their devices are when there are clear alternatives that function better. I don’t like the environment they’ve created where their thousand-dollar devices are considered "disposable" as soon as the new iteration of the device is released six months later with only very minor changes. I don’t like how they lock software upgrades into a hardware revision simply to spur people to buy a new piece of hardware – for example, Siri, which is needlessly locked into the iPhone 4S. And I especially don’t like installing iTunes on a Windows PC.
I don’t like how popular their devices are when there are clear alternatives that function better.
And, to top it all off, I don’t like the App Store. It somehow manages to go against everything I stand for when I think about software. It’s all about the environment that Apple have created with the App Store – it destroys any sense of freedom for developers. On the Android platform you are able to install applications from whatever source you wish – and that’s how it should be! On Windows you can even install unsigned drivers if you want to. But on the iOS platform, if you want to develop a product that competes with Apple, or does something that Apple arbitrarily decides it doesn’t like, you get booted out.
It also stops hobbyist programmers from developing on iOS. It’s one thing to require OS X to be able to create an iOS application, but it’s another thing entirely to force a yearly subscription fee to publish an application and keep it published. By doing so, Apple has created a hostile "App Store" experience that is not found on any other platform, because developers suddenly think that they need to somehow "earn" their $100 per year back from the users of their software.
On the Android platform you are able to install applications from whatever source you wish – and that’s how it should be!
There are thousands of free applications on the desktop platforms, and they aren’t filled with advertisements, microtransations, or any other attempt to suck cash out of you – they’re just the creations of hobbyist programmers, sharing their passion for programming with the rest of the world. Apple’s App Store essentially destroys this environment. I challenge you to find a free application on the App Store that is not packed full of ads, or even a single application that is open source. Oh, they exist, but they’re few and far between. By killing off the developers of free software, Apple has created an absolute bitch of an app store that is painful to use from the perspectives of both programmers and end users.
Finding an application that does something in particular is a painful experience – not from lack of options, though. The App Store may have half a million apps – but probably less than a hundred are actually useful, well made, and not a clone of some other application and just trying to make a quick buck. Browsing through the store is a nightmare, and is the worst experience I’ve ever had while looking for a piece of purpose-built software.
Apple’s attitude with software has created an environment where all iOS application developers suddenly want to make their millions worth of cash on the platform, at the expense of the users of that software. As a developer myself, and an advocate of free and open source software, I do not agree with this approach. As a user of the App Store, I like it even less. I don’t want to pay $2 for a program that is free on every other platform, and I certainly do not want to see advertisements in any application, ever.