Apple AAPL +2.66% has an event in San Francisco today to unveil some new products and services, one of them being a revamped Apple TV that has more power and a greater focus on gaming. It will reportedly come with some kind of controller, and have access to Apple’s iOS games library, meaning you can play loads of mobile titles on your TV.
The New York Times originally reported on this, saying it had the potential to “shake up” the gaming console industry, and they brought in some experts that sounded very suspiciously like they have no idea what they’re talking about.
“I think Apple’s going to create a big new category in gaming, one that others have tried and failed to create before,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at the technology research firm Jackdaw Research. “What the Apple TV has the potential to do is to bring casual gaming to the living room and make it a much more social activity.”
The key phrase there is that “that others have tried and failed to create before.” The most notable example of this was the Ouya, the tiny console which was a Kickstarter miracle baby and delivered on its promise to let fans play Android games on their TVs. As it turned out, however, people seemed to not be very interested in the idea of playing Android games on their TVs, despite initial claims to the contrary, and the mini-console failed spectacularly. Similar devices from Amazon and Nvdia have not had much impact on the industry either.
Now, I’m not under the delusion that if Apple were to invest more heavily into gaming with Apple TV that the resulting product would be as bad as the Ouya. While I believe the concept itself, mobile games on a TV, is fundamentally barking up the wrong tree, the delivery of the Ouya was just bad, with poor hardware mixing with poor software to create a poor product.
The New York Times article cites the Wii as having “tapped into the casual games market,” but again, the difference is clear, and the problem is that no matter what kind of hardware Apple has to deliver its iOS games store, a fundamental problem remains.
95% of mobile games are garbage.
I do not mean to disparage hard working mobile devs out there, and there are certainly a number of great titles, but when you pull back and look at the mobile scene on iOS and Android as a whole, there is a serious quality problem that the “traditional” games industry simply doesn’t have. It’s like if the entire industry is Steam Greenlight, full of half-finished, broken, rip-offs, with only a few emerging as original ideas and true contenders. And with the Nintendo example, it’s important to remember they succeeded with the Wii because of A) the motion control gimmick and B) they’re Nintendo, the gold standard for high-quality first party games.
Apple themselves, of course, makes no games, so they have to rely on the thousands of mobile devs all trying to be the nextClash of Clans or Flappy Bird. Sometimes this results in a diamond in the rough, but most of the time, the rough seems like its winning.
A good chunk of the appeal of mobile games is that they are in fact, mobile. Commuters play them on trains, others during breaks at school or work, kids play on iPads at restaurants much to my parents’ dismay (“that’s so rude!”). Also, these mobile games are all designed to work with direct touch, and obviously that doesn’t translate to a TV unless you have a Microsoft Surface Hub hanging on your wall, so Apple better have a hell of a solution for that input problem. If it’s just using an iPad or iPhone somehow, Apple TV’s $150 “competitive” price point just went to about $750. Supposedly the new Apple TV will have an actual controller, but it’s taken Xbox and PlayStation practically two decades to refine their instruments in that realm, and I have trouble believing even Apple would knock it out of the park on their first attempt.
While the mobile market itself is huge and growing, it’s going to be a very limited slice of the public that feels the need to play these games on Apple TV and a big screen in their living room. Not to mention it’s going to take some pretty solid work from most game devs to make sure their titles don’t look like garbage, now formatted for a wide TV instead of an (often) vertical phone. Some can perhaps easily make that transition, but others? Not so much. If Apple gives “full access” to the game store with Apple TV on day one, a ton of games are going to look like absolute disasters onscreen, not to mention they’ll have to work seamlessly with Apple’s new control scheme, whatever it turns out to be.
I really doubt that Apple has some enormous reveal up its sleeve where they unveil the fact that Apple TV suddenly has the power of a PS4 and Xbox One and hey look Metal GearSolid 5, Fallout 4 and Black Ops 3 are all going to be out for it this fall.
I’m guessing at best maybe they’ve found a way to craft some port version of maybe one or two “traditional” console games (an Assassin’s Creed or something, maybe?) and act that like they’re a big gaming console as a result. But the reality is Apple TV will likely focus mainly on moving the iOS game library to the TV, and I still fundamentally doubt the existence of the market for that.
Perhaps it’s unwise to question the wisdom of Apple, and maybe they can defy logic and succeed where the Ouya failed. But with the mobile games market in a pit of quality, simply moving it to TV won’t be much of an earth-shaking switch, even if a few solid games make the transition well.
It seems like it could be a nice feature for Apple TV, but if Apple suddenly starts thinking they’ve made a fully-fledged gaming console with that functionality alone, they’re going to be laughed out of the room.
by Paul Tassi