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GDC: ngmoco's Young: iPhone 'Better Than DS, Better Than PSP'
GDC: ngmoco's Young: iPhone 'Better Than DS, Better Than PSP' Exclusive
March 23, 2009 | By Chris Remo

March 23, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, GDC, Exclusive

"Our love affair with the iPhone began by simply touching it," said ngmoco co-founder Neil Young, speaking on his first experience with Apple's touch screen device during a Game Developers Conference Mobile keynote address.

"This was rapidly becoming the most important device I had ever owned," he continued. "It was an all-encompassing, complete device. And I knew that that device was going to enable incredible things for gaming."

It wasn't long until ngmoco was founded in June 2008, releasing its first two games in October, and another four games since then. Today, it was announced that the company has secured $10 million in series B investment from firms including Norwest Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Maples Investments. As a result, Norwest's Tim Chang joined the company's board of directors.

Young called the phone "better than the DS, better than the PSP," because it's "always on, always with you," and, "most importantly from a business standpoint, there were no first-party games." Showing a graph of device adoption over time, he pointed out that iPhone has greatly outpaced the sales of the DS and PSP upon their original release, now already reaching a significant proportion of those devices' total lifetime sales despite having been out for a proportionally smaller amount of time.

There have been four giant changes to cell phone games thanks to the iPhone, Young claims: the market, the games themselves, game making, and publishing.

While many people see the dozens of new games released to the App Store each day as clutter, with 25,000 games from 10,000 developers, Young says it is in fact an "awesome opportunity" -- Apple, he claims, is essentially generating new game developers all the time, which benefits the industry.

"Don't let the haters tell you it sucks compared to the DS or the PSP," he warned, bringing up slides of full real-time 3D iPhone games. "It doesn't. It's good. It's clear that the quality of iPhone games is eclipsing its [portable] console counterparts, and that's even more acute when you compare it against the prior generation."

But "graphics and sound alone do not a great game experience make," he said, noting that gameplay is also important, and that there is "one company" from which the mobile industry can learn: Nintendo. "It didn't do it by competing on spec, it did it by competing on its unique capability. Nintendo was able to win that battle by combining great software with hardware that it understood very well."

Comparing the eventual results of Nintendo DS versus Sony's PSP, Young suggested that iPhone developers look to how Nintendo dominated the portable space even with a system whose traditional technical capabilities did not stack up to its competitor's.

"If Nintendo made the iPhone, what would they focus on?" he asked. "I think they would build games that could only be on the iPhone. The designs would be progressive, discontinuous, and would have the user and the user's context always in mind. They would have great underlying game design with native device functionality at the core."

In the case of the iPhone, that native device functionality is primarily that the system is constantly connected, Young argued, recalling the company's recent announcement of first-person shooter Livefire, which features online multiplayer, social features, and online commerce.

"For those of you concerned [that we're going to] sell rocket launchers for 99 cents, don't worry," he reassured the crowd, referring to widely-publicized screenshots last week. "That's not going to happen. We're not going to prioritize greed over gameplay."

"I know that there is a general malaise over the game industry today, but I can say it's never been a better time to be an independent game developer," Young said. "The gap in job security between you being independent and you being at a big company has changed pretty dramatically over the last year."

Still, the volume of games released means that even high-quality games frequently cannot survive. To break through, Young encouraged developers to identify their "super power," their distinguishing factor that is likely to create a hit.

"We're at the center of the new everything," he concluded. "The iPhone has revolutionized everything."

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Matt Glanville
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When lining up my future job prospects (do I join a big company or do I go indie?), the iPhone has swayed my opinion greatly. I find it very appealing if only for the fact that I can make a game and have friends and family play it who would never normally have the opportunity, perhaps helping those people (who might not normally take game design seriously as a career) understand how it works and what it's worth. Opening mobile gaming development up to 'bedroom developers' is a great step forward for those involved.

Caleb Garner
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Just consider all options. i love the iphone for it's innovation, it's indie accessible market, hardware and so forth.. Nintendo and Sony have to really rethink their strategy for the future.

I don't think the iPhone is good as the guy above says though for gaming... remember of course he'll say that, he got a ton of VC capital... what's he going to say.. well the iPhone is pretty good and it's might do ok against whoever... not all games work with a touch screen / buttonless environment...

few people seem to point that out... it's true.. just no one seems to talk about it..

Most importantly, those great reasons are drawing a LOT of other people also.. there are over 6,000 games on iTunes, the 99 cent culture of music downloads is counter productive for games... so is rating games by the downloads system comparing free and paid for games in the same catagory is terribly unfair and misleading...

Personally i'd give it more consideration, but as i see it those considerations are the things that keep me from overcoming the number hurdles I personally would have to overcome, but for others it can be a much easier process.. they own a mac, they are on cingular, they know the cocoa framework, they pay the developer fee, they own an iphone/ipod touch.. etc.. some day i'll get there.. but not for awhile...

Yannick Boucher
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Firstly, I'm so tired of people getting hyped up about how the iPhone can do everything. The PSP has been doing all of this for 4 years already, except the actual phone part (which is not the one we're getting excited about), but with even more processing power. Now with digital distribution finally implemented straight on it, it's bound to take on a new life.

But even more important: isn't Neil Young the guy who ran EA into the ground ? :)

Mike Smith
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As far as the iPhone horse power. Check this video out:

Caster is coming to iPhone this April and shows that you CAN do full on 3rd person 3D games with intense action and still maintain a natural control scheme.

I think this is just the beginning for the iPhone. I think we'll see very high quality games in the future.