[In this in-depth Gamasutra feature, veteran developer Alessi looks at the state of the iPhone/iPod Touch game market in 2009, mapping out the pitfalls, engine choices and opportunities of developing for Apple's hit device.]
With the holidays behind us, the development path for the iPlatform -- iPhone and iPod Touch -- is coming to a crossroads.
Will the iPlatform live up to its overwhelming promise, or will it fail to deliver truly meaningful gameplay experiences by nickel-and-diming users with free or extremely inexpensive gimmick content?
In this article, we'll analyze the iPlatform's past, present, and future to determine what pitfalls developers should be aware of before taking the plunge in 2009.
The iPlatform awoke in beta form during February 2008. During this time, developers large and small signed up in excitement to develop for the device that made Star Trek look ancient. Apple unleashed a powerful and easy-to-use SDK.
The word on the street was that the iPlatform was more powerful than even Sony's mighty PSP for gaming applications. Looking at the power of the hardware, the ease of iTunes for app delivery, and the cellular phone cornerstone of this platform, it was easy to see why this might be the way of the future.
Not all was rosy, though. Developers had to deal with a restrictive NDA, which caused the flow of information to travel like molasses. Developers like id's John Carmack said that Apple's devices would revolutionize mobile development, and it sounded great. Perusing Internet forums, however, showed a different side of the story. Developers struggled with a cumbersome code-signing process.
Apple's G4 computers, still widely used, were not compatible out of the box, or supported by Apple's iPhone SDK. Through some hacks, it was easy to get a G4 to work with the iPlatform simulator, but getting an app onto an actual test device was nigh impossible.
To get in on this promising platform, one had to pony up for an Intel-based Mac. There was a lot of promise for the platform, but there were legal restrictions, information bottlenecks, and additional costs even for long-time Mac developers.
The Present: Tools & Finances
As we now know, the stumbling blocks of early iPlatform development were actually minor. Developers overcame the code-signing niggles, Apple dropped the restrictive NDA, information flowed more freely, and people were making money.
For a developer looking at the iPlatform today, there are many development options -- not just Apple's SDK, but dedicated game development tools such as Unity, ShiVa, and Torque. The cost is obviously higher, but the rate of production may be equally so.
The minimum price of entry for a completely green Mac developer is $1,144.54 at current exchange rates. The breakdown of this total is $99 for Apple's development program, $599 for an Intel Mac Mini, $229 for a second Generation iPod Touch, and $217.54 for StoneTrip's ShiVa, the cheapest complete game engine for the iPlatform. The free game iBall3D was developed using ShiVa, and has gone on to see more than 850,000 downloads.
Many developers have used Torque at some point in time. The engine is an indie development staple, and some would argue that the iPlatform is the ultimate indie destination.
Currently, only the 2D version of Torque is available for the iPlatform. The price of entry is $500 on top of a pre-existing Torque Game Builder (TGB) Pro Indie license ($250).
Furthermore, there's an additional $100 per-title fee. The total for an Apple development newcomer using this platform, then, is $1,677.00.
That comes out to a $532.46 gap in the cover charge from ShiVa. However, it might be worth your time if you've already developed a TGB game and simply want to port it over to the iPhone.
The last card in our current hand is Unity. The price of entry is steeper than ShiVa, but not as steep as Torque. The minimum grand total using this solution is $1525.00.
The Unity components are an indie license for $199, and an additional $399 for the iPhone Basic license. Already, a host of great Unity-developed titles have been launched for the App Store including Bubble Bang, Crazy Snowboard, and my personal favorite, Debris.