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iPhone 5: Game developers react Exclusive
iPhone 5: Game developers react
September 13, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

How are iOS developers reacting to the iPhone 5? How will the new smartphone affect the industry as a whole? Gamasutra spoke to studios both small and big to learn their thoughts about the next iPhone.

For many, Apple's press event yesterday delivered welcome refinements for the iPhone 5 (e.g. a new A6 chip promising two times faster performance across the board) but few major surprises. Its most obvious addition to the iPhone line is the 4-inch screen -- a half-inch bigger than any previous iPhone's display.

And other than bringing a couple studios up on stage to demonstrate what they could accomplish with the new iPhone and iPod Touch's improved specs, Apple didn't devote much time to showing what game makers can accomplish on its new hardware.

As a result, David Kalina, co-owner of Waking Mars developer Tiger Style, tells Gamasutra he was "underwhelmed" by the event and announcements. However, he expects he'll enjoy owning an iPhone 5 after it releases next week.

Simogo's Simon Flesser (Beat Sneak Bandit) is unimpressed by the iPhone 5, too, and says he's worried the iOS platform is becoming more and more like Android and PC with every new generation. He also questions the need for annual refreshes of mobile devices.

"I have personally lost a lot of interest in devices that do not offer something that feels truly fresh with new and exciting ways of interaction, like the first iPhone, the DS, or the Wii," says Flesser.

Though the indies that Gamasutra talked to seemed uninspired by the iPhone 5's unveiling, bigger mobile social game developers like CrowdStar, Gree, FreshPlanet, and Wooga were all quick to express excitement over the announcement.

Wooga's CEO Jens Begemann (Diamond Dash) and Gree's studio operations SVP Anil Dharni (Zombie Jombie) both believe the taller screen and faster chip will enable developers to create more immersive experiences, as well as more graphically-impressive games. (EA's head of mobile and social games Nick Earl expressed a similar sentiment.)

Begermann added that Wooga is eager to take advantage of the deep Facebook integration promised with the upcoming release of the iOS 6 operating system, which Apple has just revealed it is shipping next week.

CrowdStar CEO Peter Relan (Top Girl) also praises the briefly-mentioned "time-shifting multiplayer" support that will be included with iOS 6's Game Center update -- the feature allows users to record a gameplay session, and have their friends or others compete against that session data later.

How will iPhone 5 impact developers and the industry?

While existing games should appear fine on the iPhone 5's bigger screen -- just letterboxed due to the extra space -- developers are likely rushing to update their titles to accommodate the wider display, and have them ready for the smartphone's launch on September 21.

Tiger Style's Kalina expects the iPhone 5's higher resolution (1136 x 640) and 16:9 aspect ratio will push more iOS developers toward becoming resolution-agnostic when designing their games. It's an approach his studio has always kept in mind, so he doesn't think updating Tiger Style's games for the new phone will take too much effort.

Simogo doesn't believe that updating assets and adjusting its games for the new aspect ratio will have a great impact on its operations either. As for the extra horsepower of the iPhone 5, the studio isn't sure that it can do much with it, at least not if it wants users with older iPhones to enjoy its games.

"We do not want our games to feel inferior on last year's device, so even though we theoretically could do even greater stuff graphically, we are still 'hindered' by older devices, so to speak," Simogo's Flesser explains.

FreshPlanet CEO Mathieu Nouzareth (SongPop) agrees and says it will be some time before some developers will want to push the iPhone 5's capabilities: "[In the] short term, the user base is too small to rely solely on this, so we have to rely on the smallest common denominator."

Gree's Dharni, though, is excited by the prospects of producing a game that takes advantage of the iPhone 5's improved specs. "We are now facing the reality of console-quality gaming being playable on all kinds of mobile devices -- which is really exciting for both developers and players," he says.

And on a general level, CrowdStar and Wooga say they're most looking forward to the iPhone 5 continuing to do what Apple's smartphones have done for years: selling like gangbusters, creating a bigger mobile gaming audience, and attracting plenty of new consumers who wouldn't be playing games otherwise.

Rising costs for iOS developers

The release of the next Apple smartphone less than a year after the iPhone 4S underscores just how short the mobile hardware cycle is compared to the traditional five-to-six-year cycles for home consoles.

With these condensed hardware generations, there's a potential danger that some developers might not be able to keep up with the rapidly increasing costs of creating assets and making games for the latest platform, as they try to compete with others doing the same.

Wooga's Begemann, however, argues that this is where developers of free-to-play games that are regularly updated have an advantage, especially since companies typically allocate around 20 percent of their budget to pre-launch development, and 80 percent to post-launch work.

"These games that are services constantly have costs, but also constantly generate revenue," says Begemann. "As we continue to invest in our games, it's great to see that improved hardware allows us to get more out of our games and bring richer, more immersive games to this new audience."

But Randy Lee, global business development head at CrowdStar, doesn't think that smaller or indie developers are at a disadvantage, as the markets they're trying to reach don't necessarily require the most visually impressive or even complex games.

Lee adds, "There will be the developers pushing the limits of graphics to create more immersive experiences. There will also be developers who are more casual and broad-based. Just look in the top charts, there are always a variety of games that target different users."

Tiger Style's Kalina says it would be foolish for independent developers to engage in an arms race to stay ahead of the device power curve. Instead of trying to target every new hardware release, he says game makers need to focus on creating experiences that appeal to the widest range of people possible.

"If smaller devs have to spend more money to keep up, it's only because the quantity and the quality of the competition keeps rising, which is a side effect of Apple having the healthiest and most diverse marketplace," comments Kalina.

And even if some developers have to contend with bigger budgets, FreshPlanet's Nouzareth reminds mobile studios, "[Rising costs are] inevitable in the long run, but costs on mobile devices are still relatively low compared to console."

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Justin Sawchuk
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Yeah thats the problem if a game only targets fifth gen devices its going to be a really small segment of the population. I wish apple would somehow have a category for games that target new hardware, I am sure the gamers would want and would allow for developers to make higher end games, as right now it works on "top playing", "top paid" and "top grossing" and if it doesnt work on the older devices its not going to be highlighted.

Scott Slomiany
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I find it telling that the smaller studio like Tiger Style and Simogo have these rational responses (things like thinking about being resolution agnostic, and trying to keep older phone power specs in mind), while the big studios just fill up their responses with keyed marketing phrases. My definition of immersion must be different than Wooga's if they really think that going from a 3.5 inch display up to a 4 inch display greatly increases Diamond Dash's "immersive experience" to any degree.

Ujn Hunter
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They should have been separating the App Store by device since the 3GS came out and made the 3G obsolete. When someone says "iPhone Game" it's misleading if it only works on 4S or 5. That's one of my biggest pet peeves with the App Store.

Justin Lynch
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Great points! Support for the 3GS and iPad 1 is starting to quickly decline and for developers who don't want to support those devices it should be easy to just disable people with those devices from buying the game.

Instead, you have to put in your App Store description that only certain devices aren't supported which we know doesn't prevent people from downloading it and giving you a 1-star review since the game didn't work on their device.

And because Apple decided to put iOS 6 on the 3GS (which I have no idea why since most of the iOS 6 features are disabled anyway for 3GS users) you can't even make your game iOS6 compatible to eliminate those devices outright!

*End Rant*

Chris Dickerson
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So, is Apple deliberately not seperating apps by device because of oversight... or because they want the illusion that all apps work with the "iPhone" (like there is only a single gen device) so as to not dissuade new customers?

David Navarro
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Justin, what if I want to purchase an App I just have heard of on my 3GS to download later at home on my iPad 3? The fact that a single account owner can have multiple devices makes separating the App Store by device a bad idea. Not to mention, what would Apple do if the user purchases an App through iTunes on the Mac?

Justin Lynch
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Chris, I honestly don't know. I'm sure part if it is that they want customers to feel like the "iPhone" is a singular device and if Apple truly believes that there is no fragmentation in their device lineup they are going to cause a lot of grief for developers. At least Google gives developers the option to completely lock out devices that a game doesn't support.

David, that's a great point but I still think there needs to be an option to not allow players to download an app on a device that isn't compatible with the game. Maybe they could alert users when they go to buy the game that it isn't compatible with their devices but still let them download it anyway. At that point the game would download on any of their compatible devices but not install on devices that aren't supported. Not the best idea and it could use some work but it's an idea.

The biggest problem with allowing users to download a game regardless if their device is compatible enough is when you have a F2P game. Since there is no barrier to entry you could have lots of people download the game and then give it negative reviews because it wouldn't run on their device (even though you had in your store description that it wasn't compatible).

Either way Apple needs to figure out something because they are slowly fragmenting their device lineup whether they believe that or not.

Luke Mildenhall-Ward
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Justin, you set the supported devices in iTunes Connect. I don't think a user can incorrectly purchase an unsupported game for their device.

Justin Lynch
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Luke, if that's the case then I either missed it or they added it recently! Either way thanks for letting me and everyone else know!

Bram Stolk
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I will use the extra gfx power for better anti aliasing on iphone5.
It is an easy tweak to your code: enable MSAA for iphone5 and disable on legacy devices.

Another possibility is to use higher resolution shadow maps for sharper shadows.

Catering for old devices does not mean the experience has to be the same on old and new devices.

Charles Doty
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If it takes a taller screen and faster processor to create a more immersive experience, maybe it's time to turn in your game developer card.

Eric Ruck
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Wait, when did they hand out cards?

Luke Mildenhall-Ward
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Surely a bigger screen and more powerful hardware always means the opportunity for the developer to create a more immersive experience. I'm not sure why you'd think otherwise actually.

Emmanuel Henne
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Oh boy, yeah, that new aspect ratio and one row of icons worth larger screen really makes that much of a difference. Not. Bigger isnt the solution, people will use their phablets for everything, and phones will devolutionise to mere talking instruments, and in 10 years, phones will be done with at all.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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I don't get this reaction at all. I constantly see people praising the Galaxy SIII for its screen size and functionality. Apple has done a modest screen size increase', but apparently this makes it a bloated nightmare.

Jonathan Jennings
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I know recently my team has had a harder time including older hardware than approaching newer hardware . I would think expanding the range of current technology and trying to provide an incredible iphone 5 experience that still somehow is optomized to run on the iphone 3gs will probably cause us more headaches than trying to focus on higher-end hardware.

Ron Dippold
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[troll]That's more ad space![/troll]

Robert Kabwe
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I agree with the poster who said Apple should offer categorization by hardware. IOS is no longer a nascent platform. Fragmentation is here to stay and we'd better plan for it. Build simpler games if you want a larger cross-device market share. But if that isn't your concern go ahead and target the high end. Every developer is different and should stay true to their own goals, whatever they may be.

Jorge Molinari
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***opens eye wide and stares in disbelief***
You mentioned f-word and Apple in the same post!

I still put in my pre-order for the iPhone 5 though. I skipped on the 4S and being a “Getting Things Done” fan I’m looking forward to dictating my appointments/tasks on my daily commute to be reminded of them at the right moment.