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Analysis: Apple Heading Toward A Gaming Collision Course

Analysis: Apple Heading Toward A Gaming Collision Course

September 1, 2010 | By Christian Nutt

September 1, 2010 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC

[How far will Apple go with its inroads into the gaming market? Gamasutra's Christian Nutt considers the latest evidence, fresh from today's press conference in San Francisco. ]

This morning in San Francisco at a Gamasutra-attended press conference, Apple laid out the plan of attack for its next generation of devices, and while it's clear that the game industry is in its sights, it's not a full-on assault just yet.

It's no secret that Apple considers the iPod Touch a gaming platform -- the company's marketing has made this clear for some time, as have CEO Steve Jobs' comments at previous events. However, with the implementation of its Xbox Live-style Game Center matchmaking and achievements service, the device just leveled up.

The company debuted a new commercial to showcase the newest iteration of the device, which launches next week. There's little doubt that it will be mercilessly marketed throughout the upcoming holiday shopping season.

The commercial focuses on two major improvements to the latest generation Touch: HD video recording and the ability for FaceTime video chat.

The middle third of the commercial, though, focused entirely on games -- and made sure to show Capcom's Street Fighter IV prominently, clearly communicating that the iPod touch is ready for core gamers.

Besides recently becoming the most popular configuration in the entire iPod lineup, the iPod Touch "has become the most popular portable game player in the world," Jobs climed. "The iPod Touch outsells Nintendo and Sony portable game players combined. It has over 50 percent market share for both the U.S. and worldwide."

With Epic Games and Chair Entertainment's Unreal Engine-powered action RPG/multiplayer fighting game, Project Sword, there's a clear drive to attract the same audience that would have until recently thought about buying a PSP. And with Chair the only game developer presenting at Apple's latest event -- no Zynga this time -- that speaks volumes, too.

On stage, Epic president Mike Capps said that Chair has achieved "intricate levels of detail you don't expect to see on a phone device," and -- based on the Epic Citadel demo you can download right now -- he's right.

With the introduction of Game Center, Unreal Engine technology, and the addition of the more powerful A4 processor and slick Retina Display to the Touch, the pieces have fallen into place for iOS to become a serious contender for core gamers' money and time -- and more importantly, it seems that Apple is truly making a play for that.

Apple (Gaming) TV?

Where the company is not quite ready to go, however, is into games on a television. It also revealed the latest iteration of its Apple TV device, which was never a hit in the past -- but the new one is a slick, cheap little box which will allow users to stream rented movies and TV shows and access Netflix and YouTube.

This will eat into console makers' market share only inasmuch as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii enjoy life as Netflix boxes, which is mostly a secondary use of these devices. Of course, Sony and Microsoft sell video content on PlayStation Network and the Zune Marketplace, which could also be a minor vulnerability.

However, as Mike Capps commented to Gamasutra in our interview immediately following the event, "Right now, I can display from my iPad to my Apple TV on a big screen TV. How far away are we from ,'That's my game console, and it's displaying wirelessly to my television set?' It's not far away."

While Apple is making a more focused play for the living room with its revamped Apple TV, the slightly subtler detail is that the device is tremendously interoperable with the company's other devices -- you can stream pictures, music, and video to the Apple TV from a Mac, and you can also do the same from an iPhone or iPad. The point is: Apple is creating an infrastructure for and a compelling use case around connecting all of its devices together.

This increases the attractiveness of becoming an all-Apple household, of course, but it also invites tremendous speculation about how long we can expect games to be excluded from the party, now that they're such a big, big part of the company's iOS device strategy.

What will that mean? What form will it take? How soon will it come? All unanswerable. But Sony, Nintendo, and even Microsoft are all officially on notice as of today.

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