Less than two weeks after making its debut, Pokémon Go is already the most popular mobile game in U.S. history, earning developer Niantic millions of dollars every day. Apple takes a 30 percent cut of that, but is it doing enough to make gaming great on its own platforms?
It’s hard to argue gaming could be better on iPhone and iPad — though we could use better gaming accessories — but platforms like tvOS and macOS seem somewhat neglected. With Mac sales finally falling, should Apple do more to appeal to gamers?
Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we throw virtual hands over gaming on Apple devices.
Killian Bell: I don’t think we could have ignored Pokémon Go in this week’s Friday Night Fight. It’s incredible how quickly it has taken off, despite being available in just three countries for over a week. It’s proof that new and innovative titles can still become immensely successful almost overnight in a crowded App Store. I think it’s yet another sign Apple should really push into gaming.
You might argue — in fact, I know you will — that Apple already has a focus on gaming. After all, the iPhone could be considered the world’s most popular handheld console, and Apple TV is basically a more affordable and more casual alternative to the PlayStation 4 if you want it to be. But gaming still feels like an afterthought in all of Apple’s products.
At a time when iPhone and iPad sales are falling, a greater focus on gaming could give these product lines a much-needed boost. It could also bring lots of new users to the Mac, whereas right now, no gamer in their right mind would choose an iMac or a Mac Pro over a Windows PC.
Apple should be encouraging (even paying!) big console game developers to bring their latest and greatest titles to its own platforms. If Nintendo won’t bring Mario, it should make the company an offer it can’t refuse, or even buy it out and make its most popular franchises exclusive to iOS and tvOS. It should virtual reality possible on Macs with better hardware, and on iOS with a proper VR platform and devices for iPhone.
Don’t you agree?
Luke Dormehl: Look, on paper I think this idea is a great one. Games like Pokémon Go, with its combination of Apple hardware and Nintendo software, represents one of the most original takes on gaming since the Nintendo Wii a decade ago. Furthermore, I’m a huge, huge fan of iOS games — which I do my best to highlight each week in my Awesome Apps of the Week feature. And, as you know, I’m a massive nerd for 1990s Apple — which included the Apple Pippin, a collaboration between Apple and Bandai that was meant to start a new product like to run alongside the Mac. In a fantasy parallel universe, I’d even go so far as to say I’d love to see what happened if Apple bought out a philosophically compatible company like Nintendo, and take another crack at that concept.
Should this happen, though? Sadly, I’ve got to say no. And the reason is simple: focus. As you point out, Mac sales are finally starting to dip after years of defying the odds in an ailing PC industry. iPhone sales have stopped their crazy upwards ascent after almost a decade, although they still remain incredibly high. I’m unconvinced that the way to counter this is to pour resources into yet another product, though. That seems to be heading back in the worst aspect of Apple culture in the 90s: too many ideas going on with none of the focus and simplicity Steve Jobs brought when he returned.
Right now, Apple is in a great position: making 30 percent of all the paid apps in the App Store, while capitalizing on the work of developers to help sell Apple TVs, iPhones and iPads. Trying to compete with the likes of Sony and Microsoft by going more heavily into the games world just seems like a mistake.
Killian: I’m not saying Apple needs to release the Bandai 2 and go head-to-head with Microsoft and Sony in the console arena. It already has some terrific products, and there’s no reason why it can’t adapt those to have a greater focus on gaming and in turn extend their lifespan.
Let’s focus on the Mac for a minute. As you rightly point out, sales are finally starting to fall. People only buy Macs now if they really need them for specific tasks — most of us now choose tablets for general web browsing and managing emails, or we just use our smartphones. But by appealing to PC gamers, Apple opens the Mac up to a whole new market. And think about how many Mac users still have old machines because they don’t see a reason to upgrade yet; being able to play the latest desktop games could give them that reason.
Virtual reality will be the next big thing in gaming, and as things stand, Apple has no interest in it. Macs aren’t compatible with popular VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, and the VR experience on iPhone with third-party headsets is just awful. At some point, the hottest game won’t be a mobile title — it will be a VR title, and Apple won’t get a cut of its profits.
I don’t think the company can afford to miss out on things like this right now. Sure, it’s in a great position, but the likes of BlackBerry have proven that if you don’t keep up, you get left behind.
Luke: That’s true, but Apple’s in a very different position to a lot of companies. Right now, VR HMDs like Oculus and HTC Vive represent a tiny segment of the market. I’m sure that Apple is exploring VR, because it’s published multiple patents in this area, but I don’t see a compelling reason why it should decide to jump into yet another industry at a time when it’s already making TV shows, building computers, making iPhones, creating iPads, selling Apple Watches, working on set-top boxes, and probably inventing the car of the future.
When you talk about gaming Macs, there are definitely people who would love a high-end Mac aimed at competing with GPU-heavy PCs. But should Apple go against its philosophy by creating an expandable Mac with an external GPU? Again, I don’t think this is something Apple would do well.
I’d love to see Apple succeed at everything that it turns its hand to. But, unfortunately, I do think there’s evidence that it’s lost sight of some of the simplicity and focus which made it such a compelling company in the past. I’d rather that Apple either goes full bore with an area like gaming, or stays clear of it. Right now, it’s doing pretty darned well by focusing on other areas — and reaping the benefits of indie developers. I don’t see a major reason to change that.
Killian: Maybe Apple will wait until the time is right and then storm in and revolutionize virtual reality in the same way it has revolutionized many other things, but I just don’t see it. It just doesn’t seem like it’s a priority for Apple.
It’s not against Apple’s philosophy to offer an expandable Mac. Until it turned the Mac Pro into a trash can, this was an expandable machine that made it ideal for pro users who could upgrade their graphics cards, RAM, storage, and more as necessary. Another machine like this would be ideal for desktop gamers.
Anyway, let’s hand this debate over to the readers now. Would you like to see Apple taking gaming more seriously?
Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?