Will iPhone become the next mobile gaming hotbed, giving Nintendo real competition? The gaming industry's top minds have mixed feelings on the subject  (Source: Apple)
Apple has released a few games but could the iPhone really take off as a gaming platform

When Apple launched its highly anticipated App Store, over a third of its 500 applications available were games.  The Apps Store itself took a page from the gaming industries book with a 30%/70% publisher/maker revenue split for applications writers.  And Apple's iPhone has already proven itself to have ample hardware for silky smooth video and graphics; so why not make it the next mobile gaming platform, perhaps to join Sony's PSP in playing rival to the industry-king Nintendo DS?

At the latest E3, the floor was awash with iPhone 3Gs.  Most developers either had games they were playing or game projects they were working on writing/designing.  Perennial titles like Sega's Monkeyball had already made the jump to the platform.  However, there seemed to be a common skepticism amid the excitement.  Many industry professional indicated they just weren't feeling the gaming love from Apple.

Joseph Olin, the president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, a major stirrer in the gaming industry commented, "In terms of the accelerometer, nice screen, decent computer power... yeah, you could make games on it if Steve Jobs wanted to encourage more games to be made. It will be interesting to see how that evolves."

But when Mr. Olin was asked if Apple CEO Steve Jobs was working with developers to make the iPhone a gaming haven he replied smartly, "Not in the least."

He then went into an old story, almost as classic and iconic as Mr. Jobs encounters with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in their younger days -- the story of Mr. Jobs and Trip Hawkins.  The year was 1982 and Apple had just become a household name with the Apple II.  Mr. Hawkins was Apple's Director of Strategy and Marketing -- and he loved games.

Mr. Jobs did not share his love, according to stories.  He constantly shot down Mr. Hawkins efforts to cultivate a game ecosystem on Apple computers.  In the end, a frustrated Mr. Hawkins left to found his own company, a modest venture a few people might have heard of... Electronic Arts (EA).  The rest was history as they say, and Apple's sentiments birthed what would become the largest gaming company in the world.  Says Mr. Olin, "If it wasn't for Steve Jobs basically saying 'don't waste my time with games' we would not have Electronic Arts."

And he's convinced that Mr. Jobs is back to his old ways.  Further, he's rather unimpressed by the installed base of iPhones.  He states, "They sold a million [iPhones] first week, 12 million sold supposedly in the first generation, there are a 100 million plus DSes... I don't think we're quite there yet."

John Carmack, founder of id software and gaming guru/genius, agreed that Apple is just not showing love to the game developers.  He states, "The truth is Steve Jobs doesn't care about games. This is going to be one of those things that I say something in an interview and it gets fed back to him and I'm on his shithead (sic) list for a while on that, until he needs me to do something else there. But I think that that's my general opinion. He's not a gamer."

He continued, "It's difficult to ask somebody to get behind something they don't really believe in. I mean obviously he believes in the music and the iTunes and that whole side of things, and the media side of things, and he gets it and he pushes it and they do wonderful things with that, but he's not a gamer.  That's just the bottom line about it."

Some argue that the iPhone gaming business doesn't need Mr. Jobs' support.  With the allure of money, ready installed base, and decent graphical programming platform, it seems logical that some developers won't need any encouragement to market gaming products for the phone. 

However, some developers resent that Apple controls all the revenue and gets to decide its non-negotiable cut of the revenue.  Also, developers have no way of sharing their games with reviewers as Apple doesn't give away stuff on iTunes -- ever.  Some developers have resorted to sending iTunes gift cards to reviewers to allow them to buy the games.  Lastly, patching, a critical component of many modern games is very poorly supported on the iPhone.

Still some developers are taking the bad with the good and turning a tidy profit.  MotionX Poker is one of the popular titles and is one of the best reviewed poker games on the market.  Labrynth a puzzle game, which makes use of Apple's ultra-accurate accelerometer, is another popular title.  Its unique hardware driven play mechanics remind a lot of people of another electronics giant's products.  Other popular titles include Bubble Bash and Diamond Twister from Gameloft.

Big gaming powers are hesitantly putting their weight behind the platform as well.  Spore is coming to the iPhone and EA is also bringing a Madden title to the table.  Also working on iPhone games is id games, despite Mr. Carmack's concern about Mr. Jobs.  Perhaps the question is not whether there will be gaming on the iPhone, but whether it will ever develop into as much of a dedicated industry as Nintendo's GameBoy/DS line.  The verdict's still wide open on that.

As for Mr. Olin, he's an optimist, stating, "What actually resonates, having spent earlier parts of my life doing cell phone entertainment and voice entertainment... there are very few examples of entertaining games that play to what the device is actually designed to do, which is to promote voice, personal communication of live emotion. Someone will figure that out."

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

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