The iPhone Gaming Generation

Nintendo 2DSI had an interesting conversation at work the other day. A few of us are really into video games so we occasionally slip into casual conversation about which console is our favorite or what old video games we wish we could play again.  I don’t know how we started, but the conversation turned to Pokemon and then to handheld gaming.

One of my co-workers, who is very open about not being knowledgeable at all about video games, asked, “Is the Gameboy still around?”  I gave him a 30 second history lesson on the evolution of Nintendo’s handheld systems — how Sega’s Gamegear  didn’t last, The Gameboy became the DS, etc.  He then asked, “Do people still buy handheld gaming consoles today?”  A question like that comes as a bit of a surprise because those us who game know that it’s still a huge market, albeit a struggling huge market in the last few years.

We then got talking about the iPhone (iOS 7 just came out) and the following statement was made:

“I don’t need a gaming console.  I would never buy one.  I have an iPhone.”   

ios 7 app store


This is a discussion I’ve had a dozen times.  The same topics always come up: (1) The number of people who play games on iPhones, (2) There are companies who solely develop for iOS, (3) isn’t it technically handheld and technically the number one device sold?

I concluded that despite all of the above being true, iPhones are not gaming consoles. They are a phone platform, not a gaming platform.  Part of the ‘experience’ provided by an iPhone is the fact that you can do things like play games.  The games do not make the device, and the device was not made to game.

I left the conversation feeling really unsettled.  Non-gamers perceive these devices as literally the ‘everything’ device.  I don’t hate Apple or their products — I have an iPhone — but I do hate Apple and their products.  Apple has a market of consumers held captive by their proprietary and closed system.  It’s genius.

“Do you think Apple will ever develop a gaming console?”  

This question was asked by a different co-worker.  “They already have, the iPhone,” replied the other co-worker.  My response was ‘no’ to both of them.  Again, no the iPhone is not a console, and they won’t make one.  They don’t need to.  They get to define what gaming is to their audience, and they’ve succeeded.  My co-worker thinks Gamecenter is Apple’s Xbox Live.  He thinks kids will be raised on it, and that it’s wonderful.  Despite disagreeing, I’m okay with his perception.

What do you think?  Are iPhones gaming consoles?  Should Apple ever make an official gaming console?

  • Most gamers (and game developers) have shunned the iPhone/iPad because of the imprecision of touch screen input for anything but strategy games or casual games.

    I think things have gotten more serious now that Apple has released a real game controller API in iOS7. You will begin to see real game controllers that support the iPhone and iPad (and probably Apple TV eventually), which will have a serious impact on the mobile game market.

    Additionally, companies like Firaxis have proven that gamers will buy a serious game on mobile (See the new X-Com for iPad) at “high” prices ($20), so perhaps developers will start taking the space seriously now.

    I can’t wait to see what happens!

  • Whether or not it can technically be called a handheld gaming system or not it will be (and arguably already is) dominating the handheld gaming market. The number 1 reason is right in the picture above. The games listed range from FREE to 5.99. You can go on and on about the full gaming experience but to the average person in the current economy it just doesn’t add up to pay 500% – infinity% more per game.

    Portability and convenience is another factor. We are already carrying our phones so why not? No one has to remember to bring along a DS.

    I don’t really play handheld games anymore. I don’t have one of those fancy phones that can also play games but I do dig up my PSP a few times a year.

  • You’re not allowed to hang out with those people anymore, Keen.

    I’m also going to need names and addresses for “re-education” purposes.

  • In general, I don’t consider smartphone games to be “real” videogames at all. Well, unless you call people who play solitaire and bejeweled gamers. I understand that it is actually a huge market, but as a “gamer” none of these diversions appeal to me. Despite loving video games and having a smartphone, I’ve never played a single game on it. I’ve never seen one worth downloading, even a free one.

    I guess my point is that there is a market for both the iphone style 10 second diversion ‘games’ and the dedicated “gaming” consoles, and they had co-exist.

  • “Part of the ‘experience’ provided by an iPhone is the fact that you can do things like play games. The games do not make the device, and the device was not made to game.”

    What about iPod Touch? Those are bought in most cases almost specifically just to game on. In many cases, same with tablets/iPads. They’re huge for kids. They’re definitely a gaming console to parents who buy them to entertain their kids with games. Compare the iPod Touch to the iPhone: one just has a cellular network and the ability to make calls. The iPhone is no less a gaming platform than the iPod Touch.

  • Primarily the fact that it is used by ALOT of people to game on, makes it a gaming platform. You can argue it is not a console due to the definition of the word console possibly not fitting an iphone, but only that.
    Technically a PC was not made to game on either, but due to huge usage for games it is accepted as a main game platform. Iphone/highend andriod/ ipad is going the same way, and I do not think anything is wrong with that.

  • @Cuppycake: I think you raise an interesting point. My roomate in college bought an iPod touch just to hack it and turn it into a potable emulator to play old SNES games. I give him more credit than Apple for that, though.

    @Caldazar: But I guess my point is that people do not buy an iPhone for games. I really don’t know of a single person who rationalizes buying an iPhone solely to game on. Like the Apple fans at work, they buy it because it’s an Apple product then they come up with a million reasons why it’s the only device they ever need. iPhones can play games — awesome — but they’re not a gaming dvice.

    If Nintendo suddenly adds a phone to the 3DS/2DS that doesn’t make it a phone platform. That’s a gaming system that can make phone calls.

  • Yes Keen if 2ds/3ds released phone functionality it would be considered a phone and gaming platform and the more they perfected the phone options/functions and integrated options with other apps they would get that current person who games on their iphone. They would have to be priced competitively and hence their challenge to that market.

    Devices today are all becoming essentially a 1 platform device that can do all. Save for their operating system of choice and their size that is probably the only distinguishing factor amoungst them. I have a ps3 and i dont game on it, i use it as a media center to stream to the tv, play music and dvd’s. I have a PC with a controller and I game more on it. Heh weird huh a gaming platform i dont game on and a multi function platform i play on. Shit i talk on skype more on the PC than my phone. So really the PC is my phone that i game on.

    I think you need to open your mind to the future Keen, Iphone or any other phone with android and so on will become all in one devices. The devs who decide to program for X or Y will end up making your purchase decision based on what game you REALLY want to play if not on all devices. Similar to what they do now with exclusive to Xbox or Ps3/4.

    Hell my portable Garmin GPS in the car has fukin apps like the iphone and the console of new cars has all these and more now.. so what hell.. they are all iphones in a sense… all blending into 1….

  • I have a big long rant in my head, but to keep it short:

    I have an iPod Touch for music and a few neat apps. I have a “dumb” phone for when I need to make calls. To me, it’s more about this logic: If I sit here playing games/listening to music/using a GPS on my “phone,” it isn’t going to have enough battery juice to be a phone very long. And keeping it constantly plugged into a power source is -not- going to ultimately fix that problem in the long run!

    The apps on my iPod are really to just keep me busy for a short time while I’m mobile. My 3DS is great when I’m mobile and will have more time to sit, relax, and enjoy my game. My phone is for calling people.

    I really don’t understand where a lot of these “iPhone Generation Gamers” are coming from, but it’s very strange for me since I see these people even within my own age bracket.

  • The newest iPhone iteration is stronger than an old DS or PSP isn’t it?
    Controller API now available?

    When a 3rd party gives me a solid extended battery pack/ controller combo that has great ergonomics while giving me at least an extra 5 hours of gaming on a charge it’ll be a good start.

    When Capcom goes to the dark side and gives me an iPhone version of Monster Hunter with both bluetooth local play and online partying through wifi or 3G/4G it’ll be a done deal.

    Until then I’ll keep on enjoying Civilization, Orion, FF Tactics, and Plants vs Zombies from the passenger seat when I’m away from my “real” gaming rig. The one with CrossFire configured video cards that are both 6x the size of my phone.

  • Unless they can equal the power and purpose of gaming systems they will not replace them. My Smart phone can do crappy versions of a lot of different things but with those things I am serious with I do not use it as my primary tool.

    A controller released for an Ipad will do about as well as keyboards released for console systems.

  • I still have all my pokemon games for my old Nintendo Advance, they work great, and the little cartridges make me smile. I don’t ever see myself paying $20 for a game on my phone that I will only have for 2 years.

    wufiavelli: “Smart phone can do crappy versions of a lot of different things but with those things I am serious with I do not use it as my primary tool.”

    Totally agree.

  • iPhone has FFT and it plays great on it; its a gaming platform.

    The new iPhone 5s? It’s a gaming upgrade mostly, faster processor for better graphics. It doesn’t make calls better, and the other changes are mostly fluff.