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Plugging into the Gaming Underground

“At this writing, there are 30,000 games for the iPhone and iPod touch. That’s more than the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii libraries combined. (And even then, you still have over 25,000 games to go.)”

And so starts the first ever list of “Top 25 iPhone Games” from gaming site IGN, posted just a month ago on January 29, 2010. Reset to today: games released on the iPhone are beginning to get much more sophisticated than those mentioned on IGN’s 1st iPhone gamining list, with games now resembling those that can be found on Sony’s PSP and Nintendon’s DS. Here’s the latest in iPhone & gaming news from this week:

Top-Grossing iPhone Game Apps Week of 3/2

Big gaming companies are continuing to support the iPhone in Apple’s venture to become a viable gaming platform. But, just because so says the “almighty powers that be within gaming,” doesn’t necessarily mean the gaming consumer community will oblige. Much to my surprise, though, as I’ve traversed the gaming world these past couple of weeks, I have found quite an array of answers, leaving me not only waiting for Apple’s next move, but the consumers’ next move, as well.

This week, I delved into the community of gaming, armed with a plethora of questions to pose to gamers. I embedded myself on popular gaming websites, specifically in their discussion forums and on the comments section of articles. Specifically, websites included: IGN, G4TV, Capcom-Unity, and NewGrounds. In addition to the gaming websites, I also used Twitter. I gathered some interesting input on what people’s barriers to interest were on the iPhone as a gaming platform.

Is the iPhone the next portable in disguise?

During my time as a gaming girl, I received a spectrum of responses. It seemed that the gaming community was moderately split on the subject. There were those who were staunchly opposed, and these nay-sayers seemed to have a couple of recurring issues with the iPhone. One of these issues, as I expected, was the touch screen. Others were simply not inclined to accept a phone as a gaming handheld, and their attitude could be characterized as them thinking it to be a preposterous proposition: how can a PHONE (and a touch screen phone, at that) be a GAMING SYSTEM? (quote is below if can’t view from link- the tweet was protected.)

“I am sure it can handle, but it’s suppose to be a dam phone not a gaming system” -@drumerguy via Twitter

On the positive side of the community, gamers seemed to express a mixture of excitement and ambivalence, but generally an optimistic “wait and see” approach. Those that believed in the iPhone for gaming purposes seemed to have a more technical knowledge base of the device- they knew of the phone’s potential from a hardware standpoint.

I was surprised by how difficult it was to evoke dialogue within the gaming forums, which left me a little disappointed at times. But, when it came to commenting on articles posted on gaming websites, readers were very quick to comment and express their opinion (with one article I commented on having 2,539 comments!). While there were exceptions, it seemed like gamers were more inclined to criticize  articles written by website journalists than they were to provide their own insights to raw questions on forums.

People’s answers gave me some insight, but also raised questions about the sincerity of their statements. For example, did these gamers genuinely assess the iPhone and determined that it was an unacceptable means by which to play games, or were they biased by their blind loyalty to Nintendo and Sony? Furthermore, I’d like to know if these responses will be different in 6 months because of simply a passage of time or a potential introduction of a button peripheral.

Looking at the online gaming community as a whole also left me with a few questions. Namely, why is it that gamers were more quick to comment on articles than they were to comment on forums (it’s also important to note that on forums, the amount of people who viewed a post was always considerably higher than those who actually responded)? Is it because these articles gave gamers an opportunity to quickly vent about the topic at hand? If this is true, then it’s possible that the responses were biased towards those who felt strongly enough to complain.

From an overall, long-term perspective, a big question that kept recurring to me as I dug deeper and deeper into gaming was whether or not the iPhone would fuel gaming innovation. This comes not just from the standpoint of games being introduced to the device, but also from whether or not Apple will push Sony and Nintendo to come out with better, cheaper systems. For instance, while a representative from Nintendo stated in an interview this past Tuesday that they’re not afraid of Apple, the company will be releasing a cheaper, larger handheld (the DSi XL, possibly to be in competition with the iPad?) on March 28th. Seems like this news contradicts the Nintendo representative’s statement, to me!

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  1. HoniehLayla 16:26, Mar 5th, 10

    L -

    I have to say, since the first day you started doing this research I have started to count how many people I see on the subway and bus with iPhones/iPod touch, and try to take a peek to see what they are doing.

    So I did a little of my own research this week – not that it will help but its an observation.

    Out of the 10 people I was sitting with in the bus last night, 8 of them had iPhones and 2 had blackberrys.

    Out of the 8 that I walked past, 4 of them were playing games.

    One popular game I have noticed are word scrambling games, or soduku, but very rarely have I seen a game such as Mario Brothers, Street Fighter. I also recall that the Blackberry users playing brick breaker which I used to be obsessed with.

    What my point is – I don’t know if this is the market for phones. I agree with the gentlemen that commented on your twitter – its a damn phone – not a gaming system.

    I think Apple/Google are very alike in the sense that they want to take over the WORLD, jk. But in all honesty, the gaming world has been around much longer, and Nintendo and Xbox shouldn’t be worried.

  2. ElzbthMllr 16:37, Mar 5th, 10

    My comment is similar to Honieh’s. I am not a gamer, not by any stretch of the imagination actually. But I have downloaded several games on my iPhone for the sole purpose of playing games on the subway…I think it’s interesting that your research focused on the response from the gaming community, but it might also be interesting to think about the way that the games on the iPhone reach out to potential users (like me) who will maybe play a game when they don’t have access to any other portable gaming system. I grew up playing Sonic, I loved it. So I paid $4.99 for the iPhone app for it, which since I already have the phone makes a lot more sense that running out to the store to buy the PSP. I think the sheer popularity of it speaks to several things, there is a market for it, it’s easy to develop programs for, and there is money to be made in.

  3. Ryan 17:08, Mar 5th, 10

    Just because they have that sheer number of games doesn’t necessarily translate to the quality of games that PS3, Wii, or Xbox360 has. Still, Apple is making tons of money with the money that they are generating from the number of downloads for these games. However, one must consider the cost comparison between an iPhone game and traditional game.

  4. nadine 21:24, Mar 5th, 10

    Interesting observation that there are different participating levels between the forums and the articles. Do you have the impression that iPhoneor or gaming companies are infiltrating the comment sections and try to change the tone of the discussion?

  5. Harris 05:30, Mar 7th, 10

    “It’s suppose to be a dam phone not a gaming system,” which is precisely why it can be played in the subway. And that can be an advantage.

    People who are not exactly gamers but would not mind playing games on the subway or whenever they are free for a few minutes is a huge alternative market. Potentially even bigger than the gamers’ market, I believe.
    I, for one, will not mind playing streetfighter on the train and if I had an iPhone, I wouldn’t have a problem paying for it.

  6. Leslie 14:05, Mar 7th, 10

    @Honieh: Cool little research project- thanks for sharing! With out of a sampling of 10, all 10 of them having some sort of smart phone- I feel like that’s definitely an NYC/city thing. So, outside of the city, I wonder how much of a market there even is for the iPhone and gamers?

    Out of people that I’ve seen play games, I’ve noticed the same as you. But maybe this could just be because these bigger games, like Street Fighter, are just starting to come out and get popular? It will definitely be something to watch to see if there’s a change at all over the next few months as more games emerge.

    As far as the iPhone being a gaming system, I do have some faith in it! I think if an external handheld controller was made by a company that could attach to a phone, the gaming community might gain more interest. I also think the iPhone would work well for those that like games, but not enough to invest in a portable handheld; their home console is “enough” for them. If they already have an iPhone, then why not spend $10 on their favorite console game? I don’t think anyone will specifically purchasing an iPhone for gaming, though. So, in this sense, I agree with you, Nintendo & Sony don’t have to worry.

    @Elizabeth: I agree with you here. I chose to stick with gamers since this was only a 3 week investigation and I figured they would have the largest voice on the topic. I feel like the average consumer might be interested, but not think too much of it- they might just think, “oh, that’s awesome! Yea, I’d pay $10 for that game.” But, it would for sure be interesting to see what the average consumer thinks about traditional games coming to the iPhone. I actually think this is where the iPhone as a gaming console might be the most impactful- for those who like gaming, but not enough to invest $200 on a portable system (and Sonic is a great game- well worth $4.99 for. I’m sure it conjures up much nostalgia and sells well for all those that used to play Sega as a kid. I actually might have to go get it now!).

    @Ryan: I agree- quantity does not trump quality here, especially with avid gamers. I think since there is such a big difference in the cost of making a game, from the perspective of the company, and purchasing the game, from the perspective of the consumer, could definitely make for some interesting shifts in the gaming world, though. If you already own an iPhone and a PSP, but you can buy Final Fantasy on the iPhone for $8.99, or get it on the PSP for $30+, I think I’d go for the $8.99. I think this will probably have to do with each individual game, though, depending on how well it plays on the iPhone.

    @Nadine: I was definitely wondering this, actually. I was especially wondering this concerning the http://www.capcom-unity.com site, since I believe it is actually Capcom’s website. They seemed very open minded about people posting whatever they wanted on the forums, with many people really lashing out about Street Fighter coming to the iPhone (as we saw in Dan’s post, Apple isn’t so open about their forums, so it was cool to see that Capcom was). Each forum had its own moderator, and they’d comment sometimes, but it usually didn’t have any sort of bias towards one side or another. But, maybe this is because there are actual Capcom employees in there trying to change the tone, disguised as “gamers??” It didn’t seem like this was happening, but who knows for sure- it’s pretty easy to disguise one’s self online.

    @Harris: I agree with you- i think the iPhone will be tapping into a new set of “gamers” – those that aren’t so hardcore, but would enjoy playing games when they have free time every now and then.