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Will Apple Make a Game Console?

Over the past few weeks there has been a steady buzz regarding the Apple TV, Apple’s plans for the device, and what some competitors are doing as well. Valve’s Gab Newell expressed his company’s interest in making, or at least setting a specification standard for a console-like PC. The company has even made some moves in that direction with the introduction of “Big Picture” in their Steam software. Valve is obviously betting on the idea that consoles will diminish and streaming to PCs connected to TVs will take it’s place. I tend to agree.

Nat Brown, one of the engineers of the original Xbox has published a blog post which backs up what I’ve been saying for a long time- Apple could march into the game console business with very little effort. Brown is looking at the issue from a more developer-centric point of view, noting that the way things are currently set up in the game console industry, it is very hard for independent developers to make a game for these machines, mostly due to high fees and lack of development hardware.

Here’s an excerpt: “Why can’t I write a game for xBox tomorrow using $100 worth of tools and my existing Windows laptop and test it on my home xBox or at my friends’ houses? Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30% cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad?”

Brown goes on to drive his point home by outlining why Apple could do these things. Here’s another excerpt:  “Apple, if it chooses to do so, will simply kill Playstation, Wii-U and xBox by introducing an open 30%-cut app/game ecosystem for Apple-TV. I already make a lot of money on iOS – I will be the first to write apps for Apple-TV when I can, and I know I’ll make money. I would for xBox if I could and I knew I would make money. Maybe a “console-capable” Apple-TV isn’t $99, maybe it’s $199, and add another $79 for a controller. The current numbers already say a lot, even with Apple-TV not already an open console: 5.3M sold units in 2012, 90% year-over-year growth — vs. xBox 360 — about 9M units in 2012, 60% YoY decline.”

I think Brown nailed it. I’ve been saying it for some time, but I sincerely believe Apple could, if they so chose, to roll out a game-console strategy with little effort. The Apple TV is beginning to sell well, and through a software update, developers could be granted access and new features pushed down to customers. With one update Apple could have a marketplace and content at users fingertips, and suddenly find themselves in the game console business without even trying.

Ever since Apple released the major revision of the Apple TV in 2010, and shifted the focus away from storage and instead to streaming, I suspected Apple would make a move into TV gaming and software. The infrastructure of the App Store and developer interest and tools is there. Apple even switched the device’s OS to iOS, further fostering rumors (and the actual technical ability) of opening the device to developers. The current Apple TV even has an (single core) A5 chip in it, a processor that has had many games built on it. Perhaps Apple will have to update the internals, to say, an A6 chip to comfortably run graphics-intensive games on a large high definition display.

In fact, this strategy seems the far more obvious path than rolling out an entire television set, which as rumors continued to emerge, became ever-more fanciful and unrealistic at this time. Besides, the television market is flooded with competitors, they are costly, and people really don’t buy them very often. A household goes through one ever 5 or 10 years perhaps?

My point is this- Apple has everything in place for this to work, and it’s far easier to sell a little black box than it is to sell an entire TV. It’s all there, the only thing that remains is for Apple to make the final push.


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  • I completely agree that Apple has all of the building blocks in place to make a successful push into console gaming, and have for two years now. That’s the problem. They’ve been sitting on that, and have done nothing to improve AirPlay Mirroring or add features that they would need to really go head to head in the living room.

    Apple was all alone out there for the longest time, but the tables turned last year. The strong interest in the Ouya and other similar ventures that have come along since then have shown that real people are willing to pay real money for a compelling inexpensive home gaming system that doesn’t even technically exist yet. I’m one of them. I backed the Ouya, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. Heck, even if it only becomes an awesome emulator payer with a good wireless controller, then it will be worth the $100 for me.

    However, if this thing does turn out to be a mainstream hit, It will be a problem for Apple on two fronts. First, if Apple is unwilling to either release or at least make it easier to use physical game controllers, then the Ouya will have a distinct advantage over the similarly priced Apple TV. Ouya “getting there first” could be a big impediment to Apple gaining wide adoption of the Apple TV as a gaming system.

    Then there is the bigger problem. The Ouya will have its own app store to buy games. however, if developers have success developing for it, what is going to stop them from just porting the games over to Google Play and the Amazon Appstore? Nothing. In fact, it would be stupid not too.

    This would be a big blow for Apple, too. Even though a lot of the big app titles can now be found on both platforms, Apple still has a HUGE current advantage in gaming. Not all of the biggest titles make it over to Android, or at least aren’t universally available across all devices. If the Ouya and similar devices gain traction, it could be a huge boost to the Android gaming ecosystem, in general.

    Long story short, Apple needs to get off its ass on this, and soon. The Ouya will be available from Amazon to anyone that wants one by the time Apple would normally announce such a large update, so who knows. Maybe it’s already too late on this front. I hope not.

  • Kc