But for all their shiny new phones and watches (both of which will conveniently survive when climate change buries humanity), one announcement stuck out above the rest.
OH! SHIT! This is exciting for a couple of reasons. Chief among those reasons is that Nintendo has finally said, “hey, people sure are using their phones a lot.” But the other reason is that this is hopefully a sign from Apple that they intend to take gaming more seriously in iOS and their overall ecosystem (i.e. Apple TV). Because here’s the thing — iOS gaming fucking sucks. I would say that a tiny handful of them are great games, another small handful are decent games, let’s say a Shaq-sized handful are perfectly fine to play while taking a dump, and the remaining 99.999% of games are absolute garbage.
Admittedly, the garbage has value. Tim Cook, a man who has little time for anything that can’t be counted in the billions, mentioned that the App Store has had over 140 billion downloads. And a significant chunk of that comes from the store’s 500,000 games. Estimates show that, in 2015, the App Store brought in about $6B in revenue for the company with about 75% of that revenue coming from games, which is about $4.5B. Sony, by comparison, is expecting to do about $15B across its entire Playstation business (hardware + software) in 2016, which doesn’t really feel that far ahead. While Sony and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft are revenue leaders, Apple is clearly a significant player.
Now I figure there’s always money in peddling crap, but this level of success is weird to me given that Apple’s game market has no iconic brand —nothing that makes it special. When people think of iOS games, they think of Candy Crush, or more recently Pokemon Go (which Nintendo had nothing to do with). And while those games are addictive, they’re also pretty shitty. It feels like Apple runs the reality television channel equivalent of gaming. While there are some stellar exceptions, it’s mostly lowest common denominator schlock driven by ads and borderline scam-worthy in-app purchases. This seems like the antithesis of Apple’s vaunted and pristine brand. Oh well. That’s how disruption works, I guess?
I was the first kid on my block to get Street Fighter 2 and for about a week, I was super popular! Then Albert who lived two streets over got it and his family had a bigger TV. Bastard. Years later after I got an Xbox 360, I gobbled up the Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed games as fast as they could make them. Those platforms long ago created something Apple hasn’t in its gaming world: excitement. I have no idea what new games are in the App Store right now, nor do I have any motivation to spend time finding out. I’d gather that few people do.
I suspect that part of that lack of excitement comes from Apple not owning any IP. There’s nothing, even if it’s nostalgia, that personally connects me to anything they have. Unlike Nintendo (Mario), Sega (Sonic), Sony (Crash), and Microsoft (Halo), Apple has made no attempts at creating any kind of characters, mythologies, storylines, or franchises. Outside of download numbers, iOS gaming doesn’t actually seem like a real thing. And this is weird for two reasons.
Apple has everything at their disposal to make an iconic must-have game (or at least one where they control licensing), but it would appear that they’d rather wait for someone else to provide one for them, which is odd for a company that loves absolute control. And maybe there are perfectly valid business reasons for this. After all, the numbers show they’re quite successful without it. I just find it odd that they don’t.
In any case, the main reason I think Mario on iOS will change the game (see what I did there?) is pricing. Miyamoto-san said pricing was going to come later, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be priced high — well above the average price of most games. And it should be. Software pricing has long been a problem for Apple, even possibly inhibiting professional software for the iPads. Hopefully, a Nintendo game priced on value can reset the behavior of how consumers buy games (and apps in general) and compel developers to create games that we’d play well after flushing the toilet.
But until then, thanks to Nintendo, for the first time in the history of iOS gaming, I’m excited about an upcoming release.
Update (7/10/19): I feel like I was pretty wrong here. Nintendo didn't have much impact on the iOS gaming scene as far as I can tell, but it looks like Apple may be taking it more seriously.