David Diaz, VP of developer relations at mobile advertising tech firm Fyber, asks studios whether tvOS will be able to repeat the mobile success of iOS on TV

Games on Apple TV: New hope or just hype?

With iOS and the App Store, Apple turbo-charged the billion-dollar industry that is mobile gaming today. So now that the company has given developers access to tvOS, its new operating system aimed at revolutionising TV, will there be the same opportunity for a healthy gaming business?

A group of mobile game heavyweights from companies like Glu Mobile, SGN and MobilityWare tried to answer this question at GDC 2016.

The verdict? The tvOS user interface isn’t quite ready to support a massive influx of mobile games.

But that hasn’t stopped some mobile developers, publishers and even monetisation platforms from going after the potential rewards that come from being first-to-market.

New operating system, new challenges

While tvOS shares some of the overall iOS source code DNA, it’s still a very different operating system from both the front- and back-ends.

For example, Apple’s mobile operating system allows for lots of direct interaction and user input – people can tap, swipe and shake to engage with content on screen.

But with Apple TV, the current input mechanism is very limited, with user interaction dictated by the simple remote.

“If it’s going to be the future of gaming on TV, there are definitely some improvements to be made in the remote control area,” says SGN SVP of business development Michael Ritter.

The consensus was that even the most casual of mobile games requires a more robust UI experience than tvOS currently allows. 

To port or not to port?

That lack of in-depth interactivity means that mobile game studios and developers shouldn’t expect to just port their existing IP right onto Apple TV. Creating a game that’s fun in tvOS requires completely different thinking.

“You need to adapt your games to an experience that makes sense for someone sitting on a couch with a remote,” explains Glu Mobile president of publishing Chris Akhavan.

“[Games like] two thumb-oriented shooters don’t immediately translate over to the TV, and that’s partly why we haven’t yet put one out.” 

So what kinds of new game IP may ultimately find success on Apple TV? The panellists said there were both single- and multiplayer opportunities, as well as the potential for dual-screen experiences. 

“A single-player game like Solitaire lends itself to an individual sitting in front of the TV just pointing and clicking,” observes MobilityWare CEO Jeff Erle.

“But it still gives them something new and different, even though there’s not much action that’s needed.”

On the other end, a fast-paced group game like Hasbro’s Yahtzee could work well on Apple TV – if developers are able to make use of an iPhone or iPad as a remote.

“There’s lots of potential for fun, multiplayer games on TV, and not just with Apple TV,” Ritter suggests.

“I’ve played some great games on Chromecast and Amazon Fire that offered a blend of gameplay on the phone and the TV screen, and I think it’s that second-screen blend of both that will do well.”

If you build it, will they come?

MobilityWare has had the benefit of being a first-mover on all of Apple’s mobile devices – from the original iPhone and iPad, to the Apple Watch and now Apple TV.

While that advantage has helped the mobile game company thrive for nearly a decade, Erle said Apple TV hasn’t yet reached the tipping point as a consumer gaming device.

For example, Solitaire is currently one of the most popular games available on Apple TV, yet daily active users (DAUs) hover in the “tens of thousands” range.

“Adoption is definitely taking some time,” Erle admits.

“We were bullish on Christmas season and thought that we’d see a significant increase in devices [sold], but it’s been slow.”

IAP, ads and monetisation

Despite the back-end differences, Apple TV games currently have the same monetisation options that iOS games do: in app purchases (IAP) and ads.

Developers that want to bank on IAP need to remember that navigating the Apple TV interface with the remote can be cumbersome, so aiming to drive fewer, higher value transactions may be a better strategy than lots of smaller purchases.

Meanwhile, the group was split on whether tvOS games would fare better with interruptive, TV-style ads, or more mobile game-centric options like rewarded video.

“I think you could expect to see [games with] five to seven minutes of content and then a forced-view video commercial break,” Akhavan states. “Or even a giant overlay.”

According to AppLovin CRO Mark Rosner, the big screen experience is what influenced his company to launch what may be the industry’s first Apple TV video ad units. MobilityWare has integrated these video ads into Solitaire on tvOS, and it’s paying off.

“We’re doing all video – no interstitials – and the CPMs are higher than in any other device right now,” Erle says.

Still, the group conceded that despite the monetisation options, it’s not clear whether Apple envisions tvOS as a robust gaming platform. The company hasn’t done any real ad campaigns around games on Apple TV – and there’s still that minimalist remote.

“It’s pretty obvious that Apple isn’t trying to compete with consoles at least,” Ritter said. “They could have built a two-button control scheme, and they didn’t.”

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