For how many years have people been predicting Apple’s entrance into the games industry? The argument was semi-persuasive: after unprecedented success in the portable music industry and the radical about-turn of its Mac ranges, the Cupertino giant is now seen as one of the coolest companies around – and, as such, why would it not want to get into what many see as one of the coolest industries around?
Of course, the easy answer is that it has – and the disastrous Pippin is proof of why a company shouldn’t stretch itself too far, even if that was an Apple of a different era. But times change, and that prediction has come true, albeit in a slightly roundabout, and possibly unintentional manner. Apple has never hidden the fact that the staggering performance of its iPhone and iPod Touch App Store was a huge surprise to the company, but we’d wager that quite how predominantly games featured in that success was perhaps the most shocking thing of all – especially to a company with a quite public disregard of gaming.
And so, while it might never have intended to, Apple has finally entered the games industry – and with recent promotions focusing on the gaming power of the iPod Touch, it’s clear that the company now has dominance of the portable gaming industry clearly within its sights. We sat down with Greg Josiwak, Apple’s head of iPhone and iPod marketing, to talk about Apple’s new strategy as a games platform holder, and the opportunities that lie therein for developers.
How important are games now to Apple? The games situation for the previous iPods was certainly a more measured approach compared to what we see now.
Well, that was very different – it was a much more controlled environment for click-wheel iPods. This is a different thing – we’ve opened up apps, and we’ve had a lot of takers. That we’ve accumulated 1,500 games in such a short order is pretty amazing.
It’s all in our marketing: we talk about this being ‘the funnest iPod ever’ – music, movies and games. In our TV advertisements now, we’re showing the gaming aspects of it because it’s so clear that people want to do that with this product. We’ve got people playing these games and buying the iPod Touch to play these games. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us, for our customers, and for developers and publishers.
Do you see the App Store’s market as being different to the type of people who would deliberately seek out and enter a specialist games retailer?
I don’t have data, but I think that common sense would say that, well, the App Store goes out to every customer – it’s on every iPod Touch. It’s on every iPhone. So you’re hitting the entire space of people with a single tap of a button, all without having to leave their house.
Maybe in the physical world it takes more commitment, because you’ve got to discover these things, you’ve got to go to a game store, you’ve got to pay a significantly bigger amount of money. So maybe that’s limiting your base, I don’t know – common sense would say that having it out there on every device is an advantage.
You’ve compared the iPod Touch to the DS – you see yourselves as in that space now? Do you see that as a competitor?
Well, it’s not just the screen quality – it’s the graphics capability, the compute power, the App distribution model. I had an analyst tell me in September – and he was so right – that the DS is the past of gaming devices, and that the iPod Touch is the future of gaming devices. It certainly has our competitors scrambling in what they’re going to do in reaction to this. I think it’s a tremendous start that we’re
having at entering this gaming market, and there’s no doubt that that’s happening – it just is.
Does that mean games are going to be a big part of your iPod marketing going forward?
Certainly with the iPod Touch, we’ve talked about it being the future of the iPod – the iPod that can go beyond just music. And I think we’ve been clear with that: this device can play your music, your movies, your games because this product is capable of so much more, and there’s a tremendous synergy we have with the iPod Touch customer and the game developers.
The PSP has quite a targeted hardcore audience, and the DS has quite a casual userbase. Where would you position the iPod in that sense?
It represents a more future-looking view of gaming, so maybe it’s in a category of its own. There’s nothing else that does what it does. It’s a very interesting new entrant, and I think that maybe that’s a better question for our competitors.
Many developers we’ve spoken to have been positive about their relations with Apple – obviously you’ve always had developer relations with your Mac business, but it must be a big increase in the amount of people you’re dealing with. Have you put a big focus on those relationships?
That past that you mention is a tremendous strength for us, because we know what it’s like to be a platform company. We know what it’s like to create tools for developers, we know what it’s like to create programmes for developers, to support and evangelise them. This is something we’ve been doing for the last 25 years, so we have a history that, again, differentiates us from people who are new to it.
Developers have told us that they’ve been very pleased with the interaction, and also they’re happy that we don’t say ‘Sorry, we don’t need that game, because we already have five racing games.’
How much of the current structure of the App Store and the SDK was influenced by the hugely active homebrew scene that appeared?
Well, we had said all along that we had priorities of things that we needed to work on, and we had nothing against the idea of third party development of the iPhone. But we had to get some of the basic things right, and when we wanted to create an SDK we wanted to do it right. We wanted to create a great environment with the right set of APIs to give developers the power of the product, and I think we’ve done it. I think the wait was worth it for those developers, because we’ve brought that hacker community to the mainstream, bringing it to every customer.
There was a lot of promotion of Super Monkey Ball at the beginning of the App Store – would you be willing to do the same for other games, and would it only be with the big names or big brands?
Super Monkey Ball was somewhat of a unique opportunity, in that Sega was one of the few developers we brought in prior to our March event where we announced the SDK. As a result, they had a little bit of a head start, and they were able to demonstrate the game at that event – and it was amazing how much progress they’d made in just a couple of weeks. Their story was particularly engaging because they brought their mobile team onto it, and they said “You know what, this would be better for the console guys.” It was a much richer environment than they were used to.
So certainly, they were one of the early big titles, and they got some airplay as a result. We’ve been doing that with a number of titles – we have a series of advertisements for the iPhone where we’re highlighting Apps. Some of them are games, some of them aren’t – it’s not about the size of the developer, it’s quality of the game. Cro-Mag Rally was one that we showed, and that was basically a one-man team. So, it’s a matter of the quality of the game, and that’s the beauty of the democracy of the App Store: if you create something good, it’s going to get good ratings, and if it gets good ratings it’s going to get people buying it, and if it gets people buying it it’s going to end up on the best-seller list.
Do you think that it opens up opportunities for smaller developers to sustain themselves through self-publishing?
You know the challenges you face in distributing physical goods, like licensing and manufacturing. You’ve got to worry about forecasting. What if you get it wrong? If you do too many, you’ve got returns coming back; if you do too few you haven’t satisfied demand. And what if you find you’ve got a bug? You have to pull the product back from the channel. It all adds up for a very expensive proposition for a developer, and as a result game titles are more expensive when in a physical form.
Every customer has the App Store on the device – that means every customer has access to your product. When talking about physical goods, it’s hard to get shelf space. So not only are we serving the EAs, the Segas, the Gamelofts, the Hudsons of the world – who are investing nicely in iPod Touch games – but we’re also allowing opportunity for the small guy, the one or two developer shop that otherwise couldn’t get any sort of placement in a retail environment. We’ve had a number of cases of small developers who have told us that, after a month or two of their cheques coming in, they’ve paid off their mortgage.