'iPod is Apple's game gateway' says insider

'iPod is Apple's game gateway' says insider
Michael French

By Michael French

February 14th 2008 at 2:39PM

EXCLUSIVE: Senior development source talks Apple's 'game plan', says 'don't hold your breath' for major games assault

Speculation is mounting in the industry that Apple is preparing to increase its activity in the games industry - but one senior development source has told Develop that the firm is most likely just preparing to sign up more games content to run on its iPod device.

At the weekend it transpired that Apple had applied to the US Patent Office filing papers which redefine the company's remit to include: "Toys, games and playthings, namely, hand-held units for playing electronic games; hand-held units for playing video games; stand alone video game machines; electronic games other than those adapted for use with television receivers only; LCD game machines; electronic educational game machines; toys, namely battery-powered computer games".

This has lead to a raft of speculative commentary that the electronics and computing giant will look to extend the success of its devices in the music, home computing, portable electronics and mobile industries to video games. Apple has historical and contemporary form in the games business - it added iPod games to its music device in 2006, and tried to launch its own games console, the Pippin, a decade previously.

However a senior development source has told Develop that the industry shouldn't expect a sudden move by Apple into games market, more that the firm will instead first look to add more games content to its iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone.

"Apple is very protective of the reputation it has built in the electronics market," said our source - familiar with Apple's conversations with software companies - speaking under conditions of anonymity. "So don't hold your breath for an announcement of an 'iGame' console just yet."

When the firm announced the iPod was games-compatible from its fifth generation onwards, it unveiled a select line-up of casual games titles from PopCap, EA and its small internal development team, which it has since grown with offerings of classic IPs from Sega (Sonic) and Hudson (Bomberman), licensed IP from Gameloft (Lost, based on the TV show) and new IPs from Harmonix (Phase) and NaNaOn-Sha (Musik).

Recent additions to the portfolio of iPod games include Namco's Pole Position, a Hasbro/EA Yahtzee games and PopCap's popular casual game Peggle. The games are sold via Apple's distribution platform iTunes.

In a recent issue of our sister magazine MCV, Sega America boss Simon Jeffery said he was "honoured" his firm was chosen to make games for the iPod, and that "iTunes and Apple's whole banking/payment system is flawless".

Describing the iPods themselves as already 'powerful enough' from a hardware point of view as a games platform given their use of OpenGL ES for graphics, our source added: "From our discussions, it seems Apple is happy working the way it does, courting individual companies and handpicking who it thinks can make the best games or has the best development abilities when it comes to growing the stable of iPod games - although I wouldn't rule out Apple beefing up that approach and commissioning more games for its portable devices."

So it seems that many in the games industry as it stands are happy enough with what Apple currently has to offer should the firm wish to establish more relationships with developers and publishers.

Certainly, Apple is set to open the doors to developers for its iPod Touch and iPhone with a publicly released SDK, which many assume will open the gates to third-party games for the platform which exploit the devices' touchscreens. The exact date for the release of the SDK is still currently unknown, although Apple CEO Steve Jobs promised it would arrive in this month when announcing it last year.

In the meantime, if you're interested in developing games for the iPod Touch or iPhone, we've put together a tutorial to prime you for making content for the device. Click here to read more.