OPINION: Apple is too smart to buy a games firm

OPINION: Apple is too smart to buy a games firm

By Rob Crossley

October 26th 2010 at 5:40PM

â?¦but if it did, it could only be Valve

The internet swung its fists around like Lady Macbeth on her sixth Stella last night when it was speculated, by analysts and journos alike, that Apple was going to make a sensational unsolicited takeover bid for... something.

That’s right; something. It could be EA, city analysts said. It could be Sony, others claimed.

And then, in what I’m sure is irrefutable evidence that there’s a complex and beautiful inherent logic to all of this, analysts started making completely different predictions.

Wait! It could be Netflix, they said. Hang on, what about Disney? Facebook, they screamed, it must be Facebook. Oh, that means Twitter too, innit.

Never doubt the sheer insatiability of market speculation. By the end of the day, we had one analyst, whom I’ll spare the mention of, suggesting Apple could be buying Adobe.

Sod it, why not? Apple has $51 billion in its iPhone-hugging pockets. That’s enough to match the GDP of Bulgaria, with spare change to buy Manchester United, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, Real Madrid and – perhaps if he has no issues selling himself – Tiger Woods.

So why shouldn’t the analysts go a bit crazy? Why stop there? Why not predict Apple buying Nestle, claim ownership of the Catholic Church and acquire a 51 per cent controlling half the moon? (The shiny half, naturally.)

Of course, that’s only part of the reason why the markets suffered a spot of post-recession stress disorder last night.

Not only is Apple richer than Jesus, it’s also a company with interests in music, film, smartphones, PCs, apps, social networks and, of course, games.

It meant there was whole village of possible buyout targets that the analysts could throw their grenades at. But a games company? Let’s not be cruel.

Those predicting Apple is going to buy a games firm have published their spiel, I suspect, with little consideration for the manner in which Apple has invaded the games market, where it has succeeded and how it has rewritten the rulebook.

Apple’s made over $330 million from app and game sales in less than two years. And it’s doing this with a Greenspan-esque lighter-than-light-touch approach: No exclusivity deals, no timed DLC packages, no studio buyouts, no messing. It simply approves games, takes a 30 per cent cut, and watches them either sink or swim on its oceanic App Store.
 
Why Apple would like to risk making its own games in this money-making equation is quite beyond me. It’s like a casino owner deciding he can make a pretty penny if he spends a week or two on the roulette table.

Not wishing to talk the games industry down, but the publishing and development sectors are brutally factionalised, with firms often saddling frightening levels of debt just to nod ahead of the pack.

Sales are utterly unpredictable, too. While the likes of Just Dance and Aliens vs Predator jumped atop the charts, the heavily-promoted Enslaved and MMA made little more than a dent.

The last two years alone have seen old empires Midway and Atari fall off a cliff, and the biggest games studio in Scotland evaporate after spending five years on developing a game.

As much I like to visualise Apple announcing a game company acquisition (surely it would come with a ‘magical’ video of the lucky game company boss talking the usual bollocks to the background music of some acoustic-guitar-pop), the likelihood is slim.

Valve, however, might be an option. Steam is a digital buoy keeping the sunken ship of PC gaming away from deep waters. Bringing that exclusive to Mac would deliver immediate schadenfreude.

But I’m not especially convinced that Apple is going to procure anything at all, really; at least not anything as well defined as the big companies that are being cited.

Apple doesn’t build on existing businesses. It’s got to the stage it’s at today by, quite uniquely, building everything from scratch.