It’s fascinating reading the train wreck of comments on The Verge’s story about Tim Cook saying “I’m not interested in being in the console business.” Two or three people suggested that iOS is the Future Of Gaming (feel free to read that phrase with FUTURISTIC REVERB CRANKED TO ELEVEN), and a whole bunch of angry gamers piled on to tell them they’re full of crap.
Crazy idea: maybe when Tim Cook said he wasn’t interested in being in the console business, what he meant was—and I may be going out on a limb here—that he is not interested in being in the console business. At least, the traditional game console business, like the Xbox and Playstation.
If the Apple TV gets an SDK, that doesn’t put Apple in the game console business; it puts them in the app console business. Arguably, they already are—it’s just that existing iOS devices are handheld, and so they are to the GameBoy what an app console in this sense would be to the Xbox. Would there be games for it? Undoubtedly. They’d probably make up a big chunk of what would be written for it. But compared to the Xbox and PlayStation, there would be a much higher proportion of non-game apps.
Serious gamers are people who buy hardware with gaming as a primary purpose. Casual gamers don’t do that. That’s what makes them casual. They’ll buy games for devices they’ve already bought, but they’re not going to go out and buy a new (or upgraded) platform solely to run a game, like a serious gamer will. They probably didn’t buy their device to play games in the first place—it just turns out that their phone is good enough at games that they’re not going to buy a GameBoy now. This is what market disruption means.
The Verge commenters believe that the gaming industry caters to serious gamers, and that Apple clearly doesn’t. QED. (That’s Latin for “so there.”) They’re right But the next generation of consoles are mostly going to sell to people who own the current generation of consoles: serious gamers who are into consoles at all already have one (or two or three). If Apple wants to make an app console, their market won’t be limited to people who own Xboxes and PlayStations. They won’t pitch this theoretical device as a game console, because it won’t be. It’ll be Something Else that happens to also play games. Not to beat an angry bird, but the set of consumers for whom that might be “good enough” is much larger than the set of consumers for whom it’s FIREBREATHING HARDCORE POWER or nothing.
This is all pie-in-the-sky theorizing. But if Apple does release a successful “living room” app console, I’d take a long, hard look at what iOS has done to the handheld gaming market before being blithely dismissive of what it might do to the game console market. A few years ago, executives at Nintendo sounded an awful lot like commenters on The Verge do right now.