Opinion: Forget the F2P fuss, Real Racing 3 has started the race towards an Apple console

But is Apple interested?

Opinion: Forget the F2P fuss, Real Racing 3 has started the race towards an Apple console
If you had to award a prize for the best mobile game, how would you judge it?

Would it be a matter of choosing your favourite game that happened to appear on a mobile platform, or would you look to award the title that made best use of the mobile form factor?

In some cases, the result would be the same, but how you reached that decision is nonetheless important, if only because it begs the question: What the hell is a 'mobile game' anyway?

F2P farce

It's a debate that raged within my mind while taking on Real Racing 3.

Believe it or not, the free-to-play furore that surrounded the game's release bothered me not. I have a very simple rule that I fall back on when judging the merits of a F2P game: If I'm not enjoying it, I stop playing it.

That's not an attempt to belittle the issue.

As the number of Real Racing 3 articles on this site attests, the transition the franchise made from a paid one to one given away for free is entirely newsworthy, not just because it informed Real Racing 3's game design, but also because it cast light on what appears to be a change in strategy at EA.

But – as with any game – if the experience the game delivers isn't up to scratch, then the vast majority of gamers won't hesitate in putting it down. Such is the wealth of titles available across mobile that savvy consumers don't have time to waste on games that don't live up to their big billing.

Ultimately, Real Racing 3's long term success or failure as a F2P release won't be determined within news stories and opinion pieces, but by the gamers who hit that download button.

I think its position as a mobile title, however, is firmly up for debate.

Right game, wrong format

My primary thought when taking on Real Racing 3 was that something didn't feel right. Here I was, huddled over my iPod touch engaged in races that, as the game progressed, quickly became more and more intense.

On my tenth attempt to beat a time set by a friend, it suddenly occurred to me that this experience was nothing new. In fact, I'd experienced this extreme sense of tension many times before, attempting to do the same thing while taking on many racers.

The only difference was, all those previous experiences had taken place while playing on a console.
Real Racing 3 is at its core isn't a mobile game, for me. There's nothing wrong with the way it's deployed – the accelerometer based controls are especially impressive, in fact, finding the sweet spot between being responsive without succumbing to over-sensitivity.

Rather, the experience of suffering a series of self imposed restarts after I botched the first corner time after time doesn't befit the mobile form factor.

If I'm going to devote hour after hour to a game like this, then I want to do so with a control pad in my hand, and a big screen in my eyeline.

Mobile games are, for me, far more sophisticated in their delivery, far more tailored for breaking up their play than this, and don't result in me almost putting my back out, hunched over a device that soon starts slipping out of my sweaty palms once play heats up.

TV times

It was vocalising these concerns over Twitter that resulted in someone suggesting to me that I try Real Racing 3 on my TV over AirPlay Mirroring and, this weekend, I did just that.

It's an interesting experience. For starters, I had to resort to using a friend's Apple TV and iPad 3 to do it – the Apple TV unit I tried has a massive falling out with my router, resulting in every other connected device suffering slow internet, even when the Apple TV in question was disconnected.

Also, sadly (but perhaps understandably on a technical level), my fourth generation iPod touch isn't compatible with AirPlay Mirroring.

However, even with the right tech equipped, taking on Real Racing 3 on your TV doesn't deliver the experience you might expect.

There's an inescapable amount of lag detectable that, not only delivers an inferior picture on your TV when compared to your iOS device, but also actively effects your performance – the delay impacting on your reactions and, for some time, resulting in you swaying from side to side across the track.

The end result was that, while it was technically impressive that I could stream Real Racing 3 to my TV through an iPad – albeit in 4:3 rather than widescreen – I quickly found myself looking at the tablet's screen rather than my television set in order to compensate for the lag.

Turning the tables

Is this the experience Apple and EA would be looking to deliver? It seems unlikely.

But, as jagged as Real Racing 3's delivery over AirPlay is, it did automatically feel far more at home played while sat on a sofa rather than crouched over my iPod.

The importance of this kind of franchise shouldn't be underestimated, either. My big concern about the likely launched of an app-equipped Apple TV – or, dare I say it, an iOS console – is that the majority of the platform's biggest hits won't translate well to the big screen, given they're so well formatted for mobile.
Real Racing 3 – and a clutch of other releases – is the exact opposite: a game for me that takes the console type racer and slices away at it with a series compromises so that it's playable on mobile.

The potential, however, is undeniable. Here's an iOS game that looks like a million dollars and, with a few tweaks, is console ready.

If you put issues of lag aside – a problem that, as time passes, will likely be overcome – then it's not hard to see how Apple could make a major impact almost overnight.

Any iOS device for TVs – whether an update to the existing Apple TV, or a new release entirely – would be relatively cheap to manufacturer, especially when compared to next-gen systems from Sony and Microsoft.

In turn, Apple would be able to keep the device's price down - and that's key.

The numbers game

Consider this: Estimates suggest there are just shy of 75 million Xbox 360s out there, sold over the course of what's now a near eight year period.

In comparison, Apple sold over 75 million iOS devices during Q1 2013 alone.

If Apple were to give any console or revised Apple TV unit away with those purchases – or even simply offer it at a discounted rate – the impact it could have on the existing console market within a short space of time is potentially devastating.

The question, then, isn't whether an Apple console is possible. It's whether it's probable.

Though Apple TV itself is a rather half-hearted platform (seemingly delivered as a way of getting iTunes into people's living rooms rather than a serious effort to take on more competent media packages on consoles and smart TVs) it is at least a starting point.

What matters is whether Apple sees this as a market worth chasing. To this day, I still think the App Store – and the games revolution it triggered – was something of a happy accident. The tame nature of platforms such as Game Center suggests to me that, almost five years on, Apple hasn't got its heart in the games market.

Nonetheless, the potential to usurp bitter rival Microsoft from the top of the console tree may be an opportunity many at Apple can't turn down.

If nothing else, playing Real Racing 3 suggests the starting pistol on Apple taking its mobile revolution to the TV has well and truly been fired.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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Simon Edis Game Designer at Ezone.com
Here's what I want (as a developer and consumer): an AppleTV that is basically an iOS version of GameStick that runs all the existing iOS games, and has an Apple provided API to integrate with the game controller (or a paired iPhone/iPod/iPad)
Keith Andrew
I too think think move could be gradual - and accidental. I think, however, if Apple gets a hunger for this, giving units away with iPhone and iPad sales could be a major initiative.

And I say this after a week of being rather disappointed by Apple TV as it stands. Heh.
Phil M
It could be that Apple are waiting to see how all the "unconsoles" are going to do before doing more with Apple TV, but I'll be very surprised if they don't make a move in that direction very soon.

There's a huge prize just sitting there waiting for someone to come and claim it and Apple have the smallest distance to cover.
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
Agree with pretty much all of that russell. I think as a relatively gradual evolution, there will be a bridge built between mobile devices and TVs via devices like the Apple TV - whether or not the mobile/tablet will remain as the default control mechanism (as well as the device that does the processing and then flings the signal) is another question.

For family games and other multi-player experiences along the Wii route, I think it could be a compelling set-up. For console-like games, I think that audience wants a more familiar input mechanism. it's a space that really interests me, but it's hard to give a prognosis for now scalable as a business it could be.

Even with the perfect suite of titles that make use of the Apple TV, Airplay and a mobile device as an input method, the audience is still capped at the number of Apple TV's out there (which is still sub 10 million I think). It will take Apple changing its tack to that platform for the software to emerge but even then, there are serious technical complexities - especially if the plan is to have games work natively on an Apple TV.

That throws up lots of questions for mobile publishers that have been building marketing pipelines for mobile - it's not necessarily as easy a transition as some might assume. Maybe the GameStick et al will prove to be a better model as you say...
Russell Clarke
Nice piece, Keith.

That possibility has been floating around for a while, but I've stopped seeing it as a 'big move' Apple are poised to make. I tend to agree with Fraser: a gradual, inevitable expansion into that space, not an aggressive push.

We will see many more console-like games, not because of Apple driving a strategy, but because of console developers piling into the field, taking advantage of burgeoning hardware power to make the games they know how to make.

And there is a niche for that - but I think your experience highlights why it will remain a niche. As you observe, the Store is stuffed with a huge volume of content, most of which would need a ground-up redesign to work in 'console format'.

Even examples of ex-console devs making console games for tablets will, almost by definition, not translate well if they're any good. The Drowning springs to mind: its patent-tastic touch control system is totally inappropriate for big screen gaming.

I think Apple will be content to see what develops. If Ouya and Gamestick take off, maybe they'll want to respond to that?
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
Hah! Echos of last week ;)

Agree for the most part here - it's not a question of possibility (the parts are all in place), it's a question of probability. I don't think Apple will move on this space in aggressive way with the goal of snaffling a portion of TV gaming revenue. Nevertheless, I think that will still end up happening as an unintended consequence of opening up the platform (in much the same way iOS gaming became such a big deal on the back of opening up the iPhone SDK).

It amazes me that Real Racing 3 doesn't have a dedicated Airplay mode the way Real Racing 2 does. The twin screen Real Racing 2 airplay mode (which has been used on Apple's site repeatedly to highlight the feature in Apple TV) is a dream - I've played it as a split screen multiplayer with a friend (one iPhone, one iPad, one Apple TV) with no lag and it's a very compelling proof of concept.

There are still surprisingly few dedicated twin screen Airplay games out there - perhaps because Apple insists on forcing developers to have gamers use the system volume control panel to turn the feature on (which is in the official Apple Developer Guidelines on Airplay) . It's curious that other non-video signal throwing apps allow airplay to be turned on in-app (e.g. TuneIn Radio). It seems Apple is holding back that functionality from games for a reason...