Mobile Mavens

Should game developers have their eyes on Apple Watch?

Or is Apple once again leading from the rear?

Should game developers have their eyes on Apple Watch?

As you might expect, last week's big reveal by Apple – the unveiling of the new iPhones and Apple Watch – dominated press coverage last week. 

As is typical, there's wasn't much talk of gaming, but given the new iPhones, the push into payments, the still-to-be-fully explained health and home functionality, the whole iOS 8 release, and yes, the Apple Watch.

So, we asked our Mavens:

What do you think in the longterm will be the most significant elements of today's keynote? And, more strategically, does any of this actually change Apple's position in the wider ecosystem in gaining new iPhone/Apple users?


William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

It's worth breaking this into two parts. Firstly, Apple had to build the iPhone 6 Plus - not so much to gain new users, but to provide an upgrade path for the current iPhone base, many of whom wanted a larger device.

The battery life, if anything approaching reality, is a good improvement. Apple remains a prestige brand, particularly in growing markets like China, so this could end up attracting users who would have previously opted for the Galaxy S.

Metal, Apple's 3D API, was previously demoed and shined nicely on the 6 Plus during the demo of Super Evil Megacorp's Vainglory, a decent looking multiplayer battle arena title. Apple's new dev language, Swift, is an enjoyable system and combined with Metal and the 6's A8 chips, should allow for modern console game quality on the device.

iPhone 6 - sized or supersized

While apps make more money per player on iOS than Android, the question still remains if we'll see an increased number of triple-A console titles launch on the platform. I still believe I will win my bet that one day - Nintendo will release their the back catalog on these devices (not counting the rumored Pokémon Trading Card Game).

As a publisher of licensed Real Money Casino games on iOS in the UK (FYI: Google Play doesn't allow this), Apple Pay could be a big advance when compared to the cumbersome payment methods now employed by the casino industry. While Apple does not allow in-app purchases to be used for Real Money Gaming, since Apple Pay is tied to credit cards, it should allow for this in gambling apps.

As for the watch, Apple has bet a bunch on this one. I think it looks far more polished than the MOTO 360 and Samsung Gear Live. I don't have the specs, but the resolution looks far higher. It screams quality.

But what about games?

There are a surprising number of popular simple single-tap games in the iOS App Store. Flappy Bird, its sequel Swing Copters, Shoot the Moon and the classic Tiny Wings could all be ported. But will the devs want to and, if so, will users care?

At 100 dollars less, will Motorola's 360 provide competition for Apple Watch

Well, I made that bet in 2007 with the iPhone (we released the first iPhone game, the Safari based iWhack), and that bet paid off, so we will probabily give it a go on the Apple Watch as well.

Form factor drives function, so these have to be simple games that fit the device and its use patterns.

More obvious is gamification of fitness, a tread we see in Strava Cycling and other exercise apps. I could see apps that aid in a variety of fitness pursuits, have an idea for one or two that would be prefect for a more minimal device like this watch. As a cyclist having maps that use the haptic UI to inform me of an upcoming turn, would be an aid during longer rides.

Kevin Corti Principal Spidershed Media

Focussing on games, I personally think little changed with respect to the iPhone - Apple has just delivered logical incremental device improvement.

Apple has just delivered logical incremental device improvement.
Kevin Corti

I suppose we can say that the top-end iOS devices can now run even more graphic/CPU-intensive games but I don't see that as anything more than a niche opportunity in the short to medium term. I can't see many (any?) developers creating games to take advantage of that extra capability to the detriment of not still catering for the majority of users that still have legacy iPhone 5s and 4s.

Mobile game commercialisation is a volume game.

The Apple Watch has to foster genuine opportunities for the wider app developer community and no doubt we will see some novel/creative/ambitious/fortuitous examples of games made specifically for that mode of use and device format that capture an audience attention and do well.

I genuinely think that there is scope for innovation for health and leisure apps for instance but I don't think we have witnessed anything that represents a huge opportunity for the overall mobile games dev community.

Thomas Nielsen Osao Games

The thing about this week's keynote is that none of the news is particularly exciting from a games perspective, which probably also explains some of the apathy.

None of the news is particularly exciting from a games perspective.
Thomas Nielsen

iPhone 6 doesn't offer much news- it's largely Apple playing catchup on the specs side. NFC and Apple Pay could potentially have a huge social impact, but not one in games.

Apple Watch may offer a new way of interacting with games, especially those games that require users to engage much/often over longer periods of time.

I can imagine some free-to-play designers having very wet dreams about the possibilities here. I don't think it will have a mainstream impact in the foreseeable future, though.

Personally, I'll not be smart-watching anytime soon. It's hard enough to log off as it is, so my pocket is as close to the interwebz as I'd like to be.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

I don't think the Apple Watch will be revolutionary for gaming just because of the pose you need to strike in order to interact with it. Viewing the device head-on requires you to have to elbow up in the air which will probably be fairly uncomfortable for an extended period of time.

Measuring heartbeat in games might be a neat feature. Maybe even a good analytic (although does that mean they are pissed off or excited). It could be used as a Wii-like controller for an Apple TV game - watch on one hand, iPhone in the other. Although it would be much better if the watch had a gyroscope in it.

Keep in mind this is just the first gen. There will be a lot of devs working on this and unanticipated good ideas will appear. The hardware will evolve, get smaller and bring more functionality with it.

An opportunity - but maybe we should wait for Mark II

On the phone: From a games perspective, all the things we care about are in the operating system, not necessarily the hardware. The only way hardware can help us to offer new input/output sources to play around with.

Not sure that the barometer will be a useful input for most games. Metal is interesting in that it keeps increasing the graphics capability but only a few dev houses are setup to take full advantage of this. My team is certainly not big enough to make a triple-A console quality game.

Although I do think it's interesting in that it will hopefully bring more premium games to the table and therefore bring more players to the platform (and hopefully grow the paid apps market).

In order for hardware to offer us something really useful, I think we need something like pressure sensitive input, latency free airplay, haptic feedback, or controller support that's not a mess.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I think I feel a lot more positive about this Apple announcement than I have for a very long time.

The phones are exactly what I expected, a good addition of additional performance although also a little more fragmentation. At last! We have a phablet but the extra cost for what I now consider to be a minimum 64GB (ideally 128GB) memory remains frustratingly expensive and I suspect that caps the potential app revenue for the market overall - especially higher quality core games.

Smart watch design should be about capturing the second.
Oscar Clark

I'm mostly glad to see at last Apple's proposition for a watch. I'm a big wearable fan and although I didn't find as much detail as I would have liked, especially about the way app support would work, I think their description of the watch as a "more immediate and intimate way to connect" was very promising. Smart watch design should be about capturing the second and I suspect how well this device satisfies that concept will decide whether Smart Watches gain real traction or not. I'm not sold on the dial control yet, but I will hold my opinion till I see it working in practice.

If the app support is good enough, there will probably now be a rush of developers setting up Watch-App teams; and that will trickle across to the other platforms too which will be critical for the wide spread acceptance of Smart Watches.

Beyond my own interests however, its the NFC payment system that will have (as others have said) the biggest impact but not (of course) directly for games yet. Although, if we get access to the NFC tools then there may be a few interesting ideas for games too.

Is it all that innovative... no.

Apple is again leading from behind. Does it come across as a good proposition, yes. Exciting... well perhaps a little. I for one would consider returning to Apple if the phone/watch interaction is especially good. However, I'm not counting on that just yet.

Harry Holmwood CEO Marvelous Europe

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Harry was European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

Harry is CEO of Magicave.

The phones sound great - a bigger screen on what was already a great device seems to be just what the market wants. Sometimes the obvious product is the right one.

The watch... looks great too, if a little pricey and underwhelming in terms of aesthetics. There's still a way to go with smartwatches, and I'm looking forward to seeing more on Apple's watch as launch approaches.

My initial delight with my LG watch has worn off a little and, while I'm enjoying being able to tell the time with it, and I like that it tells me when my phone is ringing, I can't remember the last time I used it for anything 'smart'. I don't like not having it on though, and it does feel like there's a great product there waiting to come into its own with the right software.

I don't hugely buy into the idea of using heart sensors as a useful input to games.
Harry Holmwood

Having played a bit with biometric input (heart rate and galvanic skin response) to games a few years back, I don't hugely buy into the idea of using heart sensors as a useful input to games - it's tempting to think there's value in working out how a player is feeling (I've read people talking about using it to work out how best to scare players, for example) but heart rate in particular changes pretty slowly over time in response to stress inputs, and varies a lot depending on context and person, so it's hard to make it a useful input into a game mechanic.

I think there are great games to come which include smartwatch play - it's maybe harder to conceive of a game which would be a watch exclusive (i.e. not use a phone too, for longer interactions) and be improved as a result. That's probably a lack of imagination on my part though, and I look forward to seeing what developers do to surprise and delight us.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

I prefer the Watch announcement to the phones – they were expected. The Apple Watch will be another possibility for gaming and I am sure that we will see new generations coming out fast.

My only problem with the announcement is that the watch will be available early next year, which is such a long period.

I am sure we will see another generation of Android Wear before Apple releases it.

I am just wondering which companies of the watch industry will join in and cooperate with the OEMs. Fossil just announced a cooperation with Intel.

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