Apple's iPhone Can Dethrone Nintendo DS

The iPhone and iPod Touch can become the dominant gaming platform because of constant connectivity and the App Store model, NGmoco founder Neil Young says.
In order to be successful at creating iPhone games, NGmoco founder Neil Young asked one question: What would Nintendo do?

Speaking at a keynote at the Game Developers Conference on Monday, Young said many expected Sony's PlayStation Portable to mop the floor with Nintendo's DS because it had much better specs and strong multimedia capabilities, and was easier to port games to. But Nintendo was able to dominate the handheld gaming market because it emphasized the unique features of its hardware and designed games that couldn't be found anywhere else.

Young said developers should adopt a similar philosophy when making games for Apple's smartphone and utilize things like the iPhone's touch screen, accelerometer, location information, and connectivity to create a great gaming experience.

"Don't let the haters tell you it sucks compared to the DS or the PSP," Young said of the iPhone as a gaming platform. "It doesn't. It's good. It's clear that the quality of iPhone games is eclipsing its console counterparts, and that's even more acute when you compare it against the prior generation."

The iPhone 3G can become a better platform for mobile gaming than Sony or Nintendo because it's always connected, users always carry it, and there aren't many first-party games to compete with, Young said. When you include the iPod Touch, Apple's 30 million users equals a larger installed base than the DS or PSP at the same point in their lifespan. But more importantly, Apple's App Store has revolutionized distribution by creating a frictionless way for users to search for, buy, download, and install games over the air, Young said.

"It's like having a Wal-Mart or Best Buy in your pocket," Young said.

Since its debut last year, the App Store has seen more than 800 million apps, and there are more than 25,000 mobile programs in the catalog. The most popular category by far is games, as Young said it represents about 60% of the market. This hasn't gone unnoticed by the major game developers, as companies like Electronic Arts and THQ have released high-profile games for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The App Store represents a tremendous opportunity for game publishers of all sizes, but Young said this can also make it tough to get noticed among the crowd because there are about 165 new apps a day. He said companies need to focus on their "superpower," or a distinguishing feature that makes their product stand out.

Additionally, gaming on the iPhone will lead to different life cycles and price points that developers need to get used to. For example, Young pointed to his company's game "Rolando," which is scheduled to release three iterations over 11 months with about 40 hours of game play for less than the price of a DS or PSP game. But this can still be profitable because the App Store distribution model strips away a lot of costs and because of the viral nature of the game.

Young is optimistic that the iPhone 3.0 software will take mobile gaming to the next level. He's particularly interested in its voice-over-IP aspects, peer-to-peer applications, and push-notification system. He showed off the first-person shooter "Livefire," which utilizes multitouch, in-app purchasing, and online multiplayer features.

"We're at the center of the new everything ... the iPhone has revolutionized everything," Young said.

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