Why games on the Apple Watch and Apple TV failed

first_imgMobile gaming is huge. Accept this. You’ve had years to get over it. The 3DS is a successful handheld with a lot of great games, but smartphones definitely ate some of its lunch after they were done smothering the PlayStation Vita in the crib. For better or worse, a lot of gameplay concepts popularized in mobile (like free-to-play mechanics) have also disrupted more traditional console and PC games. A hit mobile game, Angry Birds, recently soared into theaters. As for who’s leading the charge, while the Android gaming ecosystem is just fine, Apple’s App Store is arguably the more prestigious mobile gaming marketplace. If you want to play great mobile games, it pays to have an iPhone or iPad. So, why can’t Apple replicate that success on its other platforms?Before lamenting the disappointing state of Apple TV and Apple Watch TV games, it’s important to reiterate the strength of iPhone and iPad games. I’ve been covering mobile gaming for years now, and while it has more than its fair share of problems (clones, exploitative freemium models, lack of quality control) hardcore gamers seriously underrate the category. Not having buttons means the platform isn’t ideal for games that need speed, precision, and complexity all at once. But there are amazing mobile games that feature some of those qualities. Canabalt and Spider: Secret of Bryce Manor are platformers so innovative they invented a new genres. Ports of RPGs, strategy games, and adventure games like The World Ends With You, The Banner Saga, and Her Story play great on a tablet. I can’t tell you how many times Threes has drained my phone’s battery. It’s one of the best puzzle games of all time. App Store games may have been iffy at launch, but it now has more than enough excellent examples that prove the potential of the service.The same can’t be said of Apple’s other iOS-adjacent devices. Let’s start with the Apple Watch. It wasn’t instantaneous, but it didn’t take too long for iPhone game developers to figure out how to apply what they learned to the iPad and its larger screen — how to make their games scale to both devices or develop games that only made sense on tablets. The fact that the screen sizes and resolutions began to blur into each other helped. The tiny Apple Watch touchscreen called for its own totally new kinds of game design, but a year later the market just hasn’t delivered.There were attempts. Games like Spy_Watch, which turned your watch into an espionage gadget, were an early, obvious choice. Since the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to function, a simple puzzle game like Letterpad could just mirror what was happening on the phone on your wrist. Virtual pet games like Toby were also another promising avenue, but all of these games had less energy and impact than even the most casual iPhone game. It’s telling some of the most prominent Apple Watch games were mindless incremental clickers inspired by jokes like Candy Box and Cookie Clicker, or a totally passive game like Watch Quest. Is your favorite part of a mobile game waiting for a timer to recharge your energy. What if a game were nothing but that?Maybe if the Apple Watch was more successful developers would be more motivated to create quality games for it. It’s definitely one of, if not the most, successful smartwatches, and 13 million sold is no number to scoff at, but that’s far below the hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads sold. Perhaps the failure of Apple Watch games is merely a symptom of the larger failure of smartwatches as a product category?That doesn’t explain the failure of Apple TV games, though. People have loved playing video games on their TV since the dawn of the medium. Meanwhile, the App Store model is a superb, convenient way to access tons of great games on your TV. Everyone expected the gaming-enabled Apple TV to make good on the promise of those forgettable Android micro-consoles like the Ouya or Nvidia Shield and use mobile gaming’s formidable power to strike at the heart of console gaming.So, what happened? Along with a sales issue similar to the Apple Watch, In my opinion, what made gaming on the Apple TV such a non-starter was a collection of small choices that reflected Apple’s general apathy bordering on antipathy for gaming, a space the company tolerates on mobile but does shockingly little to actually foster. It’s like if the Wii U didn’t have a first party as talented and passionate as Nintendo supporting it. The Apple TV remote was a cool controller that combined buttons, a touchscreen, and motion sensors, but why was there no official traditional gamepad from Apple? Why did we have to rely on poor third party Bluetooth controllers. Nintendo was smart enough to make standard controllers alongside the more innovative Wii remote.Meanwhile, the games themselves didn’t demonstrate the increase in scale and production value you’d expect from a console game, even a casual one. It also lacked the breadth of mobile gaming to mitigate the lack of depth. Harmonix’s Beat Sports was an okay launch title, and it’s always nice seeing an pretty indie puzzle game like Peg Ballet on the big screen, but the most fun I had on the Apple TV was playing Transistor, a console game that was already ported to mobile. Plus, limited memory required file restrictions that hamstrung developers who may have wanted to create more ambitious games. Again, the App Store model is great for games distribution, but its Apple TV incarnation, tvOS, failed to properly take advantage of it. Hopefully, that means consoles are safe after all, at least for now.Maybe the real answer is that the healthy state of iOS gaming is just an anomaly when it comes to Apple and games. It’s not like the Mac has ever been a widely beloved gaming platform. Or maybe Apple can only create a thriving gaming ecosystem when it dominates a space as thoroughly as the iPhone and iPad dominate smartphones and tablets, respectively. So, if games on the Apple Watch and Apple TV are any indication, I can’t wait to see how bad games are on the Apple Car.last_img read more