| SAN FRANCISCO, April 1
SAN FRANCISCO, April 1 Apple Inc's (AAPL.O)
iPhone has emerged as a serious video game platform, fulfilling
the long-held promise of mobile phone gaming and positioning
itself as a legitimate competitor to handheld consoles.
The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week
was abuzz with plans about games for the iPhone and its
WiFi-only cousin, the iPod touch.
With around 30 million devices on the market -- 17 million
iPhones and 13 million iPod Touches -- and access to thousands
of games at their slightest whim, consumers are buying and
playing games by the tens of millions.
Meanwhile, game designers are diving headlong into the
market, churning out offerings at a furious pace.
Some say the iPhone's unique features -- GPS capability,
connectivity, a touch screen -- and sheer variety of content
gives it an edge over its more established handheld console
competition, Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP.
The DS franchise has shipped more than 100 million units
and the PSP more than 50 million since both came to market in
"The iPhone is a threat to other portable game platforms,"
said Mitch Lasky, a partner with venture capital firm Benchmark
Capital, and the former CEO of Jamdat Mobile, which was sold to
Electronic Arts in 2005 for $680 million. "It could be just
Apple's App Store went live only last July, but an entire
network of developers has sprung up to create thousands of
games, ranging from puzzles and arcade games to action and
shooter games. Developers take 70 percent of the revenue, while
Apple keeps 30 percent.
Game publishers include big names such as Electronic Arts
ERTS.O, Gameloft GLFT.PA and Glu Mobile (GLUU.O),
up-and-coming outfits like ngmoco and small developers working
out of a cubicle.
Sanette Chao, director of public relations for Gameloft,
said the company has made more money selling iPhone and iPod
touch games in the past eight months than it has made overall
from some other carriers.
"The mobile industry has been waiting for some sort of
tipping point...when the App Store was launched, that was the
tipping point," Chao said.
Gameloft offers 27 games in the App Store and has sold 2
million copies so far.
According to the latest data from analytics company
Mobclix, more than 7,300 of the iPhone's 31,000 applications
are games, or roughly 23 percent. Around 5,500 of those games
charge a fee.
Users play simpler games for an average of 6 to 8 minutes,
but play more complex games for an average of 22 minutes, said
Mobclix co-founder Krishna Subramanian.
"That shows it's a serious gaming platform," he said.
The prices on many games can shift quickly with demand.
Ngmoco introduced its popular game "Rolando" last year for
$9.99 before cutting it to $5.99 and then $4.99. Subatomic
Studios introduced its "Fieldrunners" games for $4.99 and cut
the price to $2.99 on a "spring break special" earlier this
Because of the volume of offerings on the App Store,
developers say the key to success is maneuvering a game onto a
top 10 or top 25 list, where consumers can easily find them.
John Casasanta, founder of iPhone application development
company tap tap tap, said the App Store has been "hugely
lucrative" for the company, generating more than $500,000 in
The company scored a hit with a non-game offering,
"Classics," after Apple featured it in an ad, and is currently
trying to get traction with a 99-cent game called "Parablox"
via word of mouth and mailing lists.
"One of the biggest problems with the App Store now is it's
just hard to cut through it for independent developers, there's
just so many applications."
Apple will release its new iPhone 3.0 software this summer,
including new features sure to please game makers, such as
peer-to-peer capability allowing gamers to square off against
one another. It will also enable developers to offer
subscriptions and sell content within their applications.
Many analysts expect Apple to launch an updated iPhone
device this summer, although the company has been mum on that
point. The second-generation 3G iPhone was released last
(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; Editing by Derek Caney)