The evolution of iOS gaming

Electronic Arts revealed today that its mobile game sales revenues have eclipsed its other platform businesses for the first time -- net mobile revenues for Q3 hit $59 million. While EA didn't break this figure out by platform, it is pretty clear that games for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad have become a huge business, a business that's driving a rapid evolution in terms of quality and game play.

Tear yourself away from the newly-released Dead Space game (above), and think about the impact of these things on the games industry. 57 million people across the main European countries are playing mobile games (from all platforms) - nearly a quarter of mobile users. And that's growing at 51% a year. Competitors are taking Apple's [AAPL] play at the games market very, very seriously.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Nintendo of America president, Reggie Fils-Aime, last year called Apple's iOS a "bigger threat than the Xbox". Sony is paying attention, too: it recently announced the PlayStation Suite, which will bring a range of titles (including some classic PS One games) to Android first -- and iOS in future.

iPad changes gaming all over againThis is no surprise -- especially as the iPad has changed iPhone gaming all over again. iPad users will play the same game for three times as long as an iPhone user, according to Mobiclix. Gameloft this week confirmed a 63% rise in iOS revenues during 2010.

IDC in December forecast annual App downloads will climb from 10.9 billion in 2010 to nearly 76.9 billion in 2014. Scott Ellison, VP, Mobile and Connected Consumer Platforms at IDC said, "The extension of mobile apps to every aspect of our personal and business lives will be one of the hallmarks of the new decade with enormous opportunities for virtually every business sector."

Games are just the thin end of the wedge. The power of the technology continues to advance and the potential of mobile -- led by iOS -- as a gaming platform is evolving at least as fast. This stuff matters: Morgan Stanley analyst Kathy Huberty believes Apple may shift 100 million iPhones and 40 million iPads this year. And that's without the potential 30 million iPod touch sales. (I believe these to be conservative predictions).

1.2GHz multicore iPhones, iPads loom

When you follow the money, you have a clear nexus point at which platforms are evolving exponentially, with developers working hard to push these platforms to the limit. And the limits continue to grow -- later this year we should see iPads and the iPhone move to 1.2GHz multicore processors. That's a lot of power in your pocket -- already more powerful than the iMacs shipped at the beginning of the Century.

iPhones, the iPad and the iPod touch are computer equivalents already...

Developers are impressed: id Software co-founder and technical director John Carmack said last week, "I am working on games today using over a million times the processing power of my first game, and my cell phone can do things that no graphics system on earth could do when I started. Processing, graphics, networking, and mobility are all still surging ahead, and there are plenty of exciting things to look forward to."

The different business plans gamers use to drive revenues include: paid-for Apps; in-App purchasing; in-App advertising; sponsorship; and offering free Apps which later require gamers to pay for upgrades.  

There's no short route to success. With thousands of titles competing for limited attention many independent games developers see incomes of less than $700, a report last year claimed. Those who do win people over see huge rewards. Take Cut the Rope -- this game sold for 99-cents and has been downloaded over five million times. Take Angry Birds, which has been downloaded 12 million times and is now headed to Hollywood. Take Doodle Jump, downloaded 200,000 times on Christmas Day alone.

All this activity, all this evolution is driving games design. You can see this by taking a look at some of the best games of 2008 (the year the App Store opened for business) and comparing them with the titles which are becoming more popular today.

August 2008 saw the first flush of games hit the App Store, here's one such title, Accel Break. A clone of BreakOut, this simple yet addictive game attracted many players, particularly with its attractive price -- free.

Coming soon we have an evolution of the classic break out game, BitBreaker. This in-development title offers complex gameplay, insane graphics and supports both multi-player and single-player games.

Racing games have always been popular -- even non-drivers seem to get a slight adrenaline rush from a dose of speed. Back in 2008, we played Fastlane Street Racing, which won a lot of praise. It's still pretty good, and costs just 99-cents ($3.99 on launch).

Most recently I've been playing EA's HotPursuit, but Polarbit's Raging Thunder 2 (above) is also grabbing eyeballs. Just look at the evolution in terms of transient objects and more inside these games.

Fieldrunners has always held the throne of being the ultimate tower defense title, winning critical acclaim for its art and its intensive gameplay. Gamers also loved that its interface was custom-made for the iPhone.

Tower defense gamers recently began talking about StickWars. This has been on the top sellers list since release and puts players in position to defent their castle against an invading stickman army.

First person action games have always been much-loved on any platform. Three years ago we'd play Hero of Sparta, at its time one of the most impressive hack and slay titles for the iPhone.

This week, action gamers are looking forward to Gameloft's Sacred Odyssey: Rise of Ayden, which should reach the App Store later this week.

Many gamers also swoon at the graphics and gameplay of Infinity Blade, itself a poster child for the Unreal Engine 3. That engine will drive a new wave of fast-paced action games in future. (Trivia: Infinity Blade sold 271,424 copies in the four days following its release last December).

Back in 2008 we played newtonica2 (above); these days gamers like to float to the immersive magic that is Osmos (below).

Games development for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch has become so energized today that there's even a game about games development, called Game Dev Story (below).

Summing-up: Games development -- just like development of all other categories of App -- is on a fast-paced evolution. Where games go first, other industries will follow. Apple technologies such as AirPlay also hint at an extension of the game beyond the device -- that's likely where we may one day see the Apple TV come into play.

Do you play games on your smartphone? Or are you concerned that the first thing most five-year olds say today to you is "can I borrow your iPhone"? What do you think? I'd once again like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.  

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