GamesBeat

The DeanBeat: The iPad mini brings out the imagination of game developers

We wrote earlier this week about the iPad mini‘s expected impact on gaming, and from the many responses to our articles, one thing became clear: Apple has once again fired up the imaginations of developers to create new kinds of gaming content.

The company has already (perhaps unintentionally) disrupted portable gaming machines, like Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita, with its iOS devices with 99 cent or free-to-play apps. That has thrown the market for dedicated handhelds into upheaval, and the iPad mini could cause further creative destruction in that market. This new, smaller tablet is like a cross between the iPhone and the iPad. That raises the question posed by Andy Yang, chief executive of PlayHaven: Is it the best of both worlds or less ideal than either?

“The history of portable gaming devices shows that gamers like a screen that’s bigger than a typical phone but smaller than a large tablet,” said Jim Greer, co-founder of GameStop’s Kongregate division. “If you look at games on Kongregate, most would work on a 3-inch or 4-inch screen, but a 10-inch screen is much more than they need. 7 inches seems like a sweet spot in the trade-off between [screen] real estate and portability.”

Greg Harper, North American general manager for tablet game maker Supercell, sees the iPad mini as cementing Apple’s lead as “the first true mass market game platform that captures both casual and core gamers.”

The tough part of developers is that they will have to create apps for some very different devices. The iPad mini has an A5 chip, and its display is a 7.9-inch, 1024×768 pixel display. The fourth-generation iPad, on the other hand, has a retina display with better resolution and an A6X processor, which might very well outperform a game console. Apple’s universe is becoming increasingly fragmented, with different screen sizes and processors. But the common thread of iOS (and the same number of pixels) means that the 275,000 apps written for the iPad 1 and iPad 2 will run on the iPad mini.

The popularity of rival devices Amazon Kindle and Google Nexus 7 means that the market size is already proven, said Jay Moore, president of BitRaider. Some 14 million to 17 million units have already sold in this category of tablet. The larger the installed base of iPads in the market, the stronger the return on investment for quality games, he said. The iPad mini can fit into purses and “man bags” better than an iPad, so it may appeal to a different consumer. And that might mean that we’ll see a greater diversity of apps sold on the iPad mini, Moore said.

While the iPad is gorgeous, smaller is better for a lot of games. Action games that use the accelerometer might function better (and be less embarrassing to play) with a smaller device.

“A smaller tablet is nothing new, but more choices and options for consumers to digest new content is never a bad thing,” said Will Harbin, chief executive of social game publisher Kixeye. “I hope tablet manufacturers step up to the plate and deliver devices that aren’t restricted around content creation and give users the same control they’d have with a laptop.  Currently, these devices are needlessly locked down, and it’s what is holding tablets back from truly explosive adoption.”

John Romero, co-creator of Doom and a co-founder of Loot Drop, said that the iPad mini “might feel to parents like a ‘kid iPad’ and probably sell in droves to kids … which may basically destroy Nintendo’s remaining market.” Keval Desai of venture capital firm InterWest Partners said that his three-and-a-half-year-old is more comfortable with a Nexus 7 tablet because it is smaller and easier to hold. The smaller size and lower weight will make a big difference to the youngest kids, he said.

Margaret Wallace, chief executive of Playmatics, said that the new size may be a perfect “stocking stuffer” for casual, social, and kid gamers. The greater portability will help it reach new audiences and enable innovation in areas such as multiplayer, location, augmented reality, and gamification (such as health apps), she said.

Speaking of new markets, veteran mobile game developer Scott Foe said that the iPad mini could further revolutionize the educational market, leading to more devices in classrooms. That could mean kids goofing off playing Angry Birds in school or new kinds of apps that could replace physical textbooks.

Another idea is to use the iPad mini itself as a game controller, much as Nintendo is planning to do with its tablet-like GamePad controller for the Wii U console.

“I could definitely see the iPad mini being used as a dedicated game controller based on its size, working with your Apple TV and Airplay,” said Aron Drayer, marketing director at fancy headset maker Astro Gaming.

Of course, the iPad mini has touch controls and motion sensors. But it doesn’t have dedicated buttons or game sticks, like the 3Ds, the Wii U GamePad, or the PS Vita. That means that first-person shooter games will still be very hard to play on an iPad, which leaves a multibillion-dollar segment of the game industry out of reach of the app ecosystem.

Brad Foxhoven, co-founder of mobile location game maker Ogmento, says that a smaller screen won’t make your arms as tired as when you play. That could directly affect the length of gaming sessions.

The price of $329 is a real issue. But it’s a serious competitor not only to the $249 PS Vita and the $169 3DS but also the $299 iPod Touch. Apple has to hope that its new device won’t cannibalize the popular MP3 player.

And it’s priced way above the $199 Google Nexus 7 and the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire HD. If Apple brings down the price, that will leave less room in the market for others. But Jens Begemann, chief executive of Germany’s Wooga social and mobile game publisher, said that the amount is far below Apple’s previous $499 tablet entry price, and that should lead to many millions more sales.

Kyu Lee, head of the North American division at mobile game publisher Gamevil, said that the increased competition at the 7-inch screen size will be good for the market. And that should naturally lead to pricing pressure.

“We see the iPad mini as a lower-cost, lightweight alternative to the iPad that will showcase our 3D games in spectacular fashion,” said Ben Vu, chief executive at Battle Bears game publisher SkyVu.


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