iphoneWe had representatives from Facebook, MySpace, PlayStation, and Nokia discussing new gaming platforms today at our GamesBeat 2009 conference in San Francisco, but most of the passionate debate revolved around a company that wasn’t there — Apple, with its iPhone and iPod touch.

That shouldn’t be too surprising, since GamesBeat attendees identified the iPhone as the most promising platform in a survey conducted prior to the conference — and indeed, VentureBeat’s games writer, Dean Takahashi, who moderated the panel, recently wrote a post titled, “30 million iPhones sold — now that’s a game platform.” And although Apple itself was absent, it had a vocal advocate on the panel in the form of Neil Young, chief executive of iPhone-focused mobile gaming company Ngmoco.

Young said he has developed games for the other major portable gaming platforms — namely, the Playstation Portable and Nintendo’s DS — and found that the iPhone is the best device of the lot. He said he isn’t impressed by the other smartphone platforms. Susan Panico of Sony PlayStation Network objected, saying that Young’s assertion was debatable. His retort? “It is not debatable.”

Earlier in the discussion, Panico had already made a case for the PlayStation and the PlayStation portable, implying that the iPhone may be an all right platform for casual games but that Sony stands out when you want to make something more sophisticated, artistic, or in-depth.

“What kind of game do you want to make?” she asked. “Our core passion, our competency is based on creating great games.”

That may be so, but VentureBeat’s Takahashi pointed out that Sony is actually in third place behind Nintendo and Microsoft in the console wars. When asked how Sony can come back, Panico noted that there have been some strong, innovative PlayStation games released recently such as Killzone 2 and Flower. She also pointed to the PlayStation Network as a promising development. Sony may not have “come out of the gate kicking and screaming,” but it’s in the battle for the long haul, with a 10-year plan, she said.

Another question the panel addressed was how startups can compete in an environment where giant publishers have established themselves. On the iPhone side, Young said they need to make good games that are native to the iPhone and take advantage of its capabilities. Then startups need to find a way to expose their games to as many consumers as possible. Jason Oberfest of MySpace added that third-party developers for the social networking site do well if they have a strong understanding the site’s users and its application programming interfaces (APIs).