If you build it, they will come. For years, it seemed didn’t really embrace the game developers who flocked to the iPhone and filled the App Store with games that consumers downloaded by the billions. After all, Apple’s aim was to get all consumers, not just gamers.
But during this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple wanted to make it clear that it cares. Games are a lifeblood on any platform.
In 2017, games made up a larger share of Google Play’s consumer spending compared to iOS, but consumers spent nearly two times more on iOS games than on Google Play games, according to a year-end report by market researcher App Annie. Games represented nearly 80 percent of total worldwide consumer spending for the combined iOS and Google Play app stores in 2017, but games only accounted for 35 percent of total worldwide downloads. That means that gamers spend a lot more money than non-gamers.
Greg Joswiak, vice president of iOS, iPad, iPhone product marketing at Apple, reinforced the importance of games in a rare interview with GamesBeat. He also recently talked about games at a recent Pokemon Go augmented reality event with Niantic Labs.
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Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. We also interviewed three key iOS developers.
GamesBeat: It looks like your game platform is as strong as ever.
Joswiak: Stronger than ever, really. It’s gone from incredible to super incredible. It’s blowing us away, looking forward to what’s happening soon. We’ve done our best to support developers some pretty amazing technology, on both the hardware and software side. We have some pretty amazing services with the App Store. It doesn’t hurt to be able to bring a billion customers or so. All together it’s created some fertile ground to take advantage of, and they’re doing a great job.
GamesBeat: I talked to some developers here earlier. It seems like as far as the superficial analysis, it’s a no-brainer to make games for Android and iOS at the same time, so you reach a bigger market. But they pointed out this task they get saddled with, because of Android fragmentation. That seems like it’s turned into an advantage for you guys.
Joswiak: It is. It really has been one from the beginning. We’ve heard that from developers in all categories, and certainly games. iOS makes the most sense for primary development. It’s easier development and it has a bigger payoff. We have a more homogenous software situation. About 90 percent of our customers are running the latest version of iOS. They can get a much bigger bang for the buck on iOS with more compelling technology.
The latest version of iOS means the latest APIs. [The other guys], as you mentioned, are very fragmented. They have to pick the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t monetize as well. It’s a lot more work. Typically that’s the lower priority, or they farm it out to someone else. It’s a reverse situation compared to gaming on Windows back in the day, where people focused on Windows and then maybe brought their games to the Mac. This is the hot gaming platform. The others, maybe they’ll get it, maybe it’s a half-hearted effort.
GamesBeat: How have you been working to add features for developers?
Joswiak: We work very closely with our developers to understand what they need. We have people on our App Store team and our worldwide developer team that have incredible relationships. That’s one thing, if you talk to developers—they’ll value the way they have a relationship with us, more so than some of the other platforms.
We’re also continuing to push both the OS and hardware forward. We have the great advantage of not just great APIs – ARKit is a great example of that – but also bringing our installed base along with those updates. When we launched ARKit with iOS 11, overnight we became the largest AR platform in the world. We could enable hundreds of millions of devices to use AR. That can’t happen on the other platforms.
Because we do the hardware and software together, we can create an integrated experience. To make great AR you need great cameras and great sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers. We not only have all those in our devices, but we calibrate them at the factory. We can build our software to work seamlessly with those. That allows us to go back multiple generations with products that can enable these things. That couldn’t even be contemplated on the other platforms.
We bring a lot of customers forward with us. It leaves our competitors trying to draft as closely behind us they can, copying what we’re doing and trying to figure out how to get even a fraction of devices capable of what we’re doing with hundreds of millions of devices.
GamesBeat: What’s your prediction for how the smartphone hangs on to this audience, compared to other devices coming in the future?
Joswiak: The smartphone’s not going away. I can assure you of that. We sell quite a few every year. We have more than a billion active devices. We sell a couple hundred million iPhones a year. It continues to be the biggest product in consumer electronics, and we continue to make them so much more capable. You look at the iPhone X, not only is it that large OLED display with incredible resolution, but it’s all the other technology around it, including the A11 Bionic.
That’s a huge advantage, doing our own chips. Our last year’s chips are typically faster than the next guy’s chips from next year. That’s a huge advantage for a game developer. You need as much performance as possible. That’s why, for the first time, people are creating full-fledged console-quality games and gameplay on the iPhone. This isn’t cut-down. It’s the real thing, current, today. The powerhouse that is our A chips is a huge part of that.
GamesBeat: Discovery still seems like it’s a hard problem for a lot of developers, with so many competitors in the App Store. I’ve heard mixed things about whether the App Store is organized the right way for better discovery of games. How do you guys look at what your purpose is there?
Joswiak: That’s why the redesign of the App Store was so important, to make discovery of games and apps easier than before. As you know, games are the most popular category on the App Store. With the redesign, we created a dedicated home for games. There’s a tab on the bottom just for games, which has featured recommendations for new releases. It has updates. It has compelling videos, so you can see how things look. It has top charts just for games. The Today tab, which has been hugely popular in our redesign, has features and in-depth articles on all kinds of apps, including games. We’ve done a lot to help people have more reasons to go the App Store, to give them more and easier ways to discover great content.
GamesBeat: Do you foresee any other ways you can help developers?
Joswiak: We’re doing our best. We’ve been in the platform business for decades, and I think that also gives us an advantage over our competitors. We take developers as a key part of our business. There are more than 2 million apps in the App Store, and they’re quality apps. We curate. We don’t just let anything in. These are apps that have gone through review and give a much better experience than I think you find on other platforms. Games continue to be the most popular category, which is probably no surprise.
We’ve broadened the definition of what a gamer is these days. Gamers used to be people on their couch in front of a console, and that still exists, but we bring a much larger audience to gaming. Again, more than a billion active devices. Gamers don’t always look like they did in the past, and that’s exciting for our developers, because this is a much bigger audience that they can sell their products to. They can discover a game immediately on their device, download it, and start playing. It’s reshaped and redefined the industry.
GamesBeat: I’ve always thought of the game platforms in two ways. You have dedicated, intentional game platforms from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, and then you have accidental game platforms like Google, Amazon, and Apple. I wonder how you guys look at that.
Joswiak: I don’t know if it’s accidental. It’s certainly the case that when we created the App Store and launched in 2008, I’d be lying if I said we knew it would get this big. But it became apparent pretty quickly that we were redefining the way that software would be created and distributed.
One thing we’re proud of is how we’ve leveled the playing field for developers. Back in the day, it was hard to get any kind of app published. You had to have connections. You had to get one of the big guys to publish your title. Very few applications made it to shelves, and the economics just weren’t very good. We changed that. Anybody with a great idea, little or big, can create an app and get it on the App Store, and if it’s great people will download it and use it. You take that for granted now, but it was revolutionary thinking in 2008, and it’s led to where we are today. I don’t know if it’s accidental, but it’s certainly evolved to become world-changing.
GamesBeat: I feel like the dividing line in mobile now between hardcore and casual games is different compared to PC and console. It’s pretty hard and fast on the PC and console side. You even have people angrily fighting over where the line is. But it doesn’t feel as crazy as that in mobile.
Joswiak: I think you’re right. Again, we’re serving such a large base of users, and they all have the same capability in their hands. You see people who can be both. One minute they’re playing a casual game and the next they’re enjoying something that’s deeper.
GamesBeat: Where do you observe different kinds of innovation happening in smartphone games?
Joswiak: The thing that comes most to mind is AR. We already have more than 2,000 apps taking advantage of AR. We’re progressing into ARKit 1.5 and 2.0 with more new features that our developers are excited about. We’ll continue progressing from there. And also seeing the emergence of full-fledged console games – not scaled down for the iPhone, but delivered just like they are on the console. It’s a breakthrough for gaming.
GamesBeat: Just this week, it’s interesting to see that Epic has the same version of Fortnite running on iOS as they do on the PC. It’s no different.
Joswiak: That’s a great example. In the past, maybe you’d see the smartphone have a companion app, a companion game, something part of the bigger game, or maybe a scaled-down version. Now, with the power we’ve delivered in products with the iPhone X and what we’re doing in iOS, that’s enabled developers to bring the full-fledged game to both iPhone and the console.
GamesBeat: Are you aware of anything that could disrupt your business, and if so, what are you doing about it?
Joswiak: We’re always trying to stay ahead of things. We’re doing pretty well at bringing some incredible technology to our consumers, both on the hardware and the software front. We’re doing a lot to ensure that the App Store continues to be the leading place for consumers to find titles.
That’s one thing that’s a kind of win-win-win. Our customers win when we do that sort of stuff, which is pretty obvious. Our developers win, because they’re in business to sell to customers, and we’re making it easy for customers to discover things. We monetize significantly better than the other platforms. And it goes without saying that we win in that case as well. Our hope is obviously to sell more iPhones. The whole thing has an upward trajectory, and again, this is something that makes us very different from any other platform. We’re excited about that.
GamesBeat: I’m curious how you look at the cloud and AI and edge computing. Where do you see some of that going as far as what games need and how the platform could change in terms of where computing is done?
Joswiak: It’s tough to talk about that far into the future. We certainly have some ideas for how to continue forging ahead, staying ahead of our competitors. But I don’t necessarily want to give them any insight into that.
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