Like thousands of fellow geeks, we were glued to our screens yesterday for Steve Jobs’ WWDC keynote, in which he unveiled the 3G iPhone and talked about iPhone games and the related App Store. Naturally, we have some thoughts on what it all means for social games, and us as a company.
The 3G iPhone’s combination of usability, fast network access and its large touchscreen have huge potential for casual gaming. Add to that the emotional component of playing to beat your real-world friends instead of just playing games to kill time, and you wonder if there’s a better handheld game platform around!
There are challenges to getting social games onto the iPhone, but they’re more likely to be commercial than technical. Getting something to run fast enough on the handset won’t be an issue, and Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect should make accessing people’s friend lists straightforward. The challenge will be getting the open internet commercial model to translate into an environment (iPhone/iTunes) where an upfront payment model is more standard.
Both browser-based and downloadable social games will be possible on iPhone, although downloadable games will offer the better user experience. However, whether games are browser based or downloadable isn’t so relevant to the consumer – the more significant point is how consumers will pay for games in the future, and thus what the overall user experience will be.
Mobile has traditionally been a pay-per-download environment for games, and anything aside from that (and some limited subscription models) has struggled to take off. However, online games companies like Sulake (Habbo Hotel), Nexon (Maple Story) and others have shown that web-based models using micro transactions supported by advertising can be compelling for consumers, and profitable for game publishers.
As an open internet device, the iPhone should be capable of both models, so it’ll be interesting to see which takes hold over time.
And as for Playfish? We’re already a registered iPhone developer and we’re constantly watching the space. Having built a mobile games company previously, we still believe that mobile is the future mass market entertainment platform. However, rather than growing through the closed digital retail environments of network operators, we believe mobile will be just another access method to the open internet in the future.
Social games are the most engaging form of casual gaming online, and we believe that will translate to mobile – including iPhone – in the long run. It’s just a matter of time…