Until recently, I thought the idea of the iPhone as a portable gaming platform was a laughable matter at best. Without any type of real control scheme, a weak processor, and a poor selection of games, how would it ever be able to compete with the likes of the DS or the PSP? As far as I was concerned, it would never be popular enough for it to make any type of significant impact on the gaming industry.
Then something completely unexpected happened that changed everything and caused me to question all of the previous reservations I had about the iPhone as a portable gaming device. Read on to find out more about this major break-through I had, and why I’m starting to change my mind.
About three weeks ago my oldest nephew turned 14. When I asked his mom what to get the budding teenager, she told me I should get an iTunes gift card. When I first heard this I thought it was a pretty lame gift idea. I’m typically the “cool Uncle Shawn” who gets my nephews new video games for special occasions, not boring plastic cards. I don’t know about you, but I despised getting gift cards when I was a kid.
They always just seem like a cop-out. I asked my sister if she was sure he didn’t want a new PSP or DS game, but she explained he was getting a new shiny iPhone for his birthday and needed the gift card to put stuff on it. I didn’t have any other choice at this point, so I drove to Target and did exactly as I was told; I bought a boring, blue $50 iTunes gift card. It wasn’t until I got to his birthday party that I found out why he wanted one so bad.
Apparently my nephew didn’t want an iPhone just to listen to music and watch videos, his main goal was to play games on it. When I heard this nonsense come out of his mouth I laughed out loud, and proceeded to ask him why he doesn’t just play games on his PSP and/or DS. The next words he spoke made my jaw drop and literally changed everything I had come to understand about the view kids have of portable gaming.
Apparently my nephew no longer owned his PSP or his DS. Neither did his younger 9 year old brother for that matter. They had both sold all of their portable systems and all their portable games just so they could own an iPhone to play with. After hearing this monstrosity I was speechless. It took me a while to figure out what to say next, but once I did I had a ton of questions.
I couldn’t conceive of why my nephews would want to give up their PSP and their DS to play games on the iPhone. You have to understand that my nephews were huge fans of Nintendo’s and Sony’s portable systems. They owned tons of games for each, and took them everywhere they went. Whenever they weren’t at school, doing homework, or playing outside, they were playing on their portable systems.
Why would they want to give all of those awesome portable gaming experiences up to play lame, short, shallow games on the iPhone. The device doesn’t have great games like Mario Kart DS or Rhythm Heaven, it has Cave Man Racing and Tap Tap. How could these horrible games ever compete with the awesome games on the PSP and the DS. I just didn’t understand at all.
Once I finally came out of my confused state, my nephews explained why they wanted the iPhone over the PSP and the DS. What shocked me the most was how rational their reasons were. Not only did they make perfect sense for someone their age, but they made perfect sense for someone my age as well. I would like to share their reasoning with you now, so you can understand where my nephews are coming from. Please note that none of these are my own ideas. These came straight from the mouth of a 9 and 14 year old boy.
- The iPhone has shorter duration games, which are easier to pick up and play for 5-10 minutes instead of the longer DS/PSP games which require longer time commitments. My nephews are on the go a lot, as are most adults, and they don’t have time to sit down and play long games. The ability to pick up a system and play for just a couple of minutes is very enticing to them. If they want to play a long, time consuming game, they will play it on their XBOX360 or the PS3, not on the small little screen of their DS or PSP.
- iPhone games are a lot cheaper to buy. To an 8-15 year old kid, a $40 DS/PSP game is a lot of money. For that much you can buy six to eight different ones on the iPhone. My nephews, like a lot of kids, respond to quantity over quality. They don’t care if a $40 DS game is a lot better then a $6 iPhone game. What they care about is quantity, which means a lot of variety in their gaming. This was a big selling point for my nephew, and why he wanted me to get him a $50 iTunes gift card.
- iPhone games are saved directly on the internal hard drive, so my nephews don’t have to carry around any extra weight, like games or accessories. When you own 20+ games, like my nephews do, it can be tough to carry all those games around, especially PSP games. Having all your games always with you on the internal memory is a big plus. This point is a little moot now with the announcement of the PSPgo, but it’s too early to tell how popular this system will be.
- Besides the games, the iPhone also offers up a bunch of other fun, interesting, and useful applications that the PSP and DS don’t have. You can surf the internet, figure out your GPS location, and turn your iPhone into a light saber. These are just a couple of the million things you can do on your iPhone you can’t do on your PSP or DS. I mean the popularity of the iPhone app store speaks for itself, since as of April this year, the store has sold over 1 billion applications. It is simply one of the most intuitive portable marketplaces on the planet.
- The most important reason of all though, is that all of their friends are doing it. Apparently a lot of my nephews’ friends have all started trading in their PSP’s and DS’s for iPhones. When you’re a kid, you aren’t cool if you aren’t doing what all your friends are doing right. This is as true now as it was when I was a kid, as when my parents were kids.
Reason #5 on the previous list shocked me the most. I was completely blown away to hear that a lot of the kids in my nephews’ school were starting to trade in their PSP’s and DS’s for iPhones. Here I thought that people would never see these devices as real portable video game systems, but it appears I was wrong. Kids are indeed interested in them, so much to the point they are actually getting rid of their old systems.
This phenomenon is not just confined to kids, it’s also happening to adults. In the past year, a lot of my friends have all started buying iPhones, and I’m hearing more and more of them say that they use them to feed their gaming habit. When they aren’t calling their loved ones or listening to music, they are playing everything from Puzzle Quest to Tap Tap.
Many married couples I know actually buy two copies of the same game together, so they can play each other in multiplayer matches. They use these iPhone games for everything from passing time during their lunch break, to getting through long business plane flights, to having something to do while on the toilet. Honestly, the iPhone is quickly becoming one of the most played gaming systems amongst my friends.
After talking to my nephews about the iPhone, I decided to do some digging to find out if the little device actually had any games that I would be interested in playing. Imagine my shock when discovered there were plenty of them that I would definitely buy if I owned the phone. There is a scaled down version of the extremely popular Puzzle Quest, as well as a portable variation of Peggle. There are also lots of completely original games, such as Drop7 and Mecho Wars, which are extremely good.
What’s more important then the games already on the system, are the ones currently being made for it. As 2009 has shown, a lot of big companies, like EA and Capcom, are starting to develop for the iPhone. The last nine months have seen portable versions of Metal Gear Solid 4, Resident Evil 4, and Mass Effect all come to the device. When companies like Electronic Arts step into the iPhone arena, you know it’s time to take the system more seriously as a gaming platform.
To conclude, let me make a couple of things clear. At this point in time I don’t really think the iPhone is going to actually replace the Nintendo DS or the Sony PSP, but I do think it’s quickly growing in popularity as a portable gaming system, both with kids and adults. While it might not be a sound replacement, it could definitely change the portable gaming market so much that the DS and PSP have to adapt to be more like the iPhone.
It won’t shock me if in the next couple of years we see both systems start to copy the business model of the device. We’ve already seen the PSPgo revert to downloadable games only, and there are a lot of rumors a future PSP2 might have touch screen functionality. Even the new DSi has the capability to sell cheap downloadable games, that are shorter with less substance, and it already has more advanced touch screen capability. The PSPgo and DSi are definitely on their way to becoming more and more like the iPhone.
What both these systems don’t have is the multipurpose capability of the iPhone. It’s already geared to become the “all in one” handheld that everyone is looking for these days. It has your phone, internet, music, video, and gaming device all in one place, backed by a company who is extremely dedicated to supporting their products for a very long time.
What’s even more shocking, is how many reputable companies like EA are starting to make games for the iPhone that are really good and really fun to play. Put all of those selling points together, and you have an unstoppable device that all of its competitors should be afraid of. Maybe the iPhone really will replace the DS and the PSP and become the next popular portable gaming machine.
[Images compliments of http://www.theiphoneblog.com/]