The Pocket Gamer Report: The iPhone Buffet


Everyone is sick of hearing about how the iPhone is leading the way for handheld gaming. The iPhone is the smarmy, thick-tongued, blazer-wearing rich kid, with the keys to its dad’s Porsche and a holiday home on some privately owned island in French Polynesia. Basically, there’s plenty for platform loyalists to sneer at.

There is often a feeling among loyal gamers, perhaps rightly so, that a platform has to pay its dues through a steady stream of compelling exclusives before it’s even acknowledged as part of the conversation. This is something the barely one-year-old App Store has yet to do in the eyes of many, but which this week it got one step closer to achieving it with ngmoco’s next great hope: Eliminate.

The game is a competitive, online-multiplayer first-person shooter that’s both a telling example of the iPhone’s control limitations and a glimpse of a likely handheld gaming trend. Despite a lengthy, no doubt costly development, Eliminate is free to download on the App Store. To recoup costs, ngmoco is selling a range of in-app downloads, such as energy cells and weapons, which can otherwise be earned through skill, should the notion of micro-transactions leave you feeling queasy.

It’s a gamble that has so far paid off, as despite being available for less than a week, Eliminate has already shifted upwards of 500,000 copies. If even half of those gamers spend 99c on in-app purchases, ngmoco will have a very successful first week on its hands. Of course, with such a weighted focus on digital content, ngmoco will surely plan to reignite interest regularly with fresh items every so often so as to maintain a long-tailed monthly income from the game.

But that’s just one example. The App Store is a diorama of consumer choice. There are ad-funded games, there’s a high prevalence of Lite demo versions of full paid games, there are episodically structured top-tier titles (Rolando 2 anyone?) and, now freemium games such as Eliminate, Gravity Sling and Freeverse’s forthcoming TrackZ.

Like it or not, Apple’s handheld is making use of a varied assortment of new approaches to handheld gaming, development, distribution and monetization, some of which the older, more grizzled stalwarts of the industry will inevitably adopt before too long, if in fact they haven’t already (hello cheap PSPgo dev kits).

So what does this mean for Sony and Nintendo? Well, interestingly, this week has seen both companies hint at more persistent methods of digital distribution.

Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata alluded to future Nintendo handhelds coming with a pre-paid always-on 3G connection, presumably for regularly streamed digital content. Similarly, Sony upped the ante on the PSP Store this week by having a PSP Minis sale, illustrating the company’s commitment to sustaining interest on the channel.

Obviously, these sorts of new models for selling games are relatively new and not without their controversies, especially in the case of in-app payments. Rather than playing catch up, it’s just as likely Sony and Nintendo are playing the long game, waiting to see which side Apple’s bread is buttered on before taking the plunge themselves. If that doesn’t validate the iPhone as a platform, I don’t know what does.

Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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