When the iOS App Store launched in early July of 2008, I'm not sure anyone would have thought it was going to grow to the gargantuan beast it is today. Hundreds of thousands of apps later the iPad was introduced which complicated things further with 2x scaling for legacy app support, iPad-exclusive apps, and in some cases, universal compatibility. Last week Apple expanded the App Store ecosystem even further with the Mac App Store, allowing for iOS-style app purchasing in a desktop environment.
We've been covering the Mac App Store, because even though (currently) no Mac App Store purchases can be played on iOS devices, the two App Stores are much closer related than you might initially think. This morning I chatted with both Craig Kemper of Little White Bear Studios and Graeme Devine of GRL Games about just how much can be shared between both iOS and OS X games, and the work that has gone in to creating games on both platforms.
It's easy to forget sometimes, but behind the scenes of the game you're playing is a surprising amount of code that handles everything from the graphical output to the core logic that makes the game play. In the case of Compression [iPhone / iPad / Mac], Little White Bear Studios is topping 25,000 lines of code to make their game work. According to both Kemper and Devine, a surprising amount of code can be used between the Mac and the iPhone, even though they are completely different devices.
How portable a game's code is depends heavily on the the graphics technology used. For instance, if a game leverages something like Unity or cocos2D, the porting process between OS X and iOS platforms could potentially be as simple as retooling the interface to be touch-based or keyboard and mouse-based. Of course this is an oversimplification of the work involved, but Graeme was able to port the upcoming iOS version of Clandestiny [Mac App Store] to be ready for the Mac App Store in a single day.
In the future, Kemper suggests that developers are going to need to consider the Mac, the iPad, and the iPhone as the three target platforms for their games. The way he sees a potential development cycle going could involve planning a solid game for all three devices targeting the Mac first, because developing for a keyboard and mouse is generally more straight forward. Also, both performance and memory issues likely won't be a problem on a desktop platform compared to the somewhat limited resource pool of iOS devices.
From there, the developer could switch gears to work on a solid touch-driven interface and address any potential performance and memory optimizations that need to be made to make the game run on portables. If developers adopt a workflow like this, the Mac App Store could serve as an excellent crystal ball to gaze in to the future of the iOS App Store, much like how the New Zealand App Store gives us an early glimpse of what's coming to the US App Store.
As a part of this discussion, Graeme brought up an interesting point in that targeting all three of these platforms could potentially lead to mediocrity if the project doesn't lend itself to be a great game on every platform. We're already seeing a bit of this, as excellent games on iOS devices such as Angry Birds and Flight Control feel like quite a bit has been lost in translation when you replace their fantastic touch-based controls with a mouse pointer. This could potentially be an even larger issue in the future as the performance gap closes between both portable and desktop devices, ending in the game's interface being the only thing in need of changing.
Several games already exist on the Mac App Store that would seem to fit well on iOS devices in the future. Bejeweled 3, and And Yet It Moves seem to be perfect for all iOS devices. Precipice of Darkness (Episode 1, Episode 2) and Gratuitous Space Battles would be awesome on the iPad. If it wasn't for the Mac App Store, we wouldn't have had any idea that these games could have even potentially been coming to the iOS platform.
We're going to keep a close eye on both the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store in the future to follow how developers actually end up using both of these virtual storefronts together. Taking in to account how trivial it is to port between both platforms, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see developers targeting the Mac App Store first, giving iOS gamers a sneak peek of what's to come on their portable devices, making the Mac App store very interesting regardless of whether or not you even own a Mac.