Foolishly, I believed in the power of Apple TV gaming. Whoops! The number of 4th generation Apple TVs that have been sold is not known – and if it was any kind of earth-shattering amount, Apple would probably let us know. As of now, they're seen as running in 4th in the streaming device market. As well, developers informally polled have given zero indication that Apple TV is a moneymaker for them at all. There's little sign that the Apple TV, nor gaming, has done well. I was perhaps the biggest cheerleader for TV gaming, and, well, I might have bet on the wrong horse. But like a gambler who thinks that the next hand is the big score, I remain somewhat optimistic of a future where Apple TV gaming is a viable force for developers, even if there would have to be some major changes in Apple's tactics.

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First off, Apple has to convince people to actually buy the damn things. It turns out that Apple can't just release an intriguing product and have it sell at this point in time. That, or they just released a product with no actual market. To be honest, it's easy to see why someone wouldn't buy the Apple TV. Cheap streaming sticks like the Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, and Roku Streaming Stick exist and cost a fraction of the Apple TV. If you need advanced features like Ethernet, SPDIF audio output, 4K and HDR support, the Shield TV, Fire TV, and Roku 4 are in your orbit. Even Amazon and Roku in the cheap end of the market have the benefit of the Amazon Prime access that Amazon has restricted from Google and Apple's TV products. Heck, the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV models still play Netflix well enough.

So, the reasons to buy an Apple TV are basically the Siri Remote, being tied into the Apple ecosystem already, and perhaps needing AirPlay? But AirPlay has its shortcomings, particularly in comparison to Google Cast where the mobile device is independent from what's being casted. Google Cast even has advanced features like high-resolution audio support, where many AirPlay devices are left to CD-quality audio. Again, Apple has created a product where there's no obvious standout feature to buy it. It's a power-user product without power-user features.

And if you are a power-user wanting advanced features, the Nvidia Shield TV has been the leader there. It's not really lacking anything in terms of features or content that you can't get on Apple TV. Even on the gaming side of things, where there's plenty of controller-compatible games...and oh yeah, emulator support. Plus, there's the PC game streaming feature, and the recently-added Plex Media Server support is a killer addition. Nvidia has been supporting the Shield TV with various ports, and while it's possible these are a loss-leader for the platform, at least Nvidia is putting effort into getting content on the Shield TV. More importantly, it's a visibility factor – people considering the Shield TV know that Nvidia is going to support it. With the Apple TV, there's little visible support from Apple. Nvidia is more of a 'gamer' company, and that shows. The Android TV ecosystem has its flaws – some apps work, others kinda do for no particular reason – and it seems like there should be more hardware out there. Though, expensive streaming boxes start to get into the range of the Xbox One S in price. But still, however you shake it out, the Apple TV is in a weird, lacking middle between mass market attractiveness and appealing to power users with a more capable product.

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So how does Apple change their fortune? The first step is going to be getting exclusive content that can sell Apple TVs. There's word of television productions that Apple is doing, but they're playing from behind in comparison to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. They may have to work to convince major services to give up Apple exclusives. My hypothesis is that if they could convince ESPN to launch an HBO NOW style over-the-top service, it would be a titanic move. Perhaps not as big as it once was, with Sling having ESPN, but still. Live sports are often the big sacrifice that cord-cutters have to give up. Live sports draw massive ratings still, in part because by their nature, people can't skip them. Make a cable-free ESPN an Apple TV exclusive, and see what happens. Drawing exclusive streaming rights to some shows, or even getting live NFL games, as a way to bolster a TV service might be a good start too. But the point is that while it might not be the most consumer-friendly move, Apple needs to bolster the Apple TV userbase for their own sake. Get the users there, and I think a trickle-down effect can happen with getting people to play games on Apple TV. Hey, it worked for mobile gaming, where few people bought them specifically as gaming devices, but now Candy Crush Saga [Free] is major business.

Second, Apple needs to fight in the mass market with a streaming sticket. The fact is that all their competitors in the TV box market have a budget-priced, entry-level option that work really well. Apple is completely punting on this market by not making a streaming stick that would get people in the Apple ecosystem. This doesn't preclude games from showing up on it, either – the Fire TV Stick has games and is compatible with controllers. Getting even a less-powerful mass-market box out there would be helpful to Apple's standing in the TV box market, and to the developers releasing apps.

Third, I think Apple needs to break down the barriers between games and media. Apps are in a separate section from TV shows and movies on the Apple TV. Now, I'm in a weird position because I'm media and have my finger closer to the pulse with when games launch. But I will say that I rarely need to open the Apple TV App Store. The idea needs to be that when people using the Apple TV to be entertained, games need to be served up as an entertainment option.

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Fourth, Apple needs to cultivate the games market. This is perhaps my most outlandish idea – Apple has shown little interest in doing this in an outward way. But working to get exclusives, even timed exclusives, and making a big stink about them, perhaps by investing in intriguing indie games in exchange for limited-time exclusivity, could help. Get the Apple TV on the radar of everyone as a gaming product. Even the mobile gaming media, sparse though we may be, we have little reason to care about Apple TV gaming right now as a practice instead of as a theory.

I will admit that all of these things are likely a pipe dream. The introduction of Sling at WWDC was a major warning sign that a rumored exclusive TV service wasn't happening. And rumors are abound that Eddy Cue was not good at working with studios in getting that content. And Apple, really, became a major gaming company somewhat by accident with the App Store, where they've largely reacted to trends rather than acting. But the thing that's scary for them is that it's easy to see where a future rises up where all the key players in the TV space providing the content that people want don't need Apple. Users have shown that while they'll buy into the Apple ecosystem if need be, it takes more than a fancy remote to convince them to keep buying Apple products. And ask anybody producing the content, even if they have qualms with Apple, would they rather make apps and games for the cohesive platform solutions they offer, or for the chaotic situation that is Android...or even a non-Android solution? It's quite possible that gaming's future would suffer, or that possible advances in gaming culture – even possibly the idea that you have to own a particular piece of hardware to play a game – are set to suffer because Apple can't figure out how to sell their TV boxes. And really, I can't give you a good reason to buy one, either.

  • Patricia Anaka

    They blew it by not including a game controller. If it had had a real controller, devs could have put real games on there without hamstringing them. Simply allowing games to require a controller is not enough. The controller needed to be perceived as part of the device. Even though games dominate app sales, Apple has always had some kind of weird anti-game stance, like down deep they don't really approve of people playing games.

    • Stetch

      Agree. And we need console quality controlls.

    • nini

      So they should have made a console?

      • Patricia Anaka

        I wouldn't complain if they made a console. But I would be plenty happy with this device if it only included a controller that made it worth developing games for. The App Store is the big selling point, they don't really need to compete w/ the hardware.

      • Alexythimia23

        Erm i dont patricias post was saying they should make a console?! Lol
        It was just saying what should have been done off the bat....a controller to emphasise that it can be a gaming platform just like all the other company's that are already providing these things in their products.
        I also feel Apple really dont give a damn about taking the ios gaming market any further as it would have already happened a good long while ago.
        Today i purchased a 3ds xl and i was shocked at some of the android handheld gaming devices with built in controllers out there! That had dreamcast and playstation and psp emulators, for a third of the price of an iphone 6! I just wish they realised what potential they have in gaming...

      • Stetch

        Games is a huuuge industry. Music, movies and games.

      • Stetch

        Not necessarily. But at least make it work more like a console. Games is kind of a big deal nowadays as you already know 🙂

    • babaroga73

      There is a shitton of games that can be easily ported and played with remote on ATV4 but isn't. Even the goddamn Angrybirds wasn't ported. Run and dash games ? Almost none. And I have a strong suspicion that the ones that were ported, didn't get any money from that.

      • Patricia Anaka

        Right because playing games with that remote is painful

      • Stetch

        Works pretty good with the Sonic games.

    • Chowderbatter

      Disagree.

      Controllers have pretty much gone standard. Those who try to "innovate" just add more buttons, stick inappropriate touchpads wherever (Steam controller), or literally throw every idea ever (Nintendo) in order to appeal to everyone and instead appeal to no one.

      There's no room for innovation in the console/controller space. iOS is already the leading game platform on earth. Irony is you guys are at the crest of the wave and you're looking over your shoulder in envy to the debris of the past.

      • Patricia Anaka

        You miss my point, I think. It doesn't need a "new" controller, it needs "a" controller. Unless a controller is bundled with the device, there's no guarantee the user will have one, and so devs can't count on it being available. Apple made this worse by (initially) not even allowing a game to require a controller, all games had to work with the stupid remote. Shot themselves in the foot at the starting line.

  • jabbasoft

    Main reason I bought an atv 2 was for video streaming. Now I have a 4K tv (admittedly an abysmal Sony one..) and because the tv supports Plex (and I run a Plex server), plus great native support for Netflix, iplayer, other on demand tv services - why do I need an atv? I have an iPad, and my living room is somewhere we watch video content and when the choice of programme is dull one of us whips out out iPad and does other stuff.

    As a consumer product I don't get it - $30 for a streaming stick if the tv doesn't already do it, or jump to ps4/Xbox if you want gaming. Or in my case just play strategy games on iPad while the wife watches soap operas 🙂

  • HelperMonkey

    Here's an Apple TV box I would buy:
    -It runs iOS.
    -All my apps I've purchased in the AppStore can function on my TV.
    -It uses my Apple device as an option for a controller for games and general navigation.
    -It has available keyboard, mouse, and game controller support.
    -It has a good, bundled TV package.

    There. All my devices and usages linked onto one screen.
    This seems possible.
    I would spend money on that.
    As it is: Roku, iPad, laptop, Android phone, Television.

    • HelperMonkey

      -and stick a reasonable over-the-air antenna in there, too

      • puggsly

        Over the air is interesting and might be more so as apple makes their universal TVGuide. But you can get a HomeRun to convert your over the air stuff and access it directly from AppleTV. As to the rest of the above list, I have to disagree that all iOS apps make sense on AppleTV, and the ones that make sense are moving over quickly. Also, Apple will automatically make those ports available as of the new AppleTV OS.
        Game controller support is there, but mouse? iOS doesn't support mouse input. Keyboard will probably also make the new OS.
        There are already third party TV packages, pick one.
        The new Remote app will allow full siri remote like functionality from your iPhone/ipad.

        So, maybe once the new TVOS ships you should consider.

  • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

    Chicken and egg... AppleTV gaming may remain mainly a fun optional extra for iOS titles in the short term. Then, eventually, the REAL television plan Apple has in mind will probably happen (dragging the networks kicking and screaming) and then AppleTV will be a bigger deal. Apple's playing the long game, and the content owners want to make it longer—but I don't think they'll stop it entirely. It could certainly be a long while coming! But at that point, game titles become a much more tempting prospect for developers. Meanwhile, a better remote and even bundles with a controller or two could easily be done. You never know.

  • Cheuk Seto

    The average consumer doesn't really know the Apple TV runs a version of iOS that supports apps and games. People around me who are iPhone or iPad users don't know or don't care for it. It is not a must-have even amongst the heavy Apple user. Siri might have its use in the living room, but something about voice command that still doesn't quite fit-in well with reality. I don't think Apple really knows how to market the hardware. It feels like they released this thing and hoped for the best.

  • The Pool Man

    With TV Boxes dropping through the floor -- Apple decided to replace it's pricey Apple TV with a PRICIER Apple TV.

    And people wonder why it's not popular...

  • puggsly

    Apple can launch AppleTV sales! Just make it a $50 add-on purchase with the purchase of the next iPhone or iPad, hell, maybe even $29.

    But what I want is for them to take gaming seriously and beef up performance. A series chips cost apple very little, the fact that they didn't put an A9X in the current box shows they weren't serious. Release an updated version with an over clocked A10X. It could really excite the game developers, not to mention the ability to speed everything else up.

    This tied in with the new universal login will allow AppleTV to become the primary input for many homes and once you get use to that, you will never go back to a cable box.

  • DemoEvolved

    I went all in on Apple TV and it's a flop. That controller is sloppy and clumsy. Guess what, being the king of touch games does nothing for you when the controller is not a screen

  • macish79

    Every attempt of apple in the recent years is half assed. Like introducing controller support but not offering one themself. A controller that could easily be bundled later with the then released new ATV.

    Apple does not give a sh*t about gaming. Look how long a multi billion dollar company took to fix game center. Its ridiculous how Fanboys see every junk they throw at us as the second coming.

    Their new gaming related SDKs are horrible, their support is bad and the consumer products lack any focus at all.

    Hey apps is the future of tv.. thank you apple.. others do this for quite some time.

    @carter: your statement can't be more wrong:

    " Even Amazon and Roku in the cheap end of the market have the benefit of
    the Amazon Prime access that Amazon has restricted from Google and
    Apple's TV products. "

    Apple is the one deniying Prime access on ATV. AMZ has its app on mobile just fine but Apple is playing foul on ATV like they did with the older ATV that had selected Apps only.

    Apple has long lost its cutting Edge and slumped down en par with their competitors or even fell behind.

    There is not a single reason to buy a new ATV , except your a masochist and like to fiddle around with that horrible touch controller.

    Anything the overpriced ATV offers is beat by the cheaper Fire TV which even support 4K, which was a huge letdown on Apples part.

    Streaming is the most viable form of geting 4K content at the moment and they doped the ball last year, big time.

    then of course thats Apple, lets start as cheap as possible , cutting penny costing features to impose thoose as "new" glory features in the next iteration.

    Its a sad joke on their part and the pink glasses of the fanboys pop one by one.

    They have a hard time ahead competing outside of the mobile market.

  • Jeff Webb

    I've pretty much given up using mine except for Netflix, The news apps are awful unless you like pre packaged stale day old news. Much of the content apps are mere gimmicks.