The Tasos Principle: The App Store’s Split Personality

Tasos Principle

Recently, I wrote about a Strategy Analytics report on mobile gaming. The report, in a nutshell, claimed that mobile gaming continues to be a quick source of entertainment during consumer downtime and that gamers increasingly lean towards mobile rather than console gaming because of the lack of dedicated gaming time. This report got me thinking about the very interesting split in mobile gaming between iPhone gaming and iPad gaming, and how the App Store hasn’t yet found a way to tackle that split. Even the word “mobile" in “mobile gaming" shows this split as the word immediately evokes a sense of portability that is more relevant to the iPhone than the iPad. This split becomes important when we think about how game development works. When a developer decides which platform to work on, he or she can easily figure out the project’s parameters; if the game will release on PC, then the developer knows that most players will sit very close to the screen, use a mouse and keyboard, and usually play for relatively long periods of time. If the game will release on console, the developer knows that most players will sit on a couch across the room, will use a controller, and will play for a considerable amount of time per session. These parameters, then, dictate a game’s mechanics and overall design. For instance, when a developer knows players will probably spend at least an hour or so every time they play the game, he might design longer levels or design the game’s difficulty accordingly.

And then we have mobile game developers, who often have to develop one game for two quite distinct devices used by people who often have different gaming expectations and gaming habits depending on their device of choice. The App Store’s “split personality" has often hurt the design of many mobile games, which often seem the product of developers unsure about their player base’s expectations. If you play primarily on your iPhone, then more often than not you play for short periods of time, you worry about your battery draining, and you often play games that use the phone’s gyroscope and, more rarely, its GPS. These factors often lead to the development of games with relatively short levels, simple yet addictive mechanics, and which use the gyroscope as the primary control scheme. So, developers have been homing on those particular gaming characteristics to the point where most iOS games that come out consist of short, quick levels (Angry Birds style), and with energy systems, which usually don’t bother most players because they play in short bursts anyway.

Angry Birds

And then there’s the iPad, a device that came out a few years after the iPhone, and even though it offers a very different gaming platform, it has been treated pretty much as a bigger version of the iPhone. However, and here I’m stating the obvious a bit, unlike the iPhone, the iPad, at least in my case, stays home unless I’m traveling away for days, and I pretty much game on the iPad rather than on my PC: I set it on a desk and play rather than quickly take it out of a pocket to play for a bit like I do with the iPhone. If I have an iPad and you ask me to fly my plane using the gyroscope, I might have an issue with that.Yet, Apple continues to ignore the differences between the two devices in respect to gaming; if you want to find some recommendations for iPad games on the App Store, you have to go to the Explore tab, then Games, and then Game Center on iPad, where you’ll find the “Best New Games," Real Racing 3, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Limbo, and a few others. As you can tell, this list isn’t up to date (Asphalt 8 actually released in August 2013).

Game Center

This lack of attention on behalf of Apple isn’t surprising: it took the company ages to admit that the iPhone is a great gaming device, so I don’t expect Apple to bother distinguishing between its two devices. Yet, that lack of recognition hasn’t exactly prompted developers to work on the iPad’s strengths more specifically as there’s no promise that their work will be rewarded in the current App Store. Instead, what most developers often do is either develop universal games, which means those games “cheat" on one of the two devices, or when they do develop solely for the iPad, their reasoning is more often than not “we couldn’t really fit everything on the small screen" rather than “our game suits the strengths of that device and the way it’s used by gamers.

steve-jobs-ipad-10Why should we care, you say? Well, primarily I feel that Apple is missing an opportunity here to take an even bigger bite off PC gaming because, for instance, we have to keep in mind that many of those who own iPads also own Bluetooth keyboards (I’m one of them), so games developed specifically for the iPad could take advantage of that extra input device. Also, with Apple’s iOS 9 finally showing a will by the company to focus a bit more on the iPad and push it to become truly a laptop substitute, I feel that its gaming potential should also be revisited first by Apple and then, subsequently, by iOS developers. At the same time, I’m aware that by developing primarily for an iPad, a developer loses out on a huge chunk of iOS gamers, but many companies already make that sacrifice anyway because of UI considerations. All in all, I think that Apple needs to acknowledge the great differences between its two mobile devices and promote the one’s mobility and the other’s laptop-like nature. That way, Apple can really capture the attention of all types of gamers not simply those who, as the report stated, see mobile gaming as a “quick source of entertainment during consumer downtime."