On a list of history’s greatest bummers in the gaming industry, the way Apple played their cards with the Apple TV has to be somewhere near the top. We spent years speculating what a game changer it would be if Apple added the ability for third party developers to create games for the Apple TV. We weren’t alone either, industry heavy hitters like Valve’s Gabe Newell recognized the potential that Apple was sitting on. Back in 2011, while on a panel, he said, “I suspect Apple will launch a living room product that redefines people’s expectations really strongly and the notion of a separate console platform will disappear." As details started to emerge on the absolute earliest of official iOS game controllers, pundit across the internet were connecting the dots that Apple was about to make a huge play in the living room that would change everything.
In September of 2015, Apple revealed the 4th generation Apple TV, and with it, tvOS. For the first time, third party developers could freely release their own apps on the Apple TV App Store. Unfortunately, and we would later hear rumors that this was a policy change made at the absolute last second, all games and apps on the Apple TV would need to be played with the Siri remote. Apple made some half-hearted attempts to position the 4th generation Apple TV as a gaming device, but the controller situation was so absurd that the only games that were even that playable were simple iOS ports that could be played with often laggy touch or tilt controls.
Over time Apple would relax these restrictions and allow developers to release games that required MFi controllers to play, but by that time, the damage was already done. Late last year Apple teamed up with SteelSeries to do a Apple TV bundle which included a SteelSeries Stratus MFi controller and a download code for the Apple TV Minecraft for $40, which was a ridiculous value, but far too little far too late. As of September 24th, Minecraft for the Apple TV was discontinued:
The 10 year old mentioned it on Sunday. Didn’t see the splash screen then but here it is… pic.twitter.com/XYQ2TirzM7
— mac-interactive 🇬🇧🇪🇺🌍🌌 (@macinteractive) October 9, 2018
It really goes to show just how few people were even playing Minecraft on the Apple TV too, as this news is only breaking this morning, even though the game has been discontinued for over two weeks now (with the message presumably popping up before then). Historically, Minecraft has been the gold standard among gamers for what constitutes a “real" gaming platform because it’s a game almost everyone is interested in playing. Even Minecraft coming to the Switch was a big deal, as the game has close to 100 million monthly active players still.
The fact that so few people are playing Minecraft on the Apple TV that Mojang is pulling the plug on the project is unbelievably depressing- Particularly if you were around for all the initial speculation. As the iOS App Store was skyrocketing in popularity, it seemed reasonable to wonder what might happen if Apple did the same in the living room. A few years later, we have our answer: Following a series of incredibly confusing decisions by Apple, one of the most popular games in the world can’t find enough people to play it on the platform to even be worth supporting.
With Apple’s current stock price, it’s hard to argue they aren’t doing things well in an overall sense, but when you stack up all these little things like the Apple TV, the iOS 11 App Store redesign, the way Apple allowed the freemium giants to take over the App Store (effectively killing what was the hottest and most creative platform for indie devs), and so much more, it’s mind-blowing how much potential Apple walked away from. I’m not sure who you even blame for this either, as I know inside of each of these departments at Apple there are incredibly passionate people working on each of these projects. No one on the Apple TV team ever had a meeting where they decided, “You know what, let’s make gaming on the Apple TV bomb."
But, I suppose we live in pretty depressing times anyway, so what’s one more thing.