The iPhone gaming Fallacy

Recently I’ve had a lot of discussions about how good the iPhone/iPod touch is for playing games on. Most people contest that, unlike a traditional handheld console, the iPhone is limited by it’s control mechanism. That is to say, there are no physical buttons. I don’t agree, I see the iPhone’s control mechanism as something that makes it different, not something that makes it inferior. The reason for this is very simple, and can be seen by splitting up games by genre. I’m going to look at several game genres, and which platforms play them well.

First Person Shooters

FPS games need the ability to turn fast, and perform lots of interesting actions. In reality, the most important requirement here is being able to spin on the spot. This is something that mice are *incredibly* good at. They provide the ability to move extremely precisely to any point, and at any speed you require. For that reason, along with there being over a hundred buttons on a keyboard, PCs have to take the crown in this department. But I was talking about hand helds. Which of those takes the crown here? An analog stick doesn’t give you the fast precision of a mouse, a touch screen can simply let you tap where you want to turn to. I’ve not though seen any fps games implemented this way yet, they all try to simulate an analogue stick for some silly reason. On the other hand, traditional controls have plenty of spare buttons to use for fire, jump etc. A touch screen has no such luxury. For this reason, I’m going to give FPSes to the traditional console.

  1. Desktop PCs
  2. Traditional handhelds
  3. Touchscreen

Racing Simulations

Racing simulations require a smooth, analogue input that mirrors a steering wheel well. There really is no contest here, traditional handhelds have the perfect control mechanism! PCs similarly gain the perfect control mechanism, as long as you attach a steering wheel.

  1. Traditional handhelds
  2. Desktop PCs
  3. Touchscreens

At this point, things aren’t looking too good for the poor old iPhone, but lets carry on with some more game genres

Role-playing games

Controlling a character in a role-playing game for example is done quickly an easily with an analogue stick, though often selecting enemies to fight can be a chore. With a touch screen, we can tap where our character should go, and we can tap on enemies and actions to have a punch up. This one’s close, but it’s got to go to the Touchscreen. A side note though – the PC, with it’s combination of keyboard and mouse can do this better.

  1. Desktop PCs
  2. Touchscreens
  3. Traditional Handhelds

Strategy

Strategy games require you to be able to pick units quickly, and give orders out fast. That means being able to select something on the play area near instantly, and then direct the something somewhere else on the play area similarly quickly. The touchscreen is a clear winner here, you can simply tap units, and drag/retap them where they must go. With a traditional console, we must sit pushing buttons repeatedly to select the right area of screen. With a PC, we at least have a mouse with which we can quickly point to the relevant units and move them.

  1. Touchscreens
  2. Desktop PCs
  3. Traditional Handhelds

New Genres

The iPhone seems to have spawned a whole new genre of game – the line drawing game. Be it Flight Control, or 33rd Division, all of these games involve lots of things moving about the screen, and you drawing out lines to control where they go.

Conclusions

That’s by no means an exhaustive list of game genres. What we’ve hopefully seen though, is that the iPhone is not an awful platform for gaming. It doesn’t do so well on some game genres that traditional handhelds excel at, on the other hand, it does extremely well for other generes, and has even invented whole new genres specifically for it’s input mechanism.

The App Store Approval Process

I’ve recently been doing a chunk of iPhone development, and had a chance to experience the App Store approval process for myself. And I’m going to make one thing very very clear: Either things have got a lot better, or all the press hype is exactly that – hype.

Submission One

On my first submission of SimpleGPS it took 6 days to get to “In review” status, and was promptly rejected about 2 days later. Apple had taken a fairly reasonable exception to part of my marketing material. Specifically, the claim that SimpleGPS could find your location without an internet connection, as this is only possible on iPhone 3G or 3Gses at present.

Submission Two

I fixed my marketing material to deal with Apple’s concern, and went ahead with my second submission. I got an email back about rejection after a similar length of time, this time noting that it did not work in aeroplane mode. I queried this rejection, on the grounds that my marketing material clearly stated you needed a good GPS lock, while they clearly didn’t have one, as the GPS in their unit was turned off. Within a day, I had a response from them, acknowledging this, and restarting the review of my application. 3 days later, SimpleGPS was in the store!

Submission Three

After some feedback from my users, I had a simple update ready, and submitted it shortly before christmas. This approval was the slowest I had experienced, taking a whole 12 days to get through the process. To be fair though, in the middle of this, they had a christmas break!

Submission Four

It’s unknown whether apple spent this time improving their systems, or merely catching up on the backlog, but something has improved. I had submitted a second minor update to SimpleGPS on the 29th of December, and expected to wait a week or so before checking back. After another developer noted that he had just had his app accepted in 1 day, I checked back, and discovered that my update was also dealt with.

Conclusion

Apple’s approval process doesn’t seem to be needlessly slow, and the speed of response appears to have improved drastically post-christmas. Secondly, the feedback I’ve got from apple has been fair, and reasonable. Thirdly, Apple have responded to questions I’ve had quickly, and even reversed decisions after discussion with me. The media hype about how awful this process is seems to me to be bull.