Apple’s Gaming Future May Play Against Sony, Nintendo

Apple really wants to take a bite at the gaming market, as some novel patents show. But its third-party developers are already doing half its work for it, and dooming the PSP along the way.

Apple game patent


Apple‘s long been interested in snagging chunks of the gaming market, and now a new patent reveals that it’s got some novel iPad interactive comic book ideas to make the gaming experience a unique event on the tablet PC. Meanwhile third-party developers have been pushing ahead with games for the iPhone and iPad, and new efforts from iD Software reveal exactly how accomplished games on the iPhone 4 are. So good that Sony and probably Nintendo should be worried, and not just about their handheld consoles.

Video Game Becomes iPad Comic

Apple’s games patent comes right out of left field, as it’s not so much about the mechanics of playing games on a device like an iPad, as keeping an audience engaged with the game after the actual playing session is over. The patent, filed last year, covers ways of automatically generating a book, an e-book, or a digital comic book with content that reflects the game story and character design decisions you make in a video game (Apple illustrates the patent with Mass Effect as the example game).

The patent is very sophisticated, indicating a serious piece of research into the mechanisms that would make it all work, but the result in terms of a user experience would be very simple–and geekily cool: You’d play a game, probably a first-person shooter or the like, and as you wend your way through the story, the iDevice keeps track of your decisions before aggregating them into a digital book. You can print it out, or as Apple suggests they could print it out and mail it to you (which they already do for Aperture or iPhoto photo books) or you could email it to your friends.

It’s an idea that you can imagine instantly appealing to younger players, or to game fans who’ve invested a lot of time playing an epic-length game in character. And it has subtle positive effects for Apple and the games company concerned: You’ll remember the game more if you have a digital comic of your adventure, and may think more positively about buying titles from the same developer in the future … and playing them on your iPad or iPhone (or even your Mac).

The one thing that limits the usefulness of the patent is the slight lack of big-name FPS games titles on Apple devices. That is changing, though.


Rage Roars Onto iPhone

iD Software just demoed their game Rage at Quakecon, and it looks fabulous in its desktop and console implementations. But iD also revealed that Rage will be hitting the iPhone later in 2010. It’s performance on the tiny phone was impressive enough to likely make Sony execs nervous about the future of the PSP and even Nintendo nervous about the post-3DS future: Megatextured graphics as a trick on the iPhone 4, combined with the processing power of the Apple A4 chip, mean that Rage runs at full resolution on the retina screen, at a blistering 60 frames per second.

Perhaps more than any games title on the iPhone yet, Rage demonstrates that the gaming future of the iPhone and iPad is definitely assured–and not only because 2011’s iPad 2 and iPhone 5 will out-perform the existing devices (which are already selling by the million and can support games as good as Rage) and there are few plans from big games device makers to upgrade their own handheld gaming offerings.

Adding in those tantalizing rumors about an App-capable, A4-sporting Apple TV-refresh, which could bring games like Rage to the TV screen in your lounge, and you get an intriguing thought about how Apple could even challenge the PlayStation and Xbox, almost by a back door into the market.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)