In a recent interview Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney talked a lot about the freemium model, convergence, and in particular how successful they've been in mobile.
We've been very happy with the game industry's growth. For a while we were worried that the divide between the console growth in the west and the growth of PCs would increase. The most profitable game we've ever made, in terms of man years invested versus revenue, is actually Infinity Blade. It's more profitable than Gears of War. ... We expect DirectX technology to be widely available on these mobile devices in the next few years. ... These platforms are rapidly converging, with a set of common capabilities. The lowest end device [the iPad 2] is still a DirectX 9 device!
If you're not familiar, Gears of War is a massively popular shooting game franchise on console which originally launched in 2006 and spawned multiple sequels. The latest title sold 3 million copies in its opening week, beating out the previous two games. As of September 2011, the whole series has grossed over $1 billion.
iOS has been eating the lunch of traditional portable gaming consoles for some time now, but the new iPad has started steering towards competing with consoles, primarily by way of comparison of the Retina display's resolution with standard HD TVs. Even though the processing power and storage space of the iPad and iPhone currently limits what can be done in iOS games, those are limits that even AAA developers like Epic are willing to work around if they can enjoy higher profits than their console titles. Of course Infinity Blade is the exception rather than the rule, but it proves mobile can be at least as profitable for game developers as other platforms.
Sweeney's interview revolved a lot around the Unreal Engine which they created and has a prominent position in the mobile sphere, and provides a clear transition path for developers moving from PC and consoles. Sweeney was largely supportive of the freemium model, and expects that all games will at some point in the future be distributed globally and digitally.
If Epic can make more money on Infinity Blade than Gears of War, is this a signal that other big-name developers should switch gears to mobile? If so, does iPhone and iPad stand any chance of becoming a more popular gaming platform than PCs or consoles, regardless of technical limitations?