What iOS 6 means for gaming

What iOS 6 means for gaming

Gaming got a bit of a spotlight at yesterday's WWDC keynote, and though Apple spent just as much of the show talking about Mac as it did iOS, there are a lot of big implications for mobile.

Game Center

The biggest announcement for gamers at WWDC 2012 was cross-platform Game Center. Letting Mac owners play with iPhone and iPad owners is a huge step to legitimizing mobile gaming in the eyes of traditional gamers, but Apple is hardly the first one to make this kind of move; Microsoft has been pushing the Xbox brand hard on Windows Phone, except instead of bridging the gap to PC, it's to console. We've seen plenty of games bubble up from iOS to desktop, but it won't be long before iPad and iPhone hardware will be powerful enough to allow simple migration of games from Mac, especially if cloud gaming enters into the picture.

There are a few smaller Game Center updates in iOS 6, including challenges, so you can taunt your buddies into beating your high scores, for example. There's also a new in-app Game Center experience that was mentioned in one slide, but not elaborated upon - presumably, it will allow players to at least check which of their friends have the game without being booted out of the app. Even more vague was a mention of "game groups", which I can only assume means linking a bunch of friends together so they can hop between games en masse.

Pushing Retina resolution

The new MacBook Pro features a Retina-grade display, and Apple promised that Diablo III would be updated with appropriately razor-sharp graphics. The technical marvel of this screen stands firmly on the shoulders of the new iPad, which until now was the largest Retina display available. The new iPad on its own wasn't enough to get anyone outside of the iOS development sphere to start considering insanely high-def resolutions, but the new Mac Pro will. That pressure to support Retina resolution on OS X is ultimately good news for iOS, as there will be more developers with assets suitable for the new iPad. While we aren't expecting a huge leap in resolution for the iPhone 5, it is likely to have a bigger screen.

The main thing about Retina is that it enables scalability; if an app is big enough, it can be crunched down to the small screen, but be rich enough to not look like crap on the big screen. At this point, Apple need only offer a proper TV set that can fully make use of the post-1080p experiences that they're enabling, but unfortunately that's one of the many things we didn't get out of WWDC.

AirPlay

The WWDC keynote also introduced some additional AirPlay options for Mac, enabling full screens to be wirelessly reproduced on a TV, pixel-for-pixel. Though iOS has had this for over a year now, the new Mac feature effectively allows the two to flank TV and converge on Apple TV. Additionally, it sets the stage for AirPlay between Mac and iOS, which is something we've already seen on the audio side from some clever developers.

Ultimately, it's easy to imagine being able to access a live stream of your Mac on your iPad over AirPlay - a tantalizing prospect for anyone into cloud gaming. At first, that could be limited to local Wi-Fi networks, but eventually, who's to say that you won't be able to tap in from outside Wi-Fi networks, or cellular networks provided ample bandwidth? Third parties like Splashtop are already doing this kind of thing, but once Apple steps in and offers the same functionality out of the box, those guys will have to find something new to offer - maybe hosted solutions.

If that is indeed the path that Apple is taking, AirPlay on Mac is just the beginning. For whatever technical limitations the iPhone and iPad may have, if Apple can provide a high-quality, seamless AirPlay experience back to a computer that can handle the heavy lifting, games on iOS stand to get a whole lot better. Diablo III on iPad, anyone?

Conclusion

If there's a single common thread for the relationship between gaming and iOS 6, it's Mac. AirPlay will enable both Macs and iOS devices to start taking tenuous steps towards competing with console and PC gaming; Retina-grade displays will push developers to meet a new bar in graphics (not to mention blow the minds of players); a smart Game Center strategy will create a unified social environment for all of this gaming to take place. iOS 6 is just in beta, so we may very well see a few more surprises before the iPhone 5 launches in the fall, but for now, the future is bright for iOS gamers.

Gamers, what do you feel is currently lacking the most in iOS titles? Is the onus on Apple to enable developers to fill those gaps, or do devs already have their hands full trying to get their games up to Retina quality, nevermind extra stuff like AirPlay?

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.

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Reader comments

What iOS 6 means for gaming

24 Comments

iPhone still has no buttons. Cross-platform sharing, high-res displays, faster GPUs -- all nice, all lovely components of a potentially great gaming system. But without physical controls you can manipulate by feel, without having to look at your hands, the iPhone will always be a mediocre gaming device.

It really depends on the game. I find a lot of the best iOS games rely on one-touch controls, swiping, and the accelerometer, while those that try to impose the standard game controller layout tend to feel cramped and artificial. For example, yeah, right now I'm really used to playing first-person shooters with the mouse and WASD layout, but after putting a few hours into Modern Combat 3, I think I could get used to accelerometer controls instead.
That said, I think game designers are going to become more willing to break old paradigms for the sake of accessing as broad a spectrum of hardware as possible.

Agree some games are suited for touch only devices but 1st person will always be better with controller and keyboard

I really do think for games that require the A, B and arrow keys, physical controls work best. Platformers that require a constant press of buttons work best with physical buttons.
But for racing games, the accelerometer is the way to go. Using buttons to drive gives you little control. Meanwhile, the accelerometer allows you to tilt the steering wheel to you liking.

I am a serious apple-holic boy since 2007, I literally like all apple products iphone, ipad, macbook, apple tv, time capsule etc
I especially love iPhone and until yesterday's WWDC keynote I am pretty sure iOS was the most advanced mobile's operation system but now I think iOS is getting old and Android is now ahead of iOS 6 for sure.
Hopefully, apple has some killer features with the new iPhone coming up later his year.
I am so disappointed with iOS 6.

I completely agree with you there. I am seriously considering getting rid of my 4S for the galaxy s3. Hopefully the new iPhone manages to impress!

What's the point of replies like yours?
If someone shares their impression of a particular Apple product, without being a troll, they still get rudeness and snark? Doesn't that make the rude enthusiast the troll, in that scenario?

Got the s3 and it's an awesome phone... Literally can't think of a thing it can't do... Honestly once you become accustomed to the size of the s3 and it's gorgeous display its hard to go back too anything smaller... Whether you like ios or Android is another thing but I believe if you give Samsung version of Android a chance you may enjoy it.

Will it crap out as fast as my Samsung tv did, or will I have to replace it 6 times like I had to with my old fascinate? Can it stream content to my TV through my apple TV? Will it get updated as long as the 3GS has? There are dozens of more questions that I can throw at you. Display is not the only thing that makes a device grate.

Firstly, you can't even spell. It's "Great" not "grate", that's what you do to cheese you mong.
Secondly, what are you talking about? You can't be suggesting that streaming to your Apple Tv is somehow a benefit of having an iPhone, do Apple Tv's now come free do they? last I checked they weren't and tbh there are many accessories you could buy for Android devices, not to mention the fact that most new devices have a direct HDMI port, who want's to stream through an Apple Tv when I can plug my phone direct into my Tv?
I hate how people try and force their view onto everybody. Yes, you like Apple, i'd go as far as saying you're a fanboy and that's fine but trust me when I tell you that not everybody likes the same things and the iPhone is far from the best phone much the same as Apple in general aren't the best company, for some maybe but not everybody ... It's about choice and taste, might shock you to hear that not everybody is an iSheep fanboy.

Mick, you don't get it.
For example, it's a rare individual who wants to walk over to a display to watch something/plug in hdmi instead over starting a show or game remotely, wirelessly... And with the ability to quickly, easily, and remotely pause, fast forward, etc.

@Taz how does the s3 feel in the hand, don't want it to feel too bulky if u know what I mean, plus is it useable with one hand like the iPhone or will u need both?

Well the iPhone 5 was that last phone Steve worked on, if I know Steve like everyone else does, he wouldn't let his last product be a minor upgrade.

Can you elaborate more what make you think that an android phone is better for you. I can understand somebody that is only comparing an Android phone with the iPhone to think that the Android phone is better. But how come for you is better? After the Keynote, is even less likely for somebody with all your Apple gear (iphone, ipad, macbook, apple tv, time capsule) to move away from iOS. With $20 for Mountain Lion and the free upgrade to iOS 6 you share your contacts, calendars, remainders, bookmarks, photos, find my gear with only login to iCloud on each devices. You get to control your router (time capsule) with 3 of your devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook), you can mirror your screen to your TV (by your Apple TV) by 3 of your devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook). If you decide to splurge another $25 per year, you can unified your music library and have it available to player stream on 4 of your devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple TV). And if you buy movies through iTunes, they are available to 4 of your devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple TV) for free. Also, if you live close to an Apple Store, you get access to free support to all your devices. For me, it's really hard to think that somebody will trade all that to get an Android phone just because it has a bigger screen, because must if not all of the software "advantages" of Android are just a jailbreak away.

iOS does not have to compete head-to-head with console gaming. It is a great gaming platform, but it does not do "console" type games well, and never will without:
1) Hardware controls. Buttons, sticks, what have you -- something that can be manipulated without looking at it. On-screen controls are arguably ok when the controls are on the same screen you are looking at, but they will be awful on Airplay, because your vision is focused on another screen than the controls.
2) Fast local storage. A good "console game" takes 10-25GB of space -- more than any iPad is going to have available consistently, and streaming is just not fast enough for your Mass Effect 3, or your Ratchet and Clank.
Does that mean iOS is a bad gaming platform? Not at all -- I probably spend more time playing on my iPhone than I do on my consoles. However, trying to replicate the console experience on an iPad is a losing proposition, and Apple (and iOS developers) should focus on making fun games that accentuate what iOS does well, rather than try to replicate games substandardly that are better enjoyed on a device with the above features.

But do you think that the iPad necessarily has to replicate the console experience in order to compete with it? I agree that cloud gaming isn't a real possibility (yet), and local storage for mobile has a long way to go - I bash my head on the table every time a tablet comes out without a full-sized SD card slot. Still, I think game designers have a real opportunity to break out of the usual mould of hardware controls to explore new avenues of gameplay that the tablet form factor allows. Of course real gamers are as attached to proper hardware controllers as the developers are, but I think that habit is far from impossible to break.

I want iCloud save. AirPlay and at least iPad compatible if not universal on all iPhone apps
I love they pushed Diablo 3. If they get Guild Wars 2 also. I will be dropping the $2500 on a new MacBook pro and Loving it.

Man Apple copule disrupt the gaming market when ever they chose. With AirPlay, game center and retina displays all is there. They have to do just one thing release a iPhone/iPod controller case and a Bluetooth 4.0 controller for iPad, that's it and gaming handhelds (DS/vita) will be destroy and with better hardware even consoles will get a run for their money with AirPlay.
Already games on iOS is the #1 sellers with real controllers you can sell premium games at 19-39$ and killed Nintendo and Sony handhelds. In the end they will release their games in jos instead.
What are you waiting for Apple?

I hate to break it, but iOS sucks as a gaming platform. What you are all here calling "games" are casual games like Bejewelled, Tower Defense or Angry Birds, in other words, casual, slow paced, turn by turn games. For anybody who really likes games, those are not even really games. Its the 80´s all over.
Touch controls are terrible to drive, fly, or control characters on screen. It does not even come close to a keyboard/mouse control. Tilting the screen to drive sucks, touching those little control circles to walk and drive also sucks big time. Arguably the best game on iOS is Infinity Blade II, which hardly qualifies as a bad demo of a game, there is no real control, exploration, context, storyline, interacton, nothing, just slash to fight the same couple dozen of fights over and over.
I just don't see why people even mention iOS as a gaming platform. Don´t get me wrong, I know casual, slow paced, turn by turn games sell well on iOS, and there is certainly a market for that, but that has not really been gaming for almost 15 years now. We are taking ten steps back for the sake of mobility. Show me a single iOS game that can really compete with 10 year old games like Elder Scrolls III, Neverwinter Nights, Battlefield 1942 or GTA: Vice City. There is not, there is Angry Birds and Plants vs Zoombies.
With the graphics/memory/storage space/interface constraints we have now on iOS devices can we eve dream of a Mass Effect (the real thing) or a Skyrim? I think not, perhaps in 10 years, but not now.
So how about saying "casual gaming" whenever we mention iOS, and stop with the console or PC competition nonsense already?

It seems to me like most high-end gamers are hinging their qualification of a "real" game on graphics. There will always be consoles and PC to meet their demands, but to me the mechanics are what make a game, not how pretty it is. For example, Asphalt 7 came out, and yeah, it might not have all of the bells and whistles of Burnout, but I definitely as much fun playing it on the iPad as I did on Xbox. Same goes for my time with Modern Combat 3 vs. Call of Duty: Black Ops.
As for what competes with those games you mentioned, the vast majority have been ported over or are in the process of it. Baldur's Gate is coming to iPad, and Battlefield, GTA, and Mass Effect all have titles for iOS.
I agree that casual games are among the most popular titles on iOS, but it's disingenuous to discount all of the other high-end games that are available just because of that.