Why Apple should cater to 'serious' gamers - and why it probably won't

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 20
In 2016, the worldwide video game industry generated over $91 billion in revenues, mostly through mobile platforms like the iPhone and iPad. With its reluctance to serve hardcore gamers, Apple may be leaving some money on the table -- but, perhaps, understandably so.




First, a look around at the gaming landscape. Arguably, the iPhone and iPad are the premiere destinations for "casual" games -- quick-play titles like "Pokemon Go," "Words With Friends," or "Clash Royale." Both devices are extremely popular with the public, and the App Store is the most profitable option for developers.

It's profitable for Apple too, which takes a 30 percent cut from most App Store transactions. This snowballs even further with so-called "free-to-play" games, which when successful generate a steady supply of micro-transactions.

Apple does plenty to accommodate casual games. In fact it promotes them right up front at the App Store, and often features them in other marketing. Arguably, the graphics hardware in iPhones and iPads is built with gaming in mind, and there's not much call for its Metal API if not to power games and a few 3D-heavy productivity apps.

Where things take a turn is in trying to find "serious" games -- complex ones that might take some time to beat. They do exist on iOS, as evidenced by titles like Nintendo's "Fire Emblem Heroes," but there's nothing on the App Store on par with console and PC titles like "Dark Souls," "Civilization VI," or "Titanfall 2."

A lot of that can be chalked up to interface problems. Smaller screens mean less room for buttons, graphics, and text, and a touchscreen is a horrible control option for genres like first-person shooters or anything else requiring fast, precise input. That could be solved by some sort of standard external controller, but Apple has never made one of its own, and third-party options have been a mixed bag at best.

Apple's attempt at an online service like Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network -- Game Center -- has meanwhile failed, and indeed was so neglected that when it did die, it took some people a while to notice.

Mac is a somewhat better place for hardcore gamers thanks to elements like faster processors and better control options, not to mention access to third-party services like Valve's Steam.

Here, though, there's at least one overriding problem: the price-to-performance ratio. Macs are usually far more expensive than comparable Windows PCs, and all of them -- except for the outdated, $2,999 Mac Pro -- rely on weaker mobile graphics cards, if not integrated Intel graphics. A $1,500 gaming PC can easily wipe the floor with a $2,299 iMac.

An iMac is just fine for casual or moderately demanding games, but let's face it: it's not going to attract "Call of Duty" players.

The latest Call of Duty game, Infinite Warfare.
The latest Call of Duty game, Infinite Warfare.


There's also a vicious cycle in the Mac gaming library. While the situation is improving, developers will often skip the Mac not just because of hardware and software compatibility, but because the audience is smaller than mobile, consoles, or PCs. Because there aren't that many games, people don't turn to Macs for gaming. Rinse, repeat.

Why Apple should cater to the hardcore market

Reduced to the naked truth, the answer of of course is money. Many hardcore players are prepared to spend thousand of dollars on their hobby each year, including not just games but systems, accessories, and upgrades. Top-end gaming PCs, especially with VR headsets, can easily push $2,000 to $3,000 or more.

Consider also how much app revenue Apple might bring in if it were a first-choice platform for hardcore games, rather than a place they go months or years after initial release. The "Call of Duty" series alone generates billions of dollars, and while Apple might only snag a fraction of that, it might also claim millions from other A-list games. That would add up.

Gamers moreover are the sort of early adopters Apple craves. Appeasing them can translate into recommendations to friends and family, and a reliable market for advanced technology. We might not even have modern graphics cards if gamers hadn't wanted to see "Quake" run faster in 1996.

People once suspected that Apple might take a stab at the console market with the fourth-generation Apple TV, and here's another place the company seems to have dropped the ball. In an alternate universe the device is competing with the Nintendo Switch, selling accessories and high-priced games. It might never be as powerful as an Xbox or PlayStation, but as the Switch proves, there's no need to be fastest to win.

Why Apple won't

The Switch model may actually explain part of Apple's avoidance of the hardcore market. It already makes a fortune from iPhones, and while Macs and iPads aren't setting the world on fire, they do well enough. Why upset a winning strategy on the off chance of more success?

Apple may also be keenly aware of its poor track record in gaming. Game Center is just the tip of the iceberg -- remember clickwheel iPod games, or the Apple Bandai Pippin, a console which sold some 42,000 units in its entire lifetime? Except for things like Metal and the App Store, the company has a demonstrable lack of expertise.

Ultimately, the most likely explanation is that even with a perfect strategy, there may not be much profit to be had. High-end gaming machines demand expensive parts, and Apple is famous (or infamous) for insisting on high profit margins. To compete on price with PC makers like Dell or MSI it would have to accept lower margins, which probably looks as bad to shareholders as it does management.

Then there's the issue of upgrades. One reason hardcore gamers gravitate toward PCs and consoles is that they can spend a few hundred dollars every few years and still keep a system on (or near) the bleeding edge. Apple prefers to sell people complete devices, which are not only more expensive but do offer some technical advantages -- hyper-optimized design means Apple products can be thinner, lighter, and more power-efficient than ones cobbled together from off-the-shelf parts.

In other words, even with a modular Mac Pro coming in 2018, don't expect Apple to become hardcore-friendly unless it adopts a radically different corporate philosophy.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 63
    No mention of LiquidSky or similar services?

    This really turns the table on gaming. LiquidSky hasn't released their Mac client, but will be in a month or so. I've already been able to use that service to play Steam and Uplay games on a crappy Acer PC that could never play those games by itself...but can do it flawlessly with LiquidSky. All you need is broadband.

    For the amount I use it, it is very cheap to use, and after only a few weeks I'm certain I will never buy another Mac or PC with "gaming" in mind.


    MacProargonaut
  • Reply 2 of 63
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,750member
    Why?
    Because high-end gaming rigs generate high-margin sales.

    Why not?
    Because the high-end gamer market is a tiny niche.
    tallest skilDilirXwatto_cobraGeorgeBMacbaconstangargonaut
  • Reply 3 of 63
    I think that you miss the main point. Apples uses to say that it enters a new market (for them) when they can make a dent on it, disrupt it or give users something new. (My words.) Remember when Steve Jobs that they said no to the PDA because they couldn't find something to improve it. What can Apple do to improve gaming? The article seems more your personal pledge to not to have to buy a PC different form a Mac for play your games. And it is perfect in that sense!
    techaccidentGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 4 of 63
    The fact is, Apple should offer top tier performance options, not just for gaming, but for pro developers, video and music. There are many that are willing to pay the premium for Apple's generally superior quality and aesthetics. Apple's lack of leading edge enhancements to it's Mac product line is really inexcusable and embarrassing. I also fear Apple is falling way behind in the "Cloud" market. This market is starting to impact the consumer market, which is where Apple lives and thrives. By ignoring this growing area, they are leaving themselves vulnerable.
    vukasikamdriftmeyerxzuking editor the grate
  • Reply 5 of 63
    Surprised to see external graphics cards not mentioned here. These are now supported fully by the new MacBook Pro, and I expect any future Macs. Thunderbolt 3 is what makes it possible for a top-end GPU to connect via a USB(-C) cable.

    This is great for Mac-owning gamers because historically CPU and RAM requirements evolve slowly in games, with a machine from many years ago still quite capable in that regard. Conversely, you might want to upgrade your GPU much more often. And now you can, while still keeping your all-in-one Mac laptop or desktop.

    It also opens up the tantalising possibility of having a laptop that you can use on the go, but dock it at home with a beefy external GPU and connected to a full monitor/keyboard/mouse set-up. It's like a super expensive version of the Nintendo Switch.
    vukasikawatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 63
    jblongzjblongz Posts: 129member
    Next Article should be why Apple should refocus on media professionals. We have more digital creators than ever now, and Apple is very limiting on the concepts of external GPUs, CPU clusters/nodes, and better thunderbolt docks (current makers are have silly port combinations)
  • Reply 7 of 63
    The fact is, Apple should offer top tier performance options, not just for gaming, but for pro developers, video and music. There are many that are willing to pay the premium for Apple's generally superior quality and aesthetics. Apple's lack of leading edge enhancements to it's Mac product line is really inexcusable and embarrassing. I also fear Apple is falling way behind in the "Cloud" market. This market is starting to impact the consumer market, which is where Apple lives and thrives. By ignoring this growing area, they are leaving themselves vulnerable.
    The same features that enable high performance gaming also lend themselves to scientific computing applications. I was under the impression that Jobs was interested in Macs being used for scientific research.
    xzu
  • Reply 8 of 63
    The fact is, Apple should offer top tier performance options, not just for gaming, but for pro developers, video and music. There are many that are willing to pay the premium for Apple's generally superior quality and aesthetics. Apple's lack of leading edge enhancements to it's Mac product line is really inexcusable and embarrassing. I also fear Apple is falling way behind in the "Cloud" market. This market is starting to impact the consumer market, which is where Apple lives and thrives. By ignoring this growing area, they are leaving themselves vulnerable.
    The same features that enable high performance gaming also lend themselves to scientific computing applications. I was under the impression that Jobs was interested in Macs being used for.

    Actually, scientific research is one of the many reasons that many buy it over windows hardware.
    https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/41466/why-are-macbooks-so-ubiquitous-in-science-if-they-are-status-symbols
    In short terms, you get a refined unix operating system that runs commercial software, along with a flexible unix core.
    edited April 19 spacerays
  • Reply 9 of 63
    lmasanti said:
    I think that you miss the main point. Apples uses to say that it enters a new market (for them) when they can make a dent on it, disrupt it or give users something new.
    ^^That's pretty much it, IMHO. If Apple made a machine targeting gamers, they are competing with little differentiation against commodity Windows boxes - the thoughtfulness of macOS is lost when the focus is on gameplay, which flat-out doesn't leverage the integrations that Apple creates and values. Without the ability to articulate those things that make macOS special, Apple can't "put a dent" in that market.
    I think that for Apple, leaving gamers to buy Windows PCs is fine - it's just another thing they don't make, like microwave ovens or TV sets. If those gamers want a nicer experience when using their computers for anything besides gaming, the discriminating ones will want a Mac anyway.
    I don't think this is a niche Apple should target. The market for high end Mac hardware is with professionals, not gamers.
    edited April 19 Rayz2016mike1
  • Reply 10 of 63
    xsmixsmi Posts: 115member
    In the late '90's I sold computers at an office supply store. I emails Steve and told him that they should introduce a machine along the lines of the Performa 6400 line. This was after the introduction of the iMac. I told him that the idea of that machine was perfect for the gamer/enthusiast market of the early 2000's. You can imagine about how that went.
  • Reply 11 of 63
    rezwitsrezwits Posts: 528member
    I think starting with the XBox Scorpio Line, Microsoft itself will begin to get out of the gaming industry or should I say migrate from traditional desktop, albiet it will take another 10 years. I just look at the Windows 10 with Scorpio, and that machine is going to basically be a desktop or a console... in any case, because like someone said earlier, the PC Gaming market is a small niche anyway, and it is. It's getting smaller not bigger. I mean think about this: If the Scorpio line is insanely amazing with 4K 60fps, and costs under $500, why would you want to build your own machine? This is Microsoft's version of a Mac Pro... (Because let's face it Microsoft is about Gaming)
  • Reply 12 of 63
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 585member
    Roger, I think it would be interesting for you to do a point/counter point article or video with DED on this.  

    On a variety of topics it might be intesting.
  • Reply 13 of 63
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 1,294member
    sockrolid said:
    Why?
    Because high-end gaming rigs generate high-margin sales.

    Why not?
    Because the high-end gamer market is a tiny niche.
    The high end gaming market is not a tiny niche. PC gamers generated almost $32 billion in revenue in 2016. The mobile gaming market generated $36.9 billion. For comparison, the console game market generated $30 billion in revenue in 2016.  
    xzu
  • Reply 14 of 63
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 1,361member
    The fact is, Apple should offer top tier performance options, not just for gaming, but for pro developers, video and music. 
    Hi JesusFreak. Care to explain how current Macs don't serve video editors or music track layers? Most curious. 
    tallest skilwatto_cobramike1
  • Reply 15 of 63
    When Apple decides to become VR friendly it will also become gamer friendly.

    Apple will become VR friendly when it has compelling VR experience for users.
    xzu
  • Reply 16 of 63
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 108member
    The reasons you gave are all probably valid, but the gaming market, as vast as it seems to be at $90b, isn't very big when it comes to Apple's potential part in it.   Let's say Apple did decide to enter the gaming market with its own hardware - it would certainly have to be new h/w as Apple wouldn't be so stupid as to lower the margins on all its iPhones just to satisfy the needs of what would be a pretty tiny number of users, relatively speaking.  Let's say it's some super-duper controller into which the iPhone or an iPad would slide in order to give it more gaming creds.  In the markets Apple participates in, it usually doesn't own more than 10%.  I don't know what the market size for gaming hardware is, so I'll just take 10% of the $90b you gave for the entire gaming market - that's a meager (by Apple standards) $9b!  Apple makes over $200b per year.  It's current App store alone makes more  than $9b.  Heck, by now I bet the Apple Watch generates more than $9b/year.

    In other words, the additional business is just not worth Apple's time.
    brucemc
  • Reply 17 of 63
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 455member
    Pippin Returns..... ;-)
    xzu
  • Reply 18 of 63
    jdwjdw Posts: 464member
    In other words, even with a modular Mac Pro coming in 2018, don't expect Apple to sell you a true expandable Mac unless it adopts a radically different corporate philosophy -- like Apple did after Steve Jobs left in the 1980's and Apple subsequently released products like the Macintosh SE/30 with extreme expandability that never would have happened under Jobs.

    Jobs is gone, but Tim Cook & Co. are still holding on to what they think is the ideal strategy because in large part Jobs defined that minimalistic strategy.  And so long as their stock is rising and they rack in profits, nothing will shake them from their current state of complacency toward the Mac.  I'm all for iOS devices, but like Steve Jobs once said, WE WILL ALWAYS NEEDS TRUCKS (expandable, work-horse desktop computers).

    We haven't even seen the 2018 Mac Pro yet and already its a LET DOWN.

    Sad.  Very sad.
    xzu
  • Reply 19 of 63
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 41,329member
    lmasanti said:
    What can Apple do to improve gaming?
    Other than destroy all the current studios and bring back the innovation and creativity of the ‘80s and ‘90s, not much.
    jdwking editor the grate
  • Reply 20 of 63
    The comparison Macs vs. consoles + PCs in the article does not make sense. Since the mature and established gaming solution is the console, then you should compare consoles to PCs + Macs.

    Console in desktop gaming, iOS in mobile gaming. These are two established and mature solutions shaping the gaming market. Apple already addresses hardcore gamers with its dominant mobile gaming solution. The rest is the stupidity and laziness of the studios who missed the paradigm shifting towards mobile.
    edited April 20
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