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How the iPad will (or won't) change video games

A.J. Glasser | April 5, 2010
Is the iPad irrelevant to gaming and that things will stay just as they are?

That doesn't mean things aren't changing for video games. Well before the iPad was even announced, the video games industry was in flux. After a tough couple of economic years, companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Sony all announced strategy changes that would leverage a lot of the old methods of moneymaking in the industry (like annual sequels), while also exploring new areas of delivering content digitally via Facebook, browsers -- and, yes, mobile devices like the iPad.

From this perspective, the iPad is a symptom of change in the games industry -- not the cause. Ben Cousins, General Manager of Battlefield Heroes, Battleforge at EA, is more inclined to name the Internet as the thing that's changing the way games are made and distributed. In a 2010 Game Developers Conference lecture, "Kings of Convenience: What Wal-Mart teaches us about the future of gaming," Cousins explained that the biggest changes we see in a market come from the introduction of a "disruptive technology" into a system that's largely stable. The iPad -- while certainly disruptive to some markets -- might not be as disruptive to video games.

"Since Steve Jobs returned in 1997, Apple have been at the forefront of disruption in the computing and entertainment space," Cousins told GamePro. "The iMac disrupted the home desktop, the iPod disrupted the MP3 player market and the iPhone REALLY disrupted the cell phone market. I think the iPad has the potential to do the same."

In Cousins' GDC lecture, he explained that the introduction of the vehicle changed grocery shopping from a high quality, intimate experience at local shops to the convenient, gigantic supermarkets like the Wal-Marts we have today. Taken as an analogy to the games industry, the Internet is reducing the appeal of high quality packaged goods we have to go to GameStop and buy in favor of more convenient -- and lower quality -- downloadable experiences. The iPad certainly can deliver downloadable games, but so can other video game consoles and handhelds that have a head start on the iPad.

Instead, the disruptive effect the iPad has is more likely to be felt in other technology markets the device is geared to compete with -- like the home laptop market. Cousins said the iPad may have a secondary impact on home console games, but only if gamers find a reason to swap their console for the iPad.

"If I can sit on the sofa and have an HD gaming experience on an iPad while my wife watches TV, we are moving the iPad into a moment usually occupied by an Xbox or PlayStation," Cousins said. "Compared to a TV-connected console like an Xbox, or a home laptop, [the iPad] is a lower-quality, more convenient and cheaper experience. The screen is lower-resolution, the CPU less powerful and the portfolio of games smaller, but it fits in your hand, game downloads are simple and its price point is competitive. However, compared to a handheld gaming device like a DS or PSP, it's a higher-quality, more expensive and less convenient experience. It's physically bigger, with a higher-price point and larger resolution screen. This is why I feel the iPad is more of a threat to home laptop or console gaming than handheld."


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