The Big Blue Ocean: How the Apple TV Could Disrupt Console Gaming

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 5 min read

I've been pretty vocal in the past about how I don't think that the Apple TV in its current form can do much to damage Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo's grip on the home gaming console market. The crux of my argument is that games are simply worse on the Apple TV and they won't make anyone convert. I stand by that position, but there certainly is a possibility that the Apple TV can take over in the future. Here's how I think they can do it.

1. Lots more power

Apple has done amazing things with their A-series of chips. The A9 in the iPhone 6S is industry leading, and the A8X was so fast in last year's iPad Air 2 that they didn't even feel the need to upgrade it this year. That said, these chips pale in comparison to what you can get in a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. No, horsepower isn't all you need to make a great game, but it sure helps.

There are some nice games that you can get for your Apple TV and iPhone today, and I'm sure some game developers are doing quite well. But this week saw the release of Fallout 4 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and it brought in over $750 million in its first day. Once all is said and done, this game will certainly have brought in over $1 billion in revenue. That's huge money, and it's only 1 of the many blockbuster games coming out this holiday season on consoles. Call of Duty Black Ops 3 made $550 million in its opening weekend and Halo 5 made $400 million in its first week.

Those are all serious numbers, and they speak to how big the gaming market is. While gaming on iOS has grown over the years, the revenues console games enjoy are a long ways off for these developers. There is a huge, mainstream market out there for people who want high end games, and these games aren't on the Apple TV in a large part because they simply can't run on the current hardware. But that could change.

Let's give the next Apple TV all the benefits of the doubt and say that they can get an A10 processor in the next Apple TV that puts it on par with the power in the PS4 and Xbox One. Does that change the game? Yes, I think it does. Not only would this mean that the big console games could conceivably be made for the Apple TV as well, but the Apple TV could also get some high end exclusive games that would take away sales from the blockbusters on traditional consoles. There are a lot of "ifs" there, but it could happen.

I think that people sometimes get caught up in the idea that people are put off by these big console games and they really want something simple. There's some truth in that, but I think it's wrong to suggest that big, expensive games are a niche market. It's like saying that blockbuster movies are not mainstream and most people just want smaller, simpler indie movies. That's definitely not the case with movies, and I really don't think it's the case with video games either.

2. Deliver games that people prefer to console games

There is no doubt that iOS and Android gaming has disrupted Nintendo's mobile gaming dominance. Nintendo's 3DS has sold well, but it's selling slower than ever, and it's demographic skews very young. They still make a lot of great games for the console, but they're games that people aren't as interested in as the games they can play on their phones.

Mobile has a fairly diverse lineup too. Clash of Clans and Candy Crush make all the money, but games like Monument Valley, Alto's Adventure, and Plants vs Zombies fill out the lineup for players who want something more. That's not to mention all the console games like Brothers, Guitar Hero, and Minecraft that are coming over as of late.

And then you have to consider that it costs just $99 to get a developer account and be able to release a game onto the App Store. Creative people who may not have had the means to make something on the PlayStation may be able to release something for the Apple TV that's truly innovative and exciting.

3. Ship a controller in the box

Us long time gamers know one thing to be true: if you don't ship a controller in the box, assume no one will use it. This was true of the Kinect on the Xbox 360 and One and the Move controller for the PS3/4, as well as many other weird controllers over years. Game designers need to design their games so that everyone can play them, and that means only designing for what's in the box.

With the 2015 Apple TV, Apple requires all games to be playable with the included remote. This is smart in that it means that nobody can buy a game only to find out they can't play it unless they go buy a full controller. But it's also very limiting in what sorts of games people can make. Going back to Fallout 4, that game simply would not be possible today even if the Apple TV was powerful enough to run it. You can't control a game like that with 2 buttons and tilt controls. Frankly, there are very few popular games that you can control that way.

I feel like Apple doesn't want to make a controller, but they're going to need to ship something more capable if they want to run the games that people really love.

4. Consumers respond to the lower price

At $149 the Apple TV is less than half the price of both the PS4 and Xbox One. That's a non-tribal difference and it's something that could get them market penetration with people who want to play games on their TV, but don't really want to invest $350 to do it.

This becomes even more interesting if Apple is indeed able to catch up in performance in the near future. If the big budget games of 2017 can be played on a $300+ console or a $150 Apple TV, that's a pretty serious advantage.

A big blue ocean

Nintendo brought a whole bunch of new people into the world of video games when they released the Wii in 2006. Since then, a lot of people who got into that console have moved on to the PlayStation and Xbox. The Wii was a great jumping off point for new gamers, but these new gamers wanted more. How many of you reading right now have a Wii stuck in a closet somewhere while your PlayStation or Xbox is still attached to your TV and gets used regularly?

There is still a huge potential market out there for console games and a company like Apple has a better chance than most to reach those people. I'm still skeptical that they have the desire to be serious about games, but they certainly could make it happen if they wanted to.

Ultimately, I am loyal to whatever device lets me play the highest quality, most fun games, and right now that is my PlayStation 4. I'm by no means a Sony fanboy (if anything, I'm an Apple fanboy), so I won't be blindly loyal to them if the Apple TV started to get more compelling games. I'll be more than happy to start using the Apple TV as my main gaming device if the best games are there in the future.

Nintendo has been making video game consoles for 30 years. Sony has been doing it for 21 years and Microsoft has been at it for 14. The big 3 are certainly due for a shakeup, and the Apple TV could be the device that does it. Apple just needs to address the core issues that are holing back this vision of the hardware from achieving that goal.