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What does the iPad mean for gaming?

Yesterday the GamesRadar staff live-blogged the somewhat anti-climactic iPad reveal, all the while patiently waiting for the part we might actually care about – the games. The iPad’s many capabilities, games included, looked fantastic on the drool-worthy 10-inch screen, but once the presentation was over, we were left wondering why the living hell we’d fork over $500+ to play iPhone-level games when we already have the same experience sitting on our desks right now.


Above: But it’s so thin! 

So, the question on our mind went from “what does this mean for gaming?” to “does this mean anything for gaming at all?” The four games Steve Jobs deemed worthy of press conference attention are all available for iPhone/Touch right now, and other than a big ol’ screen, there was very little difference. So, let’s start with those four games, shall we?


The featured games

X-Games Snocross

The newest of the trio, Snocross is actually a reskin of 2XL Supercross, and as we mentioned earlier it’s playable on your iPhone at this very second. If you already own a DS/PSP/iPhone, this is far from a showcase title. When you use a racer to promote new hardware, it’d better floor everyone in the room. Sony did this with Motorstorm to great effect. Snocross, not so much.

Nova

Truly one of the iPhone’s breakout titles, Nova looks startlingly close to a PS2/Xbox/GameCube title (or just Halo, if we’re honest), seemingly pushing the device to its limits. It looks fantastic, plays great (with a digital “analog stick” that works remarkably well) and allows up to four players online. The iPad version shown this week was identical, though producer Mark Hickey has said there are enhancements coming, most notably to the controls, which haven’t translated too well to the larger screen – all that extra physical space between the fake sticks is actually quite a bother. If Gameloft can clean this up and take advantage of the iPad’s new A4 processor, Nova could become the standard iPhone FPS franchise.

Need for Speed Shift

Released last December, Shift is the same product you could download as you read this article (just $6.99, btw). Is it any good? The App Store reviews suggest so, with 892 five-star ratings out of 1573 total reviews. Obviously PSP has sturdier racers (Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer, Burnout etc), but they’re all $25 and up. If you’re just looking for a simple, cheap racing experience (which is what most of us are after with an iPhone), this isn’t too bad at all. But iPad? A couple new touch-screen features that barely affect gameplay (tap your rear view mirror!) are hardly a reason to get excited. So that’s three for three now that either don’t do anything new or have actually suffered from the transition.

Books

Never heard of this game, but DAMN does it look boring. It’s nothing but walls of text! Great exclusive, Apple.


So, Nintendo and Sony have nothing to fear?

At first glance, not really. These games are all on current iPhones and, while vastly cheaper than a PSP or even DS game, aren’t pushing the gaming medium in any way. Discerning gamers know the difference between a $5 value meal and a $30 dinner – now imagine having to pay a $500 cover at McDonald’s just to get your number 9.

However, 70 million people use and adore their iPhone. If even a third buy an iPad, that’s a massive audience looking for ways to justify the purchase. More people buying more apps means more developers flocking to Apple, and more sales taken away from Nintendo and Sony. The question is, do you think either of those companies will sit still and let that happen?


But what about a year from now?

That’s the real test. The iPhone was $600 when it launched. Now a vastly superior 3GS phone is half that, which means an explosion of new owners, new apps and new product devotion that led to this hysteria surrounding the iPad. So while the first iteration of iPad is lacking some key features (detailed all over the web), expect the 2011 version to rectify a boatload of complaints, which will expand the user base further, which could potentially lead to an iPhone-level saturation. That’d mean millions more buying and playing games on the iPad. But that’s a year from now, not the 90-day launch period detailed in the press conference.


Above: Expect visuals and creativity to rise with the user base 

That new A4 processor, when combined with the keyboard attachment, could lead to more advanced gameplay as users branch out from their Bookworm and Peggle safety nets. However, once you’re using a keyboard, you need a desk. Then you’re directly competing with a laptop’s gaming capabilities, something an iPad app simply cannot do. Will developers bother making more sophisticated games with the new tech? Possibly not, given the current success of not just the App Store, but also the Wii and DS, which have proven that cutting edge isn’t always the answer. Left scratching our heads, we asked MacLife Editor-In-Chief Paul Curthoys for his opinion on the device’s gaming potential:

“It’ll definitely translate into iPad-specific games. Developers will leap at the chance to put the A4 to work making higher-fidelity graphics and less simplistic gameplay—and, probably, higher price points. But what’ll really drive iPad gaming is the size of the screen. I spent amount 90 minutes today putting an iPad through its paces, and as someone who’s done a ton of DS and iPhone gaming, it was interesting to realize that size does matter. The experience really is that much richer with a bigger display, and the picture on that IPS screen is gorgeous. It’s very light and thin and comfortable to hold, and the touchscreen is incredibly responsive. I went it there thinking, I’ll never want one of these, and came out a convert.”

We’ll admit the iPad has a damn alluring screen. No doubts there. But until there’s a game that looks, sounds and feels like it’s taking advantage of that extra tech, we simply cannot view the iPad as “must-buy” device for devoted gamers. It’s just too similar to the existing iPhone/Touch experience, screen be damned. Nine months, maybe 15 months from now could be a totally different story.

Next page: What we think could happen next year

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12 comments

  • sharker - February 5, 2010 3:30 a.m.

    Okay, now imagine yourself playing a game on the iPad in public. Changed your mind about the whole "iPad will revolutionize gaming" sort of remark? I don't know what SJ was thinking when he designed this. Taped a few iPods together no?
  • shpongled - January 30, 2010 1:33 p.m.

    I just don't see the point of this thing, I really don't. I'm already bored of it.
  • Persona - January 30, 2010 1:34 a.m.

    This tile of a machine doesn't look it can revolutionize anything but... Looking very strange on the train. Apple just doesn't have gaming going for them, guess I'm just too used to seeing stuff like Nintendo slapped on the back of my Portable Gaming system
  • Useoam - January 29, 2010 4:07 p.m.

    Stop reviewing this thing. It's getting annoying
  • keefster - January 29, 2010 2:43 p.m.

    I'll still never buy it though... My birthday is in a few months and I want an ipod touch, but thankfully this piece shit will make the price drop. Seriously though, books? That thing is bigger than a book that you could carry around. 500-800 bucks for a bigger screen and stuff we can do already? God, apple :(
  • keefster - January 29, 2010 2:42 p.m.

    This is more like it. The last few days have been endless brown nosing, at least this article is being honest instead of full of hype.
  • robotic-fiend - January 29, 2010 5:30 a.m.

    Zzzz
  • nik41507 - January 29, 2010 3:32 a.m.

    HAS THE iPAD TACKEN OVER GR IT HAS
  • OneEyedGoon - January 29, 2010 2:13 a.m.

    Don't care at all about this newfangled thing. I'm actually beginning to hate it, though I think that resentment is partly due to the lack of the usual GR features the last few days in favor of Apple sillyness. If it's got the games, I'm there, if not, it can go to hell.
  • FalconMbuster - January 29, 2010 1:54 a.m.

    Nah, Cyber. Were gamers, not techjunkies. They will buy enough of them for there to be something for us to look forward to next year! If there is something to look forward to...
  • Cyberninja - January 29, 2010 1:31 a.m.

    i say we all should wait not buy on day one but then apple will discontnie it.
  • Metroidhunter32 - January 29, 2010 1:23 a.m.

    You guys are putting everything into this thing. I personally don't see it moving gaming much at all. Then again I also said the DS would bomb so my predictions are rarely accurate.

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