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What's Apple's Game Plan?

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 17, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Last year, Apple began marketing its iPod touch as the "funnest iPod ever," a nod to the significant popularity of the game applications available on the iPhone/iPod touch App Store. Games designed by third-party developers have been big sellers for the platform, and now Apple itself looks like it wants in on more of the fun -- it's advertising for an in-house game developer.

What's Apple's Game Plan?

The candidate must "help design and implement interactive multimedia experiences on the iPhone and iPod touch" and be a creative thinker who can "contribute and comment on the design process" as well as assist in all aspects of production, according to the job listing on Apple's site.

Apple is looking for a skilled software engineer with a strong background in the iPhone or C; C++; or Objective-C. The candidate must have three to four years of experience developing video games and must have shipped at least one "AAA title."

A triple-A game is generally considered to be a high-quality, big-budget game with broad market appeal and flawless technical execution -- think big-name titles from publishers like Activision and Electronic Arts.

The candidate must also be a passionate gamer and be able to work in a small dynamic team, the ad specifies. Skill in programming audio systems, graphics pipelines, and networks is a plus.

Touching Gamers' Hearts With the iPod

Apple has been actively underscoring the iPhone's and iPod touch's gaming chops for over a year. At Apple's media event in San Francisco last September, the company introduced top-shelf titles like "Madden NFL 10" from EA. Other games were "Nova" from Gameloft and "Assassin's Creed 2."

Game selection was one topic Apple played on at the event. At the time, iTunes had almost 22,000 game titles, compared to 607 on the Sony PlayStation Portable and nearly 3,700 on the Nintendo DS, according to Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

Games for the iPhone and iPod touch are often made to take advantage of built-in technologies like the accelerometer, the multitouch screen and WiFi.

"This isn't the first time Apple is developing its own games," pointed out Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group. "One of the very first apps in the App Store was 'Texas Hold'em' and it was written by Apple," he told MacNewsWorld.

Why a Developer?

More developer minds on deck, however, could help Apple better navigate the game market. "If they have an in-house developer, they'll have more ability to set game policies more intelligently. They want to have somebody who can say what's hot and what's not," Howe said.

Having a game developer on board might also soothe third-party app developers' feelings. The App Store's unpredictable approval processes has angered some developers, and several, including some very high-profile developers, have stopped developing for the App Store. They include Joe Hewitt, who designed the site's incredibly popular iPhone/iPod touch app. He is no longer working on Mac apps for the social networking giant.

The departures won't really trouble Apple, said Howe. "They have more developers than they know what to do with currently," he pointed out. A game developer will also give Apple an in-house advocate for operating system interfaces and other features needed for gaming, he said.

Alternatively, Apple could be looking at designing a platform to better support gaming software, Allen Nogee, a principal analyst at In-Stat, told MacNewsWorld. "Apple has a pretty good thing with its App Store revenue split -- it gets 30 percent without even having to develop the games," he pointed out. "Not a bad deal."

Looking for New Business

Another reason for hiring a game developer could be that Apple's looking at gaming as a burgeoning new category of business.

"With one out of every five iPhone/iPod apps being a game, having someone in-house with development experience, and who can be an evangelist with other game developers, only makes sense," the Yankee Group's Howe pointed out.

"Games sell very well, and hiring a developer is really about Apple's putting some muscle behind a growing category of their business," Howe said. "They'd be remiss if they didn't."

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