Opinion: Apple TV Makes Gaming a Trojan Horse, Again

By tying its big-screen gaming fortunes to a device aimed at the mainstream market, Apple is banking on the strength of a non-gaming device to hit casuals where it counts--just as it did with the iPhone.


After months of speculation, Apple finally announced the revisions to its Apple TV yesterday. The new set-top box carries the requisite tech upgrades and some new bells and whistles, but its standout feature for gamers is the new App Store. This is a challenge to the console dominance of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, but not a direct one. By tying its big-screen gaming fortunes to another device, Apple is banking on the strength of a non-gaming box to expand the gaming market--just as it did with the iPhone.

In fact, video games on Apple TV were treated almost as an afterthought. The Apple TV presentation was expansive, taking up almost half of the two-hour presentation, and games only made up a few minutes of it. That's because, while games on the App Store have given Apple a solid revenue stream, it is not interested in making a device catered toward those who would buy a system for games alone. This is the way the audience for video games expands: you market a product that people want, and then they discover that it can play games as well. It worked before, and Apple is trying to make lightning strike twice.

In a way, this approach is the direct inverse of the one we've seen from console manufacturers. Microsoft, Sony, and to a lesser extent even Nintendo, have attempted to turn their consoles into entertainment devices. Nintendo's TVii failed to gain traction, and the Xbox One's entertainment focus was promptly dropped as the company chose to recenter its priorities on pleasing the core base of gamers. Sony's PlayStation Vue may still pan out, and all of the consoles sport at least a few entertainment apps like Hulu and Netflix, but for the most part video game consoles have decided to put video games front and center. For them, the entertainment features are the bonus on the side.

Apple TV aims to do just the opposite. It has built the TV functionality to be front and center, from fairly deep Siri search integration to pushing all of your entertainment options into a single interface. It's an elegant solution, similar to ones we've seen elsewhere but carried off with greater cohesion. This is how it aims to capture the mainstream market, by encouraging cable-cutters to use it exclusively. And hey, while you're here, maybe try a game or two?

It's a Trojan Horse approach. For Apple, video games are the Greek soldiers hiding inside the wooden structure. As long as they can convince people to welcome the box into their homes, or the phone into their pockets, the more lucrative App market can run wild.

That said, the Apple TV does have challenges not faced in its previous experience with the mobile market. It may have more robust developer tools for games, but selling itself as a set-top box first means it's confronting similar boxes on their own turf. Others like Roku and Amazon Fire TV may not have the same infrastructure for a large games marketplace, but if Apple isn't emphasizing games it can't use that distinction to its advantage. 

It will also have to face these challengers on price. Its price points of $149 and $199 seem fairly reasonable, especially as a one-time fee that could last for years and ultimately save money if you cut the cord. Its competitors do come slightly cheaper, though. Apple managed to surmount that challenge before in the phones market, but that doesn't guarantee its success here.

Finally, time will have to tell how well the Apple TV remote control works as a game controller. It does include touch functionality, but there is an inherent design difference between an iPhone or iPad game, in which you directly touch the screen, and an Apple TV game, where you'll be touching the remote to approximate a spot on the screen. Games with tilt controls may work best in the short term, like the demo of Asphalt shown during the presentation.

If it does repeat that successful formula, though, we can expect a shake-up in the games industry similar to the one we saw almost ten years ago. The flock toward the mobile market may well become a similar land-grab to the Apple TV audience, as developers and publishers alike aim their wares toward a burgeoning casual demographic with expendable income. Apple TV may become the console challenger we've all expected from Apple for years, having learned its lessons from phones that snuck a successful video game marketplace into a device aimed squarely at non-gamers.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 10, 2015 12:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Opinion: Apple TV Makes Gaming a Trojan Horse, Again

    • reply
      September 10, 2015 12:03 PM

      Meh. The vast majority will run it as they do now. I can't see it making a difference at all.

      • reply
        September 10, 2015 1:21 PM

        Agreed. If you're going to pickup a controller, you're going to just play a console or PC master race. If you aren't going to do that, then you're just not going to play simply because it's Apple.

        This is going to run into largely the same obstacles that the Fire TV box and even Nvidia Shield TV are struggling with.

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          September 10, 2015 1:29 PM

          This seems to really miss the point. Lots of people who previously never played games now do because they already have a game playing device (smartphone). The same can happen if people start buying an AppleTV primarily to watch Netflix, etc with apps/games as a nice to have bonus.

          • reply
            September 10, 2015 6:13 PM

            I agree with your sentiment, in general. My mother is a good example of this in that after having an older flagship phone and an iPad Mini, she's taken to some games like Candy Crush. But, this is about the controller, which you have to have to play games on the tv. Unless the game is made to use the phone/tablet, it's going to need that controller. Or, I guess the remote, but that'll be limited like how it is with the Fire TV, But, the casual gamer isn't going to spring for the controller, and is probably going to view it as for hardcore types. My point is that assuming they do think that and we core guys will look at that box and go "meh, I'd rather play on a real console", so ... what's the point of the thing, or who's really the target audience? It's not my mom. It's not the casual gamer. It's not us. I believe they want it to be the casual gamer and us, but the casual won't invest in the controller and we'd rather play with more power.

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      September 10, 2015 5:41 PM

      I don't really see Apple TV doing anything new that hasn't already been done death already. The voice integration for the remote was already done by Amazon. A million Android set top boxes have done the blutooth mobile gaming. The only thing your getting out of this is the branding and access to the apple exclusive apps that for what ever reason the developer refuses to port. There are plenty of devices out there with the same feature set just not as slick looking perhaps.

      • reply
        September 10, 2015 5:49 PM

        The only thing your getting out of this is the branding and access to the apple exclusive apps that for what ever reason the developer refuses to port.


        Same reason games are on Windows and not on Linux

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