Apple devices have always supported various games, but it looks like the company is doubling down on interactive entertainment with its new Apple TV.
The company that Steve Jobs built believes that apps are the future of television. No longer does a television only play TV shows. Now it can play movies, music, games and much more, and Apple is looking to bring that idea to the masses.
Not that it's a new idea. Game companies like Sony and Microsoft have been doing this for years, launching various game consoles that in addition to playing games can also run weather apps, Spotify, Netflix and more.
In that regard, Apple TV isn't quite the revolution the company makes it out to be, even if it does have a number of features you won't find on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4. For all intents and purposes, Apple TV is Apple's gaming console.
On paper it looks like they are making many of the right moves. The Apple TV's new Siri remote features an accelerometer, touchscreen and gyroscope, allowing for motion-based gaming in the living room. The Apple TV already has a major exclusive game in the form of Beat Sports, a rhythm game from the creators of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Many of the games (since they come from the app store) are made to be casual, play-and-forget titles that apply to a mass audience.
That focus on motion gaming and a casual audience makes one comparison almost unavoidable: Nintendo. The house that Mario built has endured for decades, but its largest success story was with the motion-based Wii console. Everybody, from children to grandparents, had to have one, and the idea of using your body as the controller clicked in the minds of many who found using a traditional game controller too difficult.
The result was Nintendo's best-selling console to date. Everybody had to have it, and what they primarily played on it where more casual-oriented, kid-friendly minigame collections like Wii Sports.
Watching multiple people all up on stage using their Siri Remotes (which even feature wrist-straps like the Wii Remote) to play multiplayer Crossy Road on the Apple TV made it clear that Apple is taking gaming more seriously than ever before. Apple dedicated a significant portion of its Apple TV press conference to the device's gaming capabilities, and it was easy to imagine the demonstration happening during the game industry's yearly E3 press conference, rather than at Apple's own event. Apple announced cross-buy capabilities (something other game companies have been doing for years) and the ability to play a game on a mobile device, have it save, and then resume on the Apple TV.
But while gaming made up a significant chunk of the Apple TV demonstrations, games are just one part of the app equation. They aren't the focus, and it's for that reason that Apple TV can never be a true gaming device. Instead, Apple continues to sit squarely on the fence, competing with traditional game companies indirectly rather than fighting on Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft's own turf.
While Nintendo's Wii dominated the console landscape because of its causal focus, it was held up by a long list of first-party Nintendo games designed for the Big N's core gamer audience. New Mario, Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong and Metroid games all made their way to the Wii and hardcore fans gobbled them up. And while the Wii did allow for other apps to be installed (like Netflix), gaming, whether casual or hardcore, was the focus.
That's not the case with Apple TV. Apple won't be making its own video games anytime soon, and they don't have a long line of popular characters to pull from. The company is completely reliant on the games of others to make Apple TV a console competitor, but the majority of those games are titles being originally made with mobile in mind. That means all casual, all the time. These titles are simple, addictive time-wasters that are fun for a few minutes, but won't be delivering any memorable experiences.
Without those core game experiences, gamers won't be taking the Apple TV seriously as a game machine. As any gamer knows, it's first-party software that sells a console. Nintendo has always excelled at getting the most out of its consoles, showing the rest of the world the true potential of its hardware. If Apple wants to be treated seriously as a gaming competitor, it needs to do something similar.
On the outside it looks like Apple TV has all the parts needed to rival Nintendo and other video game companies. It has the hardware, an extensive library of indie games, and the controllers. But what it doesn't have is an exclusive experience that will make people want to shell out $150 for an Apple TV. Until it does, Apple can't be a gaming company, and the Apple TV won't be a game console.