[Gamasutra talks to iPhone developers Ngmoco and Freeverse to find out just what all of the upgrades part and parcel with Apple's new iPhone 3GS could mean for developers, tackling speculation that it could create a schism in the App Store.]
All in all, it looks like iPhone game developers have got a lot of new options and opportunities since the launch of Apple's newest, the 3GS.
The "S" stands for "speed," the company said, but beyond the celerity boost, the 3.0 software upgrade notably adds the ability to take microtransactions. The 3GS also supports the OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics API, which allows for richer visuals -- leading to some speculation that OpenGL ES 2.0 could splinter the App Store’s library.
Faster processing, better graphics and different monetization models mean the iPhone game space will only continue to refine and diversify -- but the upgrade certainly raises interesting questions about how the end user will continue experiencing the titles.
What will it mean if there are some games that only 3GS users can play and older-gen iPhone users can't? Are we seeing the beginnings of a schism in the space?
"I don't see it as a schism or a hard break -- it's an extension of the OS, and it adds some capability that that particular class of devices can use," Ngmoco co-founder Joe Keene tells Gamasutra.
"It's always very tempting when you see a new piece of hardware to imagine the ways you could build an entirely new experience around this feature or that feature -- it stimulates new creative thinking, and that will emerge," he adds. "And I think as that market goes, it may make sense to be releasing titles truly only optimized for [3GS]."
But Keene says thanks to the advantages Apple has already been offering with its rapidly-emerging platform, it makes sense for Ngmoco, known for successful titles like Dropship
, to continue developing games that address all its variants: The original iPhone, the 3G and the 3GS. "It's conceivable some of our games will have features accessible only through the more advanced hardware, but we don't see a schism coming," he says. "We think it remains a fairly unitary platform."
Developer Freeverse's recent Flick Fishing
leverages the 3.0 update to let peer-to-peer networing users compare their catches -- and the company says its title recently became the first paid app to reach 1 million downloads on the App Store. 10 percent of its users have used the in-game microtransactions support to purchase new locations and fish, too.
Freeverse co-founder Ian Smith also feels the expanded frontier won't create a gap. "Adoption has been phenomenal of the latest OS in the previous versions -- 90 percent or 95 percent of the installed community upgrades, befcause iTunes makes it so easy," he says.
One area that he does see as a potential concern is the fact that iPod touch users need to pay $10 for the update. "I think this is significant," he says. "But i don't think it'll be a real barrier -- a $10 upgrade is not a big deal for what 3.0 offers if you're an active user. And if you're not, then you're probably not a big app customer anyway, so I'm not really worried about that.
Smith says the OpenGL ES 2.0 is a "huge win" for gaming, and because it's only available with the new hardware, Freeverse is going to need separate pipelines for generating its 3D environments. But no overhaul in the audience it addresses is imminent.
He says the install base for all iPhone users is likely to reach 100 million by year's end. "I'm assuming a minority of them will be the new phone," he says. "So because of that, we are probably only going to reach for the 3GS-specific features and take advantage of specific speed to reach for a prize -- that won't be the core of any of our game design."
Games that support bump mapping and fancy shaders are excellent for raising the company's profile and building a reputation for quality, in other words, but won't be mission-critical for the company's game development.
And Apple does support essentially releasing applications as two tightly-bundled versions, since the phone can detect which one is appropriate to its capabilities. That means users could never have to worry about getting a "version" of a game their phone can't run.
"Not to say that they're not gonna sell a ton of 3GSes," Smith adds. But the price reduction on the 3G iPhone to $99 is really what's going to drive a userbase explosion, he believes, meaning the 3GS will continue to be a minority in the market for some time to come.
"We're not worried in the slightest about those issues," Smith adds. "We'll be head-down and keep developing for the middle of the iPhone market."
One caveat is that not all developers may be prepared to work with the increased speed. Smith's been surprised to find that some game elements, like transition and loading screens, that developers plan on having linger for two to three seconds now whip right by. "So I think we can't be lazy and just assume we're building for the same hardware," Smith says. "We have to start putting in some brakes in various parts of the code."
"You have to be a full producer of the experience without regard to the speed of the hardware," he advises, "and given the rush to develop for the iPhone over the last 10 months, I think there's been a little bit of laziness there. How quickly things feel old -- even stuff we were making in September, we can do so much better now."