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Analysis: iPad and Game Development - Does Flash Still Matter?

M2 Research looks at the iPad as a gaming plaform and speaks with several developers on what it means to develop for the iPad and how the lack of Flash will impact their development.

Wanda Meloni, Blogger

April 23, 2010

23 Min Read

The dust has settled from the initial iPad launch madness, and there have been an infinite number of articles and blog posts on the iPad. Starting out somewhat skeptical here at M2 Research, we wanted to take a closer look at the iPad's potential as a gaming platform.


Games of course represent a significant portion of the 150k+ apps on the App Store. Apple says there are 50,700 games and entertainment titles currently available. At the iPad launch there were close to 60 games announced with many more in the works. Some have already estimated that the iPad App Store will make over $1billion by 2012.


Also announced just over a week ago at Apple's iPhone OS 4 press conference, was their Game Center, coming this fall. Game Center will provide iPhone, iTouch and iPad gamers a central point for networking with friends, posting achievements and leaderboards.


Most comparable to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, the Game Center will be a valuable mechanism for developers to help monetize their games. It was only a matter of time before Apple announced something like this, and ngmoco, who has their Plus+ social networking solution, were not surprised by the news.

Game Center

Here is the short list of companies and games at launch: 

  • Electronic Arts - Scrabble, Tetris, Need for Speed, Mirror's Edge, Command and Conquer: Red Alert

  • Big Fish Games - Amazon: Hidden Expedition

  • PopCap Games - Plants vs. Zombies HD

  • Telltale Games - The Penal Zone and Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse

  • PlayFirst - Diner Dash: Grilling Green

The key in the short term will be creating native versions of games specifically for the iPad. With the larger screen and unique features, developers will start to experiment quickly. The result, we believe, will be new types of game play and experimental designs. 


A good example of this is Flight Control HDfrom Firemint. At launch it is the first 3D stereoscopic game for the iPad, and is priced at $5. Glasses are sold separately. Firemint's iPhone version of the game has been a huge hit, so it will be interesting to see how the 3D iPad game does.

Flight Control HD

M2 Research had an opportunity to speak with a number of game companies supporting the iPad and asked them for their thoughts on initial iPad game development.


Dana Nelson - Lead Designer, PlayFirst


PlayFirst' s lead designer Dana Nelson explains the unique development process they had with the iPad. Founded in 2004, PlayFirst publishing their games across multiple game platforms. One of the company's most successful games, Diner Dash has been downloaded more than 550 million times.


"PlayFirst developed Diner Dash: Grilling Green specifically for the iPad. Developing a game for the iPad was quite different from our typical development process. Our other games are designed to be played with one mouse or one finger. With Diner Dash: Grilling Green for the iPad, we developed a game that's made for lots of fingers-10 of yours, or some of yours plus some of your friend's."

PlayFirst - DinerDash

"During initial development, we didn't actually have an iPad to test the gestures or the Multi-Touch, so we used paper prototypes to figure out which cooking gestures would be fun to do while managing a hectic restaurant. We knew that the iPad is all about intuitive, custom-made user experiences, so we made sure players can easily customize the game to suit their needs; it's fully playable in both portrait and landscape orientations, the Touch Cooker 3000 is repositionable, and 2-player mode can be toggled on/off on the fly."


Chris Ulm - CEO, Appy Entertainment


Appy Entertainment's development strategy is focused on creating original IP. Prior to starting Appy, Chris co-founded several entertainment companies including High Moon Studios where he worked on AAA console projects, and Malibu Comics which was acquired by DC Comics.


Appy Entertainment

"While I can't speak for other game developers", says Chris Ulm, CEO of Appy Entertainment, "for us the lack of Flash is a non-issue. When we founded the company, we made a decision to stick to Apple's development tools and build our own game engine and pipeline to create the best experience on the platform.  I don't think there will be any decline in overall developer support for Apple going forward because the platform still represents the best opportunity for developers in terms of install base, marketing reach, consumer experience, advertising monetization and development tools."


"On the consumer side, the lack of Flash will be painful for web-browsing on the iPad in the short term, but long term will promote the very fast adoption of HTML 5. Ultimately, the lack of Flash did not hurt the rapid adoption of the iPhone by consumers, and I suspect the same will happen for the iPad."


"At Appy Entertainment we are huge believers in the iPad as a gaming platform and have either submitted, or are in the process of developing special iPad-only versions of all of our games.The screen real estate and speed of the A4 processor are a given, but what we find really attractive about the iPad is our ability to innovate new mechanics and interactive experiences that build on the mass market pioneered by the iPhone. Our firm hope is that iPad will be a premium platform for more ambitious experiences and allow "micro-publishers" like Appy to commit to more development resources and longer product cycles."

Michel Kripalani - CEO,Oceanhouse Media


Before founding Oceanhouse Media in 2009, Michel Kripalani was the founder and CEO of the successful Presto Studios, after which he became the industry manager of games at Autodesk.


"We view the iPad as a completely new, unique device. As such, we are spending a lot of time trying to determine what we can do with it that cannot be done with an iPhone. It presents a great new opportunity to re-think all that we believe about limitations in hardware."


"Developers have never had such a large multi-touch surface to take advantage of. There will ultimately be a whole new group of games that require a large touchscreen that cannot be played using other input means (mouse and keyboard -or- controller, for example). The process of cracking these new UI features and re-inventing genres will be awesome. I can't wait to see what people come up with."

"Lack of Flash support does not bother us. In fact, I'm happy to keep the deluge of Flash games out of the App Store. We feel that apps written directly in Objective-C will always be superior to any kind of port, so we support Apple in their decision."

Margaret Wallace - CEO, Playmatics 

Margaret Wallace has founded several companies in her career, and has been CEO of Rebel Monkey and Skunk Studios, where she created online casual games. Prior to that was she was a producer at Shockwave.com. 

"Like the iPhone before it, the iPad will be a transformative force in gaming. Playing games on the iPad is akin to having your own portable gaming console."

"Playing my first game on the iPad brought to life how the larger screen size, quality of the graphics and extra power made my iPhone games seem minuscule in comparison. Additionally, the platform promises to introduce new kinds of single-player and possibly even multiplayer gaming styles. While we're still waiting for those first few breakthrough hits for the iPad, the potential is great."

"Consider the recent iPadDevCamp, held at the Paypal/eBay offices over the weekend, and the outpouring of developer interest and creativity around bringing killer apps to the iPad. Combine this exuberance with the know-how Apple has shown around monetizing content in its store and I think we'll see a lot of interesting developments on the content side of things."

Wallace goes on to explain some of her initial apprehension, "My only concern with the iPad as a gaming platform is that the profitability margins might be low if we use the typical iPhone game as an example. Increasingly crowded decks and difficulty accessing content have made the prospect of building an extremely profitable business around iPhone apps pretty difficult for most content creators and publishers. I hope that we do not see a similar pattern unfold for the iPad, but that's definitely a concern."

Marvel Comics


The other noteworthy media partner at launch was Marvel. While not directly a game company, Marvel's presence has been slightly overlooked by many in the industry. Marvel is now owned by Disney, and be sure that Disney has big plans for pushing the Marvel brands across as many platforms as it can.

Marvel - iPad

The comic book industry was built on the ability to collect and trade issues. While the iPad lacks that function, it does provide a great vehicle for reengaging the comic book market to a new generation of readers...and gamers. There will be more than 500 titles available, most priced at $1.99 each and some available for free.


Overall Thoughts


With 300k units sold on the first day, 600k sold after 2 weeks, and that number inching toward the 1 million unit mark, M2 Research's own Billy Pidgeon says, "We are cautiously optimistic concerning the iPad. iSupply believes Apple will sell 7.5M this year. That's a lot, but it's doable. If Apple reaches 10M, that will be a significant penetration. The big question is the demographics of the owners/users and their usage patterns and metrics." Certainly something we at M2 Research will be specifically looking at.


Guy Kawasaki, the social media guru, entrepreneur and one-time marketing executive at Apple in the 1980s, said in a New York Times article, "The first five million will be sold in a heartbeat. But let's see: you can't make a phone call with it, you can't take a picture with it, and you have to buy content that before now you were not willing to pay for. That seems tough to me."


While Kawasaki's comments initially encapsulated my own personal position on the iPad, I am starting to have a change of heart. I've had a chance to speak with developers, other industry professionals, and consumers. If Apple works on certain issues like multi-tasking and camera support (which it is), it could be a real "game changer".


However, my biggest concern is the lack of Flash support. It is certainly a slap in the face for many game companies, but most notably Adobe. As a result, Adobe has issued a statement that it will stop support of its Flash packager for the iPhone and will be putting all its support around Android.


Adobe's own Flash product manager, Mike Chambers posted the following very relevant comments on his own blog:

"To be clear, during the entire development cycle of Flash CS5, the feature complied with Apple's licensing terms. However, as developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at anytime, and for seemingly any reason.

In just the past week Apple also changed its licensing terms to essentially prohibit ad networks other than its own on the iPhone, and it came to light that Apple had rejected an application from a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist on editorial grounds (which Apple later said was a "mistake").

The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross browser, platform and device development. The cool web game that you build can easily be targeted and deployed to multiple platforms and devices. However, this is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform, and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms."

So, it looks like the world is divided. In the Apple camp, everyone seems truly excited about the device. As for everyone else, there are obvious levels of concern regarding the control Apple is wielding. There will be plenty more to cover as this all plays out!

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