WWDC 2017 & Apple TV Gaming: What Do Developers Want to See?

og

“Apple TV is in a weird place for gaming,” says Jaakko Maaniemi of studio 10tons. “It’s certainly not the worst gaming platform out there, but there are so many much better ones that I don’t think it’ll ever be more than a third tier target for multiplatform developers.”

It’s a fair comment, although gaming has certainly seen its fair share of less popular, more unique platforms that somehow have still managed to carve a notch in the history of the industry. Many of us have fond memories of dalliances with gaming platforms that failed to set the world on fire. The thing with Apple TV however, and why we agree with Maaniemi that it is in such a weird place, is that it probably isn’t going anywhere. Compared to failed similar devices such as the Ouya and PlayStation TV, which focused primarily on gaming, the Apple TV’s primary focus is on streaming media content. The success of this primary focus, based on its quarterly stock reports, seems to mean that Apple won’t be killing off its black box any time soon, which in turn means that the gaming aspect of it will continue to exist no matter what. Left to quietly do its thing in the corner.

And maybe that’s why the big guns behind Minecraft keep bringing the game’s latest content to Apple TV, such as the Minecraft Realms and Skyrim update from just this week. Because it’s Apple, and it isn’t going anywhere. And the big guns behind Minecraft can afford to take risks.

We don’t know if 10tons’ risk in getting the excellent shooter Xenoraid onto the platform paid off, but we’re sure glad the studio took it. It’s the kind of game that we wouldn’t be surprised seeing as a PlayStation Plus alumni one day. Apple TV has seen plenty of ex-PlayStation Plus titles migrate to the platform – the smaller, high-quality indie titles that players never knew they wanted until they played them.

10tons actually has a PlayStation Plus entry in the upcoming July lineup – Neon Chrome. While the studio told us a while back the chances of the title coming to Apple TV were slim, we still hold out hope while playing Xenoraid. Because we’re optimists.

Vincent Black of Realtech VR wants more horsepower under the hood, wishing for a  “new updated graphics processor, the A10 Fusion.” Realtech’s Quantum Revenge made good use of the currently available horsepower, as its dual-stick shooting gameplay is butter-smooth.

The quad-core A10 Fusion drives Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. While no one is ever excited at having to buy new hardware every one or two years, the payoff to better gaming often makes it worthwhile. Users often upgrade their mobiles every couple of years, but gaming on a TV has long been the domain of traditional consoles, with upgrade cycles of anywhere from 5 to 10 years. So where does Apple TV fit within this upgrade cycle? It’s a digital-only console, sitting somewhere in the middle.

Maybe a fifth-generation Apple TV later this year – with a stronger commitment from Apple backing the gaming aspect of the platform – would be enough to carry the device through the next three years or so, with significant tvOS upgrades along the way. Somewhere between the mobile and the traditional console upgrade cycle? Feels about right.

Also on Black’s wish list was a “new accessory, an official gamepad from Apple with dual sticks and a touch surface.” Black’s comment brings us back to that common theme we mentioned.

Josh Presseisen of Crescent Moon Games echoes the sentiment. “I would love for them to have an official game controller that came with the Apple TV,” says Presseisen. Crescent Moon Games has been throwing a lot of love at the Apple TV so far, with a bunch of published titles such as Atomic Super Lander, and our current time-sink – Subdivision Infinity. The publisher has more on the way too with the upcoming Moon Raider from Retro Phone Games, and Morphite. “I know that’s probably never going to happen, but what a huge difference that would make into changing the Apple TV into a true console.”

And there you have it. Have you ever bought a gaming console that didn’t come with a gamepad packed into the box? Well, if you’re reading this blog you probably have – it’s called the Apple TV. But that’s the exception to the rule.

What better way for Apple to commit to gaming on the Apple TV than to release an official controller, and to create a saleable gaming bundle with that controller included? The Steel Series Nimbus does an excellent job, but the act would be such a strong statement from Apple that it would be surprising if there wasn’t a flood of developers rushing even more games onto the digital-only console within weeks of its announcement.

Apple doesn’t do design by halves, and an Apple-designed gaming controller would be an intriguing prospect. Maaniemi of 10tons also mentioned the “controller issue” so it seems to be a common desire from developers. We won’t pretend to be coding experts, but it stands to reason that a gamepad designed by the same company as the console it intends to interface with, will surely provide a smoother experience for developers than something from a third party designed for as many platforms as possible.

We agree with Maaniemi – Apple TV is in a weird place for gaming – but maybe that’s also part of what makes it so intriguing. So far in 2017, ATVG has played some games that we would count among our best gaming experiences of the year, regardless of platform. Space Marshals 2 with its mix of tactical and/or action oriented gameplay, depending how you to choose to play, is a great game, irrespective of platform. Burly Men at Sea was an absolute delight.

At the moment Apple TV gaming feels like a strange, exclusive, undiscovered club, even for those who’ve discovered it. Sure, it’s weird that so many iOS games seem so much better when blown up on a 60 inch flatscreen and blasted through a decent lounge room stereo, but part of the fun is trying to identify why those things make them better.

It may come to pass that nothing is announced at 3am Tuesday morning that changes the world of Apple TV gaming, but we’re interested in the long game. Either way, spectating its evolution from the sidelines is a hell of a lot of fun, and we get to play some pretty cool games along the way.

Viva la weird.