Apple TV 4K – Sky is Coming. Can it Sell Apple TV Gaming?


It looks familiar right? Pictured above is the Apple TV 4K. Apart from the white ring around the Siri Remote’s menu button, from that top down angle it’s indistinguishable from the current fourth generation Apple TV. The physical dimensions listed on Apple’s official site are identical, and even new units of the fourth generation model will come with the white ring. Given that I actually prefer it without the white ring, I now look fondly at my current Siri Remote as a collector’s edition.

But that’s enough about that.

Gamers the world over have been romanced and charmed by a little release called Journey since 2012. Journey’s gameplay cycle from start to end, and back again, gives real depth and meaning to the classic gameplay loop players have been repeating endlessly now for decades; a loop that’s essence has remained the same even as technology’s advancements enabled its realisation with more of everything. Journey dialled back the arms race, distilling that gameplay loop into an experience of beautiful, minimalist, interactive poetry.

The studio behind Journey – thatgamecompany – has built its brand on experiential, creative titles, with its preceding releases Flow and Flower culminating in a more recognisable gaming experience with Journey, yet still retaining the studio’s artistic modus operandi. With the huge success that Journey became, surely the pressure was felt by thatgamecompany in regards to what would come next.

Thatgamecompany’s CEO Jenova Chen announceed on stage that Sky would be coming exclusively to Apple TV and iOS – a statement that was quickly followed up by social media posts from thatgamecompany clarifying that it would come first to Apple TV and iOS, indicating the title would be a timed exclusive. Even so, partnering with thatgamecompany to release Sky as a timed exclusive is a loud statement of intent from Apple that it’s taking gaming seriously on the big screen. (You can check out a Q&A with Jenova Chen talking more about Sky here).

And just to be clear, it was shown during last week’s event in conjunction with Apple TV 4K, so while Sky is also coming to iOS, it was positioned to sell gaming on the Apple TV, not as a mobile title that just happens to be compatible with Apple TV. Many gaming sites have simply reported Sky as a mobile title, and there is a big difference.

Apple could’ve made a much louder statement however, by showing Sky being played on Apple TV 4K with an actual traditional game controller instead of the Siri Remote. We’ve reached out to thatgamecompany for comment, and we’ll post news as soon as we hear back, but we’d be very surprised if Sky isn’t playable with a proper gamepad.

There are some excellent games playable using only the Siri Remote, but for the bigger, more traditional experiences ATVG is hoping for, a controller is a must. The A10X Fusion chip – the engine under the hood of the Apple TV 4K – is the same engine driving the iPad Pro. In short, this is the sort of grunt that has the potential to realise the gaming we’ve hoped for, and that the current fourth generation Apple TV has been teasing since its late 2015 release.

With all this in mind, it becomes clear that the gaming console part of Apple TV is actually the controller, not the Apple TV.  Consumers will spend money purchasing the Apple TV 4K in order to consume media, not to play games on. So at some point if those same consumers spend $100 or less on a third party game controller to unlock the device’s gaming potential, that makes for an extremely cheap digital-only console. Make sense?

A positive step was made recently when Apple started selling a bundle that nets consumers a Steel Series Nimbus controller, and a digital download code for Minecraft: Apple TV Edition. Minecraft is name-checked on the Apple TV 4K’s site within the overview as a carrot to lure gamers. As it should be; it’s a big carrot.

Planets are aligning and dots are getting connected on the path towards Apple TV gaming being considered a viable option by the mainstream, with a few missteps along the way.

In ATVG’s pre-WWDC story mentioned earlier, Vincent Black of Realtech VR and Josh Presseisen of Crescent Moon Games both mentioned hopes for an Apple-branded game controller. So while this wish was not realised on September 12, the Minecraft/controller bundle at least acknowledges the importance of a controller in unlocking Apple TV gaming. Black’s 4K wish did come true, along with a desire for the A10 under the hood. Happy Days Vincent.

Jaakko Maaniemi’s (of studio 10tons)  statement to us in that same pre-WWDC story that “Apple TV is in a weird place for gaming” still holds water. But hopefully, if these planets and dots continue to slowly align and connect, it will get less weird, and ATVG will continue to have a lot of gaming news over the horizon to report.

ATVG’s wrap up of the first 12 months of releases for Apple TV is a good place to start if you’ve just jumped into the Apple TV gaming pool, and scrolling through the posts from 2017 will yield plenty of other excellent options. With Sky on the horizon, and a 4K-enabled Apple TV getting into the hands of consumers on September 22, the future is….interesting.



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