What Does Apple Watch Really Mean for Mobile Games?

Insights & Best Practices

April 22, 2015


min read

It's easy to dismiss the potential of the Apple Watch as the next big gaming platform in mobile. The screen is 44mm (at largest), so many game devs doubt its ability to cause a splash. History shows, though, that doubting the latest hardware from Apple is never a smart thing to do.Industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suspects that Watch pre-orders are running at around 2.3 million, meaning a whole bunch of people will soon want cool games and apps to help show off their new toys.I spoke to some industry insiders and Apple Watch developers to get their thoughts on the next "it" wearable ? including how and where they think the the device will land in the mobile gaming ecosystem.[caption id="attachment_6914" align="alignnone" width="900"]

Apple Watch by Ryan Ozawa

Image via Flickr/Ryan Ozawa[/caption]

Go first ? look dumb?

New tech needs pioneers who aren't afraid to take risks, but is it worth being in at the beginning, or is it best to hold back and wait??I think there are certainly developers who would consider making games for Apple Watch rather silly and crude," says gaming consultant and The Outsiders CEO Ben Cousins. Cousins believes that perception will change once people start making good money from Watch games ? much like it did for the first waves of iOS games.?I'm all for giving it a shot," says veteran Apple developer Eric Snider, who's making an odd-one-out puzzler called Impostor for iOS and Apple Watch. ?When I took that risk on iPad, it worked out fantastically. I think my Spider Solitaire HD was one of the most pirated games for iPad, but it sold pretty well, too. It was good to be in early."

The monetization of your wrist

One of the big questions around Apple Watch is the issue of monetization. Apple's not allowing in-game advertising at launch, but that could change down the line.?I'm worried about monetization opportunities," continues Snider, who gets 90 percent of his income from ad revenue. ?The terrifying world of 'What if Apple doesn't allow ads on the Watch?' is possible. They're Apple ? they do what they think is best. If they don't want to show ads, they wont show them.??I think Apple will fix that eventually," Cousins counters, ?but the vast majority of revenue for games on other iOS devices comes from in-app purchases, so I don't see this as a huge issue.?[caption id="attachment_6915" align="alignnone" width="900"]

Image via Robot 5 Studios

Image via Robot 5 Studios[/caption]Peter Chen's Robot 5 studio is going paid-for with its Apple Watch games because of the lack of ads and the initially clunky nature of in-app purchases. ?[It] isn't ideal because you would have to interrupt your experience on the Apple Watch by leaving that device and pulling out your iPhone," says Chen."Any step between the user and their in-app purchase, you're going to lose some of the users," Snider forecasts. ?They've got to want to get rid of that friction eventually."

Not without limitations

The Apple Watch has some tough early limitations, which, so far, create challenges for devs and forces them to get creative.

Image via Flickr/K?rlis Dambr?ns

For one, animation is tricky because the watch is only able to display and cycle through static images, a bit like a flip-book. ?It kind of reminds me of old LCD watches where [an image] could be turned on or turned off," says Snider."You have to get creative with how you mimic the same level of animations and collisions [with iOS]," adds Chen. ?We threw out all the lessons learned from developing games for the iPhone and tried to start fresh. From the smaller screen size, to the shorter session length, to the device being on your wrist and having only one hand free to tap ? we had to completely rethink how games are built."

Survival of the innovative

Don't be deterred, Apple Watch gaming has plenty of potential ? it's just not going to be a good fit for every game.?There are thousands of game companies, but not all of them will be able to adapt their games to Apple Watch," says D?bora Nara of Trivia Crack developer Etermax, citing Candy Crush as an example of a popular game that probably won't work.[caption id="attachment_6918" align="alignnone" width="900"]

Image via Etermax

Image via Etermax[/caption]Alina Soltys, an associate at the Corum Group, sees huge potential for location-based games: ?The walls really come down with an Apple Watch that sits on your wrist and vibrates as another player is within a block of you. The transaction time is significantly cut, therefore enabling higher engagement with a more dedicated population group."Physical accessibility is key to the future of Apple Watch gaming, and developers that innovate to take advantage of this will likely come out on top.?It's literally the most accessible games platform of all time," Cousins said. "You don't even need to pull something out of your pocket to play it! This can mean games with vastly more sessions per day than any other platform.""You don't even have to pull your large phone out of the pocket to play a game while waiting for the bus," adds Elementary Minute creator Klemens Strasser. ?You just have to raise your hand. I think developers will have gorgeous new ideas and that the interest for small games will be big.?