Apple Ignores Gaming, and Gaming Ignores Apple

Apple’s VisionPro rejects gaming, but gaming doesn’t have to care. The game’s industry position has grown so extensive and favorable that it can survive and thrive on any platform, even when initially overlooked.

As web3 VCs are jolly to remind everyone, gaming typically serves as the initial use-case for novel technologies. This was undoubtedly Meta’s conclusion leading to purchases of 17 VR developers, including the developer of Beat Saber, the most popular VR game to date. But a first-use case or not, gaming envelopes most platforms it touches to the point “Will it run Doom?” became a meme. We’ll see the same adaptation if VisionPro succeeds or fails.

Apple’s core competencies took center stage during the WWDC presentation, irrespective of VisionPro’s future success or failure. In the blink of an eye, they rebranded “metaverse” to “spatial computing.” Apple proved they guide the narrative around their products and their ability to avoid the kind of PR missteps that have plagued competitors. Subtly, their crowning achievement of the day was avoiding looking stupid. So far, no picture of an Apple executive waring the Vision Pro has been taken or released to the press – that’s hardly an accident. Compare this to Zuckerberg’s infamous aisle shot, and it’s evident that “reading the room” is a marketing culture asset. The rush to release Quest news to avoid being buried by VisionPro is another reminder of the fear their marketing team strikes in the hearts and souls of companies everywhere. If Apple decides to enter a category, there’s a good chance they’ll come to dominate it.

Apple’s never particularly cared about gaming: no updates or major game announcements on Apple Arcade, bar writing checks for DOA VisionPro Arcade ports during WWDC. I hope game developers bring their microscopes because they’ll need to read the DAU charts of a $3,500 device. Still, Apple announced a macOS port of a game From a Couple of Years Ago. So at least there’s that. But while Apple may never care about gaming, even on VisionPro, they can’t escape it. A staggering 70% of App Store revenue now comes from games. As Eric Seufert argued, it’s the Games store, not the App store.

Games seemingly address VisionPro’s most glaring issue: its unclear use case. The early reviews have indicated a flawless experience, but how the technology solves novel consumer problems is unclear. Steve Jobs started the original iPhone presentation by framing the product as a response to the lack of customized digital keyboards. Before the iPhone, physical mobile keyboards were clumsy experiences on tiny screens with bulky hardware. Tim Cook frames VisionPro as a new form of computer interaction closer to the next iteration of the mouse and keyboard. If AR-based visualization, eye tracking, and finger-based flicking improve productivity for workers by only a couple of percentage points, VisionPro could follow the path of the original PC: starting as an enterprise product as costs fall to widespread consumer levels. If a worker generates $100,000 a year in revenue and improves output by 3.5%, VisionPro’s price is justified. 

While Apple’s VisionPro strategy remains a question mark, Meta’s approach to VR gaming has proven a struggle. A live service hit or even moderate success eludes the platform. One Epic Games Store revelation was to package live-service games as the “free game of the week,” including the most successful live-service game of the decade, Grand Theft Auto. Players frequently launch these titles, equating to thousands of platform interactions over a player’s lifetime. Generating a series of one-time hits is far more challenging and uncertain than single-title liveops. 

Not only does the platform forego live service, but it also imposes steep fixed costs on VR players. Simply getting mobile users to flip the phone landscape is challenging enough, much less repeated use of a cumbersome 4-hour battery headset. It’s no wonder VR’s most significant growth moment came when it was untethered from the PC into a standalone device. 

Despite Apple’s dismissive stance on gaming, the medium has proven its adaptability and resilience time and again. Gaming has survived and thrived through every new interface, whether it’s the joystick, analog pad, or Apple TV remotes. So, while Apple may not recognize and cherish the medium, games find a way to flourish and dominate their platforms.

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