Not-PC alert! Not-PC alert! But I will make it about the PC: this I swear to you. Apple have, in another one of those creepily well-rehearsed press conferences that makes half of Twitter mistake a profit-driven mega-corporation announcing its latest way to earn a crapton of cash for some sort of love festival, announced that they’re bringing the iPhone App Store onto their Macs. What this means is that hundreds of thousands of people are about to start buying and playing games on their computers again. Just, y’know, not our personal computers.
Details on the OSX App Store are over on the frothing Engadget, if you need ’em. Basically though, it’s like an iPhone/iPad layer on top of OSX, and is due out for Snow Leopard within 90 days (and also in the next version of OSX, Lion, when it releases next Summer).
But that’s not the point for me posting this. Instead, I’m going to foam at the mouth about the possible wider implications for computer gaming. ‘Computer gaming.’ Ah, there’s a term we don’t use anymore. I miss it.
First, spare a thought for Valve, who’ve been busily trying to corner the Mac gaming market for most of this year and have just been roundly gazumped. No doubt there’ll be a major difference between multi-gigabyte high-end games on Steam and teeny 2D things on the App Store, but I can’t imagine this announcement is anything other than a royal pain in the fleshy bits for the boys in Bellvue.
It will be interesting to see what kind of restrictions Apple put on this new endeavour, though: complicated, slow-to-download stuff seems somewhat against the App Store ethos, but on the other hand this isn’t a company to look a profit opportunity in the mouth. We’ll see.
The other issue is whether we’ll see even more indie developers flocking to the App Store now, knowing they can make something that isn’t bound to touch-screen controls and has a chance of making a ton of money without ever involving a publisher. No doubt approval processes and times will mean we won’t be bereft of insane, highly-complicated, half-broken or outrageously offensive indie titles over on PC, however: no cause for alarm. But it is, theoretically, a big shot in the arm for indie gaming – already well-bolstered by the iPhone.
But the questions which looms largest in my mind is what’s going to happen on PC. Microsoft aren’t shy about borrowing Apple’s ideas, but historically tend to be several years late to the party. They’re trying out app’n’game purchases on their
wPhones Windows Phone 7s now, and you can just bet your bottomest dollar, the one covered in fluff and fingernails and stamps from 1989, that they’ll be investigating bringing something similar to Windows/PCs. A cut from every app or game sold? Of course they’ll want that. I could almost hear the screaming from Seattle when Steve Jobs announced the OSX App Store.
They’ll be working on it, for some future or perhaps even present version of Windows. And then what? Microsoft’s open-ish approach to third-party software on their operating systems means the floodgates could open to all manner of weird and wonderful games, presuming their app store knock-off wasn’t characteristically hideous and doomed. If that happens… well, I have a sense of the kind of stuff RPS might be posting about in three years’ time. Steam’s just too far ahead of everyone else to be realistically rivalled by other third party digital distribution gaming stores – but if it were one built into every copy of Windows, it’d be a different story.
Microsoft will do this. Don’t you doubt it. Google are trying to do it already, with their upcoming Chrome Web Store, but that’s primarily built into a browser that only some PC owners use. Built into Windows makes it a different story: there’s a reason Internet Explorer remains the bigger browser, despite being absolute rubbish.
But would you welcome such a store? Easier ways of finding interesting independent games, whose developers make fresh concepts and quickly, without publisher interference – but are subject to the viral-or-bust gamble on the iPhone App Store? Games being made cleaner, more robust, but possibly at the expense of complexity and mondo-graphics?
Me, I don’t know. I just know it’s going to happen, because as well as the App Store everyone’s looking at Facebook and drooling about all the money Zynga et al are making.
You might not like it. But that’s the thing about the PC, the reason it’s been around for so long: it always can and always will change with the times.