IPhone, iPad games fly under the radar at E3 2010


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Apple’s iPhone and iPad could be seen throughout the Los Angeles Convention Center during the E3 video game expo last week. Just not on display in most booths.

The touchscreen phones were in the hands of text-message-happy attendees and exhibit staffers. Ardent bloggers working to hastily document and broadcast every detail on the show floor carried iPad tablets under their arms.


These devices are extensions of many people’s daily lives, but at a conference geared toward game-industry insiders, Apple’s hardware is far from sexy.

Of the many game publishers at E3 that sell games on Apple’s App Store, we found just one with any sort of formal display for the iPhone and iPad. That was Walt Disney Co. -- which, by the way, has a seat on its board for Apple chief Steve Jobs.

Several iPad and iPod Touch units (they can play nearly all iPhone apps) sat on a pair of small tables positioned in corners of Disney’s booth, overshadowed by large rooms showing Epic Mickey and Tron: Evolution on consoles.

‘In their overall budget we’re much smaller, but I think it’s something that Disney really sees as big and growing,’ said Disney Mobile’s Tom Smith. ‘They want to be there. They want to be showing all of these great brands on these great devices.’

Electronic Arts’ not-modest booth focused entirely on console games. Foot soldiers for EA Mobile marched around the exhibit, armed with iPads and iPod Touches, to distract folks waiting in line to see or play the big-screen games.

The iPad ‘gets overshadowed,’ said Philip Cohen, one of the E3 operatives for the Redwood City, Calif.-based EA’s mobile division. Handheld systems get lost in the excitement of flat screens, loud sounds and big flashy graphics, he said.

Another explanation as to why Apple’s products didn’t have much of a presence at E3 comes, incidentally, from the Cupertino, Calif., company’s top dog.

‘Clearly, iPhone plus iPod Touch have created a new class of gaming,’ Jobs said onstage at All Things Digital’s D8 conference in L.A. this month. ‘And it’s a subset of casual gaming.’

Casual, unsexy.

But Nintendo‘s Wii, introduced at E3 in 2006, has flourished with casual gamers, becoming the top-selling console this generation. At this year’s conference, Microsoft introduced an Xbox 360 peripheral called Kinect, initially aimed at the non-hardcore gamer, with software featuring cute animals and fitness instruction. Sony placed major emphasis on a similarly accessible product, the PlayStation Move. Nintendo’s draw was a new hand-held system, the 3DS.

Apple didn’t invest in a booth for E3, but it is investing in its mobile operating system, iOS, as a gaming platform. Apple is developing something called Game Center, a hub for players to find and challenge friends or strangers to games as well as track stats and special achievements.

The emerging mobile-game outfits saw booths as an unnecessary expense, but they were there buzzing around. A group of them organized the Gaming Startup Debut event at a bar near the convention center. One such company, Titan Gaming, was showing off its system for developers to include betting in their mobile games.

The folks behind Angry Birds, one of the highest-selling iOS games, had no trouble arranging meetings with potential partners and curious reporters.

‘The booths are about staging big displays,’ said Johnny Coghlan, head of publishing for Chillingo, the company that promotes Angry Birds. ‘We’re a little more portable and a little more accessible.’

Coghlan should know. He worked at Ubisoft Entertainment and Sega Sammy Holdings, two major forces in the game industry, for a combined eight years before venturing off with Chillingo.

‘I wouldn’t rule out a booth,’ added Mikael Hed, chief executive of Rovio, the game’s developer, ‘but it’s more about using it for the purposes of why we go there in the first place -- to meet people.’ Big booths are attractive for recruiting, he said.

In the casual market, Apple is a fast-improving player.

In that same discussion at D8, Jobs pointed out that the App Store houses more than 50,000 ‘game and entertainment’ apps, most of which are free or at least much cheaper than their Nintendo- or Sony-certified counterparts. The mobile applications are also not hindered by having to drive (or persuade your parents to give you a ride) to GameStop for each new purchase.

‘We didn’t set out to compete with Nintendo or Sony on their PSP,’ Jobs said at D8. ‘But we are now a significant part of that market.’

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata seems to agree. He called Apple the ‘enemy of the future,’ according to The Times of London.

A Nintendo of America spokeswoman at E3 was less aggressive. ‘We’re all competing for your time,’ said Krysta Yang.

Fewer companies, however, are seriously competing for the time consumers spend with casual video games.

-- Mark Milian

Video credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times