iPhone: The Next Social Gaming Platform?

This is a guest post by Christopher Mack.

Until recently, Electronic Arts was the largest developer and publisher of video games in the world. But despite the company’s staggering profits, one of their top development executives, Neil Young, recently made the decision to leave his 11 year home to lead development of mobile games for the iPhone platform with new startup Ngmoco.

With estimated iPhone sales by 2009 at around 45 million, it is no wonder that game developers see potential to create games for the platform. From a design standpoint, the capabilities of the iPhone are up there with Nintendo’s Wii and DS systems. The built in accelerometer allows for the orientation of the iPhone to be translated into game commands (allowing for innovative and intuitive game play), and the built in messaging, email, and global positioning adds further possibilities to compete, play, and socialize with not only real world friends, but people from all over the world.

Now with 3G, the iPhone is even more usable than before with faster network access, and the large touch screen provides ample opportunity for creative and intuitive design in small, casual games. However, it is the open internet and connection to real world friends that opens the doors to social gaming opportunities.

Mobile devices including the iPhone are already used in abundance for social communication amongst much of the world’s population. Recent statistics have shown that in the US 63% of people ages 18-27 use mobile text messaging, 31% of people ages 28-39, and 18% of people ages 40-49 – with over 4.7 billion text messages sent on average each month. Clearly, people use the social aspects of mobile devices. In addition, there are over 1 million java game downloads per month on average on mobile devices. There is clearly potential for a new class fo social gaming applications to emerge on the iPhone.

The iPhone’s phenomenal internet capabilities make it much better than that of other mobile devices for social/online game development.  The iPhone has the capability to locate users using GSP or cell tower triangulation, and connects to the internet both on cellular and Wi-Fi networks. With the release of the iPhone 3G, users can access GSM, EDGE, UMTS, and HSDPA networks. Just like a laptop with Wi-Fi capabilities, the iPhone will ask if you wish to connect to a network and for a password. When Wi-Fi is active, the iPhone will automatically switch to any other nearby, previously approved, networks.

And according to Google, the iPhone generates 50 times more search requests than any other mobile handset. Deutsche Telekom states that the average internet usage of an iPhone customer is over 100MBytes (30 times that of the average contract-based consumer)! This includes everything from email, chat, iTunes, YouTube, mySpace, Facebook, and virtually ever other social network people use. Clearly, the iPhone is ready for prime-time web applications.

Perhaps the biggest change in the business model for iPhone developers is the new gatekeeper: Apple. Traditionally, mobile games are payed for when they are downloaded. With the iPhone, Apple controls all application downloads through the App Store. Whether or not developers feel too much risk in developing in such a world remains to be seen. In the past, anything but a pay-per-download model for games on mobile devices has struggled – subscription based payments have only ever had limited success.

All the tools needed for the construction of great social games are already built into the iPhone, and the iPhone has already been adopted by the millions of consumers. Now it falls to the developers to build the next generation of games for a new platform. Who will becme the leader in mobile social games on iPhone?