Update: see below for an updated graph that supercedes this one.
How big is iOS as a gaming platform? I wondered to myself on an idle rainy afternoon. After all, we hear a lot about how the App Store has passed eleventy gajillion downloads, or how it makes people richer than astronauts, but I wanted some context around these numbers -- something to make the abstract mean something. I chose a subject close to my heart: games. And then I compiled the data that lead to the graph you see above.
iOS has nearly three times more games than the previous twenty-five years of gaming combined.
Now, I have to admit that there are some caveats to this data. The iOS count is just a scrape of the App Store's active titles in the "games" category; there is a lot of double counting in there from demo versions of games. The same thing applies on the other side of the balance for multi-platform games -- there must be at least half a dozen versions of Street Fighter 2 and Doom. I've ignored some smaller console platforms that were hard to obtain numbers for. I couldn't consider games played on computers as there is little reliable data for platforms that don't have the strong publisher control that characterizes game consoles; for example, World of Spectrum lists 9,544 games for the popular 8-bit home computer series. Clearly, including those would change the graph around completely.
That aside, I still think there is a message here, which is that the App Store is a huge force in gaming. Apple has tapped into a massive market that was previously going largely unfulfilled, and plenty of developers are making piles of cash out of it.
Of course, more software doesn't equal better software, and if it did, we'd all be using Windows instead of OS X. I don't think there are any iOS games in my personal top 50 games of all time list. That isn't to say that I don't play a lot of iOS games, or that I don't enjoy them; for me, they just tend to be pleasant diversions rather than the sort of experience that compels me to stay up until 3AM playing just one more turn. (There's an honorable exception for Civilization Revolution on the iPad, though.)
Update: many commenters are pointing out that the App Store's publishing policy is radically more open than that of the games consoles I am comparing it to and that this is therefore an unfair comparison. They are correct; it wasn't my intention to suggest they were directly comparable, either in publishing policy or in the scope of the definition of the word "game." Rather, I intended merely to place the iOS numbers in some sort of historical context.
A fairer comparison is perhaps with Flash games, where there is no publisher control at all and many of the "games" are barely more than tiny diversions similar to those the App Store contains in such multitudes. I am grateful to commenter Gareth Halfacree who contacted Newgrounds, probably the largest collection of Flash games in the world, to ask how many games they currently have. They replied that it was "about 40,000" and that this dates back to 1995. Newgrounds probably hosts some substantial amount of all the world's Flash game content, certainly of all that written since the site became the pre-eminent source for Flash games. The fact that it still only contains a number of games approximately equivalent to iOS's total after a few years demonstrates, I believe, the only thing I was trying to say in the first place: that the App Store has seen an unprecedented growth rate in games published.
Update 2: TouchArcade have added some additional analysis from its exhaustive database of iOS games. It has a total of 51,856 games listed (note that the 42,007 figure I have used is only active games, whereas TouchArcade has an all-time count that includes titles that are no longer available for download) and they report that 12,876 have the word "lite" in the title, with a further 6,542 having the word "free". If we assume these are demo versions of games that are also available for purchase, and therefore eliminate them, we arrive at a total of 32,438 games on the App Store -- still well in excess of the total across the games consoles.
Update 3: David Heyes emailed me to point out some sites that index the numbers of games for several popular home computing platforms from the 80s and 90s. I have added these as a separate line to the graph. I have also modified it to use TouchArcade's figures for iOS games with "free'" and "lite" versions excluded, added the Dreamcast to the totals (which I regretfully omitted originally), and added a fourth line for the Flash games on Newgrounds.com. The amended graph now looks like this:
Update 4: blogger Richard Cheng remixed my above graph to include time on the vertical axis, with the horizontal axis plotting the average games released per year in each product category (and therefore the area of each bar is the total number of games released). This does a better job than I did of visualising the App Store's velocity.
The raw data used to draw this graph was as follows:
Most data was sourced from Wikipedia's lists of video games by platform. XNA game numbers came from msdn.com, and iOS active game count was from 148apps.biz and TouchArcade. ZX Spectrum count from World of Spectrum, Commodore 64 count from gamebase64, Atari ST count from atari.st, and Amiga count from Hall of Light.