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GDC09: Why The iPhone Changed Everything

Kevin Kelly

If Apple is ever looking for a cheerleader for the iPhone, it needs to hire Neil Young, stat. In addition to having the same name as a rocker, he's extremely pumped about the gaming possibilities of the portable platform. He jumped ship from EA last year, and is now at ngmoco and loving all things iPhone.

He announced the two upcoming sequels for Rolando, coming later this year (along with free updates and new worlds/levels). All told, by November 2009, ngmoco will have released three Rolandos, with "12 worlds, 148 levels, and 40 hours of gameplay." He also touted the fact that the company has raised $10 million dollars in new venture capital funding, showed off some video from the upcoming iPhone tower defense game, Star Defense, and waxed poetic about the rise of gaming on everyones favorite finger-smudge magnet. Check out the highlights, along with the video, after the break.

Young took us through a brief history of mobile games, from Snake on Nokia handsets, all the way up to the pre-iPhone era, which he says "was a lame everything." They were focused on porting games to every carrier and handset, but that meant a lot of busy work going into reworking old games, and not focusing on new titles. "At EA, we spent 90% of the manpower on porting games, and only 10% creating."

In Young's opinion, the iPhone came along and changed everything. "The iPhone is the beginning of something very special," he said, comparing it to the times when VCS, NES, GameBoy, Xbox Live, and MMOs came along. He had one slide using numbers from Morgan Stanley that point out how huge the iPhone's market share is, compared to where the PSP and DS were at similar points in their launch cycle. "This is rapidly becoming the most important device that I've ever owned. It is an all-encompassing, complete device. So much better than everything else that had come before it." So, in case you hadn't noticed just yet, he really loves the iPhone.

He also flaunted the iPhone App Store numbers, which currently state that there are over 25,000 applications in the app store, and the largest category is gaming. They've already had 800 million downloads so far, and on average over 165 new apps appear per day in the store. That has to make you wonder when it will eventually end up collapsing under its own success. How can you rate, review, or even wade through that many new applications per day? "Even good games aren't successful," Young said, underlining this problem.

Young imagined what Nintendo would focus on if it had invented the iPhone, pointing out that the DS moved ahead of the PSP because it focused on innovative strengths: the touch input ability and the dual screens. If Nintendo had worked on the iPhone, it would build "only on iPhone" games, keep the users context in mind (i.e. the camera, the GPS location, and so on), and would use the native functionality of the device to design games... like having it integrate with your contact list, or possibly involving the phone in some manner. "Don't let the haters tell you the iPhone sucks compared to the DS or the PSP, because it doesn't. It's good."

Tomorrow's iPhone games will feature more online multiplayer, will be more social, and will use VOIP, push, in-app commerce, and other innovations to harness the power of the phone, according to Young. He showed off the video from Apple's iPhone 3.0 software event last week, which introduced us to Livefire, the upcoming FPS. It has a "Call for Help" feature which can pull your buddies into the game, uses in-game chat, and he purchased a rocket launcher upgrade while playing in order to kick his opponent's ass. Although he was quick to claim, "We're not going to sell rocket launcher for .99 cents. We're not emphasizing commerce over gameplay."

While the iPhone gaming revolution remains to be seen, we're hoping to see a lot less quagmire and a lot more quality. If someone can harness Young's enthusiasm and channel it into pure game development, it might just work.

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