What developers say Apple needs to do to make the Apple TV a gaming console
The Apple TV 4K and remote.
Enlarge / The Apple TV 4K and distant.

Samuel Axon

As we noticed in our review last year, the Apple TV 4K has so much potential for gaming. Its hardware is actually pretty powerful given the type of device it is. It shares development tools and infrastructure with one of the most successful gaming marketplaces in the world—the iPhone and iPad App Store. But a recent announcement shows that, instead of thriving as a gaming platform, Apple TV is struggling.

Last month, users who logged in to the Apple TV version of Minecraft were greeted with a message telling them that the game’s support for the Apple TV would end. Minecraft is one of the most popular video games, and its particular resonance with families and its relatively undemanding hardware requirements made it seem like a natural fit for the platform.

Unfortunately, that fit was not to be. This is the message users saw:

Effective from Monday, 24 September, the Apple TV version of Minecraft will no longer be updated or supported. We’re grateful to the Apple TV community for their support, but we need to reallocate resources to the platforms that our players use the most. Don’t worry though, you can continue to play Minecraft on Apple TV, keep building in your world, and your Marketplace purchases—including Minecoins—will continue to be available. However, we know that this experience isn’t in line with the experience on other platforms, so we will be issuing full refunds on all purchases made within the last 90 days.

The game is no longer available for purchase or download. Minecraft is developed and published by Mojang, which has been owned by Microsoft since 2014. But with only a few exceptions, Mojang has made sure support for the game is good even on platforms not owned by Microsoft, like the iPhone and iPad, where the game is still going strong. Minecraft is well-supported on myriad platforms—even PlayStation—so the end of Apple TV support is worrying.

Many reports on this news have zeroed in on the controller question. At the launch of the Apple TV’s app platform, developers had to support the Apple TV’s unconventional, touch-sensitive controller. That worked fine for a couple of games, but it was a real barrier to others. The controller was not designed with gaming in mind, and while some pricy, wireless third-party controllers were available for the machine, Apple didn’t make its own.

Early in the platform’s life—long before the release of the Apple TV 4K, which has very attractive specifications for game development—Apple lifted the requirement that games support its controller. But the first impression had already been made. And even if developers could release games that required a controller, the lack of a controller bundle for games-minded Apple TV buyers meant that developers couldn’t feel confident they’d find a large audience that could play their games.

But there’s more going on here than just controller support. To find out more, we talked to the people who would have the most complete perspective on the Apple TV’s video game credentials.

The developers’ perspective

Apple did not respond to Webilicious’s requests for comment on this story, but apart from the company itself, the best people to ask about Apple TV’s future as a games platform are the developers making games for it.

We reached out to Ryan Cash, the lead at Team Alto with whom we have spoken previously about Apple game development. We asked him what he thought this meant for the platform. Team Alto made two beloved premium iOS games—Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey. The latter was one of the highest-profile releases on the Apple TV this year.

“It doesn’t shock me,” he responded. “I mean, for a game of that magnitude, I can see why they may not find the platform successful.” But he said he considered the Apple TV launch of Alto’s Odyssey a success, though he did not volunteer any figures.

Continuing on the subject of Minecraft, he added: “If I were in charge of the game though, I think I’d really try to stay there. While the platform certainly isn’t the biggest, it continues to grow, and it’s a great way for certain types of audiences to experience gaming, often for their first time.” To illustrate that point, he shared a video of a fan’s two-year-old daughter enthusiastically discovering video video games by way of the Apple TV model of Alto’s Odyssey.

One other developer we spoke with, Unusual Flavour CEO Aaron Fothergill (Flick Fishing), mentioned Microsoft’s transfer perplexed him. “It is not like Minecraft wants lots of assist aside from a server, even when they do not replace the Apple TV model. So the thought that it may be political undoubtedly crossed my thoughts,” he mentioned.

In an interview with FastCompany final yr, sport developer Uncooked Fury lamented that the Apple TV model of its pretty profitable indie sport Kingdom: New Lands had solely bought 600 copies, in comparison with 54,000 on iOS and 35,000 on Xbox One. Granted, that was earlier than the launch of the Apple TV 4K, which closed a many-months-long hole in high quality between Apple’s providing and a few streaming field rivals which will have hindered the machine’s reputation.

Many builders who carry their video games to the Apple TV know it isn’t going to be a giant mover, bur they carry their video games there anyway. One of the vital widespread themes in talks on profitable cellular video games on the annual Sport Builders Convention (GDC) is the significance of sustaining a relationship with representatives of the Apple TV. That is as a result of among the best predictors of gross sales for an iOS sport is whether or not the sport is featured in Apple’s curated App Retailer, together with the place and for the way lengthy it is within the retailer.

Builders who assist Apple TV might hope to determine higher familiarity with the individuals who make these choices for iOS. Lots of the profitable iOS builders I’ve gotten to know over time have privately cited the significance of that relationship to their success.

And porting video games from iOS to Apple TV is commonly not that tough or time-consuming, as each platforms use the identical growth instruments and many of the similar frameworks. To that time, Uncooked Fury did not say it will by no means assist the Apple TV once more—it simply would not achieve this except porting from iOS was simplified. So long as the contact controls within the iOS model of a sport adapt nicely to the touch-sensitive Apple TV distant, perhaps worth can nonetheless be discovered for some builders.

Fothergill advised Ars one thing comparable. He referred to as the Apple TV “easy to write for.” When requested concerning the success of his firm’s Apple TV titles, he mentioned, “We didn’t make millions or even hundreds of thousands, but it covered the cost of the extra work to tweak them for Apple TV, and for a two-man team, it’s useful.”

He indicated that creating common apps that work throughout iOS and the Apple TV is simple, and he talked up the field’s energy as a “mini console.” Fothergill mentioned he was in a position to make use of Xbox 360 property in his Apple TV video games “as-is” and run the video games at 60fps.

However when requested what Apple must do to enhance issues, Fothergill had some ideas. He mentioned Apple ought to do a greater job of supporting Sport Middle throughout platforms, and he added, “I also like the idea of game controllers (ideally Apple ones) being bundled with the Apple TV as an actual Apple option. So there’s an Apple TV being sold specifically for games.”

Developer Patrick Hogan advised Ars that he believes Apple must do three issues:

  • Embody an Apple-branded, full-featured controller with each Apple TV.
  • Market the Apple TV as a gaming platform.
  • “Spend a lot of money on funding platform exclusives, ports, and presence at every major gaming expo and conference to break the chicken-egg problem of getting customers to make it viable to devs.”

Different builders Ars spoke with additionally made these similar suggestions with various emphasis—for instance, some did not consider {that a} controller needs to be included with each Apple TV and that merely providing non-compulsory gaming bundles of the machine could be efficient with the correct advertising message behind them.

Subsequent steps for video games on Apple platforms

Many of the builders I spoke with appeared to consider the identical factor I did once I reviewed the Apple TV: there’s lots of potential right here for this to be the Apple gaming console that individuals have speculated about for years. However, they add, Apple simply is not attempting arduous sufficient to let customers know what the TV can do or to make it straightforward for them to make use of the TV explicitly for gaming functions.

There’s one other angle on all this too: Apple has begun engaged on a mission referred to as Marzipan, which might make growing apps that may be deployed to each macOS and iOS simpler than it’s in the present day. From what we learn about it up to now, the connection from a developer’s viewpoint may very well be considerably much like that between tvOS and iOS now.

The state of gaming on the Mac has usually been bumpy, however there’s hope that Marzipan will flip it round with an inflow of nice video games from iOS. If the Apple TV is a sign, although, Apple must do extra than simply provide builders the instruments to make video games for its platforms. It must promote customers on the truth that these machines are for video games.

Apple does that fairly nicely for iOS, however its efforts for gaming on different platforms have by no means felt like sufficient to both gamers or builders.T

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