Remember the console wars, those halcyon days of battle, when one console exclusive after another marched to the front lines to defend the honor of its tribe, and players gathered upon every soapbox to pronounce which hunk of injection-molded plastic would stand victorious? According to consulting firm Asymco, the console wars are over, and Apple won. Their report “Measuring iOS as a gaming platform,” suggests that while Microsoft and Sony may have had the big-name games, and Nintendo delighted millions, more people play games on iOS devices than any console.
Before you discount the conclusion: Asymco didn’t just compare the number of iPhones sold to the number of other consoles sold. That would end up counting too many people who would no more use the iOS for gaming than they would for Grindr. Instead, the firm counted how many people registered for a Game Center account. Though its interface is a skeuomorphic nightmare, most iOS games require Game Center registration, so it makes a decent metric for how many people play games on the platform. According to that measure, there are 130 million iOS gamers, compared to the 67 million who bought Xbox 360s, the 65 million who bought the PlayStation 3, and the 96 million retirees and hyperactive children who had someone buy them a Wii.
To appreciate this as a conclusion to the Iliad of the HD console, it’s worth reviewing the last seven years. No one disputed that the PlayStation 2 bestrode the last generation like a colossus, selling five times what everyone else managed thanks to its early market appearance and well-muscled processors. As of E3 2005, it looked like the big grapple would be Microsoft versus Sony wrestling over which had the better understanding of the market, the more powerful system, and the multimedia features to become as indispensable to your living room as a tasteful rug. Then the Nintendo Wii came skipping into the coliseum with its standard-definition graphics, goofy little controller, and deeply bizarres online features, and outsold the both of them.
The industry is still trying to absorb the lessons of the Wii’s success. Microsoft’s Kinect investment signifies its belief that the Wii’s popularity was thanks to its comfortable motion controls and family-friendly vibe. The Redmond company is still pursuing both those things with the grim, teeth-clenching determination that characterizes all Microsoft’s big plans. Sony seems to be hoping that the Wii was just a bad dream, and the brand loyalty of the hardcore will make everything come out all right in the end. As Wii sales slowed and Sony overcame its early stumbles, it was looking like the big lug might have been right all along.
But even before Apple released its Game-Center registration numbers, the industry sensed that iOS had become a very big deal. Sony’s PlayStation Minis was a clear attempt to get in on some of that cheap, small, downloadable game action. Nintendo was so rattled by having real competition in the mobile gaming space that it blatantly copied competing products with the Wii U’s announced “app store.” Even Amazon has adopted Apple’s neologism for its Android marketplace.
So we started the console wars thinking system power was the ultimate weapon. Then it seemed like accessibility was the one true path. But the triumph of the iPhone suggests that bird-in-the-hand convenience is the secret of market penetration. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the Game Center numbers might trump other consoles, but they’re still not quite as high as the lifetime sales of the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Game Boy, the other two ways to play video games in the bathroom. Proving, once again, that Mario always wins in the end.