Thoughts on WWDC 2019 Keynote (games-specific)

This was all around a very exciting WWDC Keynote, that I feel advances the entire Apple ecosystem in various ways. In this post though, I’ll primarily focus on the relevant parts with impact to the games vertical.

Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controller support

The facts: Apple announced Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controller support across the entire iOS, iPadOS and tvOS family. This was really but a footnote in the whole 2-hour plus proceedings, but there’s a lot of tea-leaves that can be read here.

For one, this seems clearly in service of the Apple Arcade service, and part of a wider games vertical push, coming later this year. For years I’ve lamented that Apple didn’t have a passion for the games business (unlike their passion for music), despite being uniquely positioned to really shake up the landscape. This may be a sign that this year is different, and Apple is making an earnest effort.

This may seem like an obvious thing, but getting over 100m1 hardcore-gamer-approved controllers “for free” is a big deal. It will go a long way in spinning up the virtuous cycle of more developers taking advantage of controller support and more gamers looking for controller-friendly core titles.

It’s also worth pondering whether Microsoft and Sony actively participated in realizing this, or just passively agreed. I’d bet more on the former, given the mobile gravity narrative I’ve discussed some years back.

Project Catalyst

I’m assuming Project Catalyst is what became of Marzipan. In any case, this was the initiative to make porting iOS apps to Mac easier. Today’s section on Project Catalyst was easily one of the keynote’s biggest highlights (only overshadowed by SwiftUI in my opinion).

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Apple picked a game as one of its 3 testimonials onstage today. MacOS is at the end of the day a 100m install-base platform, and Project Catalyst had made it easier for game studios to consider adding Mac to the list of supported platforms.

Sign in with Apple

This announcement makes a lot of sense given Apple’s privacy-as-a-platform-differentiator value proposition. (The throwaway email generation is in particular a nice touch.) By making it mandatory to any app that offers a 3rd party login, Apple has also introduced a lot of uncertainty to developers who want to own their users’ account identity.

This is more aimed at ad-tech and Facebook / Google, to be clear, but it could be pretty messy for game publishers who leverage them for sign-on and virality. For cross-platform games it also introduces more potential account / social fragmentation, if players are offered several choices (e.g. Facebook / Xbox Live / Apple) to create an account with. Certainly the account creation flow just got more complicated for UX designers.

Ingredients for post-platform

The 3 bits above can all factor into the post-platform narrative. It just got much easier to envision a console-like experience with an Apple Arcade game, where a player is sitting in front of an iPad with a PlayStation controller.2 In this world there’s also no reason why the iPad can’t become the most popular platform to play Fortnite (given it’s predominantly a console game), and the iPad offers a degree of mobility not existent with PlayStations.

Of course, we still need to see what Apple actually delivers later this year, and it’s a cliché to say that it all depends on the content (it does).

General keynote thoughts, beyond games

Some general thoughts, for those curious:

  • SwiftUI was the star of the keynote. Even as someone who has not professionally coded at all, this was super cool, and makes me tempted to pick up a Swift programming book
  • The Mac Pro and Pro Display’s pricing is all about re-establishing the high-end of Apple’s line-up, especially as the iPad and MacBook’s use cases become blurry (did you see iPads now have mouse support?)
  • The Pro Stand with a $999 price tag was a bizarre marketing move, to say the least. Do you have to purchase either the $199 VESA mount adapter or the Pro Stand? (Looks like you do.)
  • The Minecraft AR demo – for now this remains “cool demo” and not very practical. It also seems like just laying the foundation for an eventual hardware (Apple glasses?) announce
  • I’m waiting for the next Apple Watch hardware refresh to get a replacement. I recently traded in my original series Apple Watch for a paltry $27
  1. Xbox One + PS4 sell-in is around 130M; actuals for total number of controllers might be quite a bit more, given that gamers may have multiple controllers per console for local multiplayer.
  2. I’m being a bit deliberate in choosing the iPad in this example, given there are roughly 500m iPads in use which is far bigger than the install base of AppleTVs, and using console controllers with iPhones may be considered silly by portions of the western audience given the screen size.

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