Is Apple doing a Nintendo?
The processors inside new Apple products suggest that a huge market might be opening up for games developers.
In January 2013, reports began surfacing that Nintendo was merging its mobile and console development teams. Historically, the video games giant had run two distinct divisions: The first focussed on the development of its handheld consoles, producing the DS and 3DS which globally sold 154.02 million and 75.95 million units respectively. The second division focussed on Nintendo’s home consoles. The Wii was their most successful home console, at around 100 million units sold worldwide. However, it’s successor Wii U, failed to repeat the Wii’s success, reportedly selling just 3.62 million units globally. I drastic change was now likely.
Shortly after news of the merger, Nintendo also began consolidating its game development teams. It was this which furthered rumours that Nintendo was developing a single hybrid unit, which could be used as both a home console and a portable handheld. On March 3rd 2017 its hybrid console Nintendo Switch launched. The console allowed Nintendo’s internal game devs, as well as external devs to focus their efforts on one single platform. Selling over 129.5 million units and counting by September 2023, Switch has been a critical and commercial success.
It is a variation of this single platform vision which can now be observed at Apple, via its increasingly powerful Apple-made processers, contained within its computers, tablets and phones.
On November 10th 2020, apple began releasing Macs with its own ARM-based Mac SoC M1 processor installed, switching out Intel’s x86. In the first quarter of 2022, Mac sales totalled $10.9 billion, growing by 25% year-over-year. In June 2022 Apple began rolling out Macs based on its improved M2 chips.
These two chips, and their Pro and Ultra counterparts, together with the release of a new version of Apple’s Metal graphics API, have begun ushering in a new age of games on Mac. Instead of releasing inferior versions of AAA titles which have to be run through compatibility layers, modern titles like Capcom’s Resident Evil series can now run natively on Mac.
The future opportunity
But this is where it gets really interesting. The release of the iPhone 15 Pro brought with it Apple’s A17 Pro SoC. A mobile chip so powerful, and one which shares so many of the M-series heritage, that it too, can run modern AAA titles like Capcom’s Resident Evil series.
It is this unifying of SoCs within Apple’s hardware which will make a far stronger user case for developers to port titles to Apple, because, much like Nintendo, devs are now coding for variations of a very similar SoC, within an environment to which Apple’s engineers have made it much easier to port.
The Mac has never been particularly popular with gamers, for a number of reasons, but chiefly because the selection of titles on it is miserly compared to PC. However, if a title is ported to iPhone, and can then easily be ported to Mac, the Apple ecosystem suddenly becomes significantly more attractive and financially viable to devs and publishers.
In the fourth quarter of 2022 Mac shipments were at seven million units worldwide. Not bad, but add in the fact Apple has sold over 1.5 billion iPhones since its launch in 2007 and you have a viable AAA games ecosystem blossoming. And, whilst this will be irrelevant for any iPhone less powerful than the iPhone 15 Pro, in the first quarter of 2023, the iPhone’s global market share of new smartphone sales was 20.5% so it won’t be long before the userbase is large enough to make this all a reality.
And whilst we are on the subject of reality, 2024 sees the release of Apple’s next platform; the Apple Vision Pro. Targeted at both business and home users, and also containing Apple’s M2 SoC as well as their new R1 processor, this mixed reality headset sees Apple enter into a market whose market size has already grown to around ten times that of 2021 and is projected to reach $297 billion in 2024.
In an age where AAA’s can exceed $1bn to make, having another massive platform to publish on, which is relatively easy to port to, and yet another in the offing, may mean that Apple are stepping up at just the right time.
Martin Tripp Associates is a specialist executive search consultancy. We work globally across the media, information, technology and entertainment sectors, and with some of the world’s biggest brands on senior communications, digital, marketing and technology roles. Feel free to contact us to discuss.