There is an undeniable gamer part in me. I like challenge and I like the escapism it allows. If I’m stuck on a tricky line of code, or if there is some data I need to digest before formulating a plan, I find that sending spaceships in space helps me let go of my block. Writing sometimes does that to me as well, which is why I’m going to try and write some more.
Casual gaming wasn’t really a thing back when I wrote about the original Apple TV and the opportunities it might have provided. Sadly, hacking it to unlock the OS features underneath was (and still is, till the new one ships) the only way to get that sort of games available on the big screen.
“Casual gaming” is something of a strange beast. It usually refers to games that can be picked up and let go on a whim, or maybe games that appeal to people who don’t want too much difficulty in their gaming experience, or maybe games that require minimal input, or maybe games that cost as much as a cup of coffee to buy, or maybe cost less than 100k to make. No one has actually explained to me what “casual gaming” was, and why it was inferior (or indeed any different) than regular gaming. I know people who have sunk in Candy Crush (a popular “casual game”) way more time than I ever did in Zelda game, for instance.
To me, gaming, on a computer, a console, on a table, or in the recess yard, is just a way to do something that makes you feel good and doesn’t directly translate to your “obligations” (school, work, housekeeping, whatever). There is a part of us that wants to “slack off”, and games is a way to express that side. That being said, games also reward you with useful things for those “obligations”, such as a better understanding of teamwork, strategy, communication, coordination, and a lot of less obvious perks. Gaming is good, in general, since it provides you with a risk-free environment to test things. Whether or not we are aware of it when we’re playing, it changes the way we look at some of the non-game activities in our lives. I am fully aware that games also provide a risk-free environment for the most abhorrent behaviors, but that’s a topic for another day.
So from now on, I will just ignore the “casual” part of “casual gaming”, because ultimately it makes very little sense. Now why would anyone want to play games on the Apple TV?
For the same reasons we play them on our phones.
I know it’s a radical notion, but phones weren’t invented for us to throw birds across the screen. They were built originally so that we can talk to other human beings. Then we tacked a few other things on it, mostly because why the hell not, but also because it made good use of a device that we always have in our pocket anyway. Since it’s used as a phone for very little time overall, why not make it more useful when its primary function isn’t active anyways. So… other forms of communication? text messages, emails, social networks, etc? Yup, sure. But when it can do that, it can do a lot more. And people wanted to play games when they didn’t have anything else to do on their phone and couldn’t access any other device (yes, that was the reasoning I heard at the time). Turns out, sometimes, some people almost exclusively want to play games on their phones, with a phone call or message here and there for good measure. People just like to play games, it seems.
Back to the TV : the current TV model is a comfortable 70+ year old thing. I arbitrarily decided that the current TV model started when the first ads were aired, during WWII, but feel free to disagree. You have a big screen somewhere in your home, like 80% of Earth’s population, you turn it on, select a channel, and watch. You may switch channels too, but that’s TV 2.0. Someone out there decides what airs at what time, and you decide if you want and can watch it. In recent decades, we also added the ability to decide when you want to watch it, via recording. And even more recently, we added the optional bonus of not even having to record to to decide when to watch it. But the model stays roughly the same : someone creates something you might want to watch, sets a price (that you can pay with “sitting through ads”, or in decent money), and you decide if, and sometimes when, you want to watch it.
Just like the phone, your TV set (and added boxes) has a primary function, and supposedly does it well enough for the vast majority of the human race to actually own one.
Is there enough down time to justify putting a game on the screen?
That was the argument for the phone, and it makes sense to use it on the TV as well, at least as a first step. And the answer is yes. Console games sell really well. You could argue it’s because people haven’t transitioned yet to on-demand content, and therefore play between things they want to watch, if you think people would rather enjoy something passively than gaming. It’s a valid notion, when you look at the kind of restricted and small offering we get on-demand in most countries. You can also argue that playing games appeals more to hyperactive people, who usually play games on their phone while watching TV anyways. Plus, switching channels or browsing through on-demand isn’t exactly “watching TV”, so some people might want to repurpose that browsing time into a more active endeavor.
At any rate, people like games and there is enough “not tv” time on a tv set to justify their existence, even to the most hardcore “one device per function” oriented minds out there.
All in all, this is why I have always wanted to be able to make/play games on the AppleTV, and why I think games will be a decent success on that platform. People are lazy. If they choose an Apple TV for their passive content, they will get games as well, because switching to a different device may cross the “too much work” threshold. Just like with the phone. And for the same reasons you guys made games for the phone, you should for the TV.