Siri Remote - The Future of Gaming?

September 20, 2015

Reading time ~5 minutes

Last week Apple announced the new Apple TV with an App Store and an SDK allowing developers to make games and apps. They also announced the Siri Remote; a new remote to interact with the new apps and games that will appear on the Apple TV.

But the question everyone has been asking is: will it be good enough to use for gaming?

There appears to be two camps divided down the middle on this topic. Those that feel the remote will suffice for the type of casual gaming that iOS is known for, and those that were hoping for a gaming renaissance of sorts without having to go all-in on a current-generation gaming console or PC.

First, lets take a bit of a stroll down memory lane. Apple was once a bastion of gaming, with the Apple ][, for example. People could choose from the many commercially available games, type in BASIC code from popular magazines, or simply make one themselves if they had the know-how.

But Apple haven't always been successful with gaming in the past. We need only look at the failed Pippin, or the more recent lacklustre attempt at dispelling the "Macs don't play games" cliché at 2007's WWDC event where EA announced they were bringing some of their most popular games to the Mac. In the form of lazy, buggy, badly-performing Transgaming Cider ports. Then promptly forgot the Mac existed before bringing their online store Origin (filled to the teeth with The Sims expansions) in an attempt to compete with Valve's Steam. Anyway...

Then came along the iPhone, iPod touch and iOS and with it the type of casual gaming that was previously reserved for Facebook apps. Apple care about games again. Each year they consistently demonstrate the improved graphics capabilities of the hardware and the games made to show it off - like Epic's Infinity Blade.

It's probably fair to say Apple conquered the mobile gaming market. But it's a different type of gaming than you'd find on, say, the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP. And it comes down to the games UI, I think. Mobile games on iOS are simplistic, making use of few on-screen controlls or the devices motion sensors, whereas mobile games from Nintendo or Sony focus on physical controls allowing for precision. This is key.

The only place left for Apple to try their hand at games was the living room. Apple TV to the rescue ...Right?

At WWDC 2013, Apple announced MFi game controllers for iOS. This was huge (well, for me, at least). When I heard this announcement the only thing I could think of was an Apple TV with an SDK and these controllers! Boom, instant console competitor. But it took Apple another 2 years before that happened.

And then they went and shot themselves in the foot, so to speak.

In the days after the announcement, the marketing material/documentation for the Apple TV SDK stated that developers would be able to make their games require an MFi game controller. But Apple did a 180° and decided to nip that in the bud. Now the documentation reads

Your game must support the Apple TV remote. Your game may not require the use of a controller.

I was fortunate enough to get hold of the Apple TV Dev Kit, and spent a weekend bringing Provenance to tvOS. As a result, I had first-hand experience of what it is like trying to support the Siri Remote in an application that has a complex control scheme.

The answer to the question 'is the Siri Remote is good enough for gaming?' is ... maybe.

If your game is like an iOS game and requires nothing more than motion control and no more than 2 buttons, then the Siri Remote is fine. If your game is like Provenance and has complex controls with 3 buttons or more, then no, the Siri Remote is not going to cut it.

The Siri Remote exposes two pushable buttons and a touch pad (technically three buttons, but one of them is the Menu/Pause button, which is almost always used to bring up in-game UI and not for controlling the game itself). One of the pushable buttons is the touch pad click, complicating things further. Trying to push a button with a thumb that is also trying to control the movement of an in-game character is difficult at best. That leaves one button that is not hindered by the touch pad. It's certainly impractical. Developers don't get access to the other physical buttons on the remote: the home button, volume buttons and the Siri button.

For Provenance, this isn't such a big issue. It's not an App Store app, and likely never will be, so I don't have to worry about it being rejected because it requires a controller better than the Siri Remote.

But think about those developers who were hoping they wouldn't have to compromise their game in order to comply with a seemingly arbitrary rule or fear a rejection and wasted time, money and effort. For these developers, maybe it's just not worth the hassle of trying to accommodate the Siri Remote. Maybe it's best if they just don't bring their game to the Apple TV. Then what? No games, no sales, Apple TV falls into the pit of obscurity with the Pippin?

Apple, if you're listening (lol, right?) please revert your decision on not allowing devs to require game controllers for their games. The users that would get frustrated that a game requires a remote, would probably already have one, if not be willing to buy one. The users that don't want to game that way with the Apple TV won't care that a game requires a controller because they don't want to game that way anyway!

Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.

Steve Jobs

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