Apple TV, App Makers Try To Move Casual Gamers To Bigger Screen

Sep 21, 2015
Originally published on November 2, 2015 4:10 pm

When Apple recently updated its TV box the redesign included a remote that also functions as a game controller. Apple isn't trying to compete with powerful consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's PlayStation. But, Apple is competing with Google and Amazon to attract a much bigger but different gaming audience.

It's a group of gamers who have no interest in buying a console, even though they enjoy video games. This audience plays games on their phones and tablets, such as "Cookie Jam," where you try and match up cookies of different colors.

Cookie Jam is made by SGN, a company that only makes mobile games, but its CEO Chris DeWolfe thinks he would like to try and redesign his company's games for a TV streaming box.

DeWolfe says a lot of people are already playing in the living room, "and kind of paying attention to the TV, but really playing a game. But, there may be certain instances where you want to play a game with your whole family and it could be game night."

There's a big reason that Apple would want to draw in game makers such as SGN to its TV box. The audience for mobile games is huge. In 2015, mobile games revenues are expected to fly past console games and hit more than $30 billion worldwide. Half of that revenue came from games in Apple's App store, according to data firm NewZoo.

And mobile games are just one part of an even bigger category that analysts like P.J. McNealy call casual games, which can also be played on a PC.

"Today casual games can be anything from games on Facebook to Bejeweled to whatever the latest Floppy Birds or Angry Birds are on mobile," says McNealy.

McNealy says every sort of person is playing these games — not just young people.

"The definition is pretty much 8 to 80 years old," he says, "and that's a big change from 10 years ago when we were probably talking about an age range of 25 to 40."

Last year, the highest grossing mobile game Clash of Clans, brought in $1.8 billion. That's more than three times the gross of Hollywood's top grossing film American Sniper.

"You have to go on raids and attack other villages and basically steal their resources," says Lisa Ann Colton-Fowler, a mom in Brownsville, Texas, who plays the game.

"We are a three-generational household," she says. "I live with my my mother and father-in-law, and my wife and our college-age daughter."

Colton-Fowler plays between work and chores and uses Clash of Clans as a way to connect with her extended family.

"When we were kids we used to all sit around a table and play Crazy Eights," she says. "My cousins are all over the country and we all have busy lives. I probably wouldn't interact with them very often except maybe at family reunions, and this is just another way to play with them."

Colton-Fowler has no interest in playing games on consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation. But, when I asked if her family would be more attracted to the new Apple TV because it might let her play Clash of Clans in the living room, she was enthusiastic.

"I could certainly see my wife going, 'Yeah, I want that and if I get that we'll all be able to play games together,' " Colton-Fowler says. "It would be a selling point."

Apple will be facing competition from Amazon and Google for the eyes of the big gaming audience. Amazon makes a game control for its Fire TV and at least some games from Google Play have been redesigned for its Chromecast TV device.

Not everyone who plays mobile and casual games has an interest in moving to the living room.

"The games that I play on my phone are because I'm sitting in a waiting room somewhere," says Lori Hanley of Seattle. "If I'm in a restaurant, for example, and I'm waiting for my food to come I'm going to sit and play Solitaire."

Yet, even a fraction of the growing global audience for casual and mobile games would be significant. And as customers decide which TV box to purchase — Apple, Google or Amazon — the right game just might make the difference.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And it's time for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Today, the growth of two kinds of electronic gaming - first, casual video gaming. If you don't own an Xbox box but you do play Candy Crush on your phone, you're a casual gamer. Now big tech companies that are not big game makers see an opportunity. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports Apple, Google and Amazon are all using their TV boxes to get in on the action.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: There's a group of gamers who have no interest in buying a console, but they do like video games. They play them on their phones and tablets, games like "Cookie Jam," where you try and match up cookies of different colors.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "COOKIE JAM")

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Bravo. Cookie crunch.

SYDELL: "Cookie Jam" is made by SGN, a company that only makes mobile games. But its CEO, Chris DeWolfe, thinks he would like to try and redesign his company's games for a TV-streaming box. DeWolfe says a lot of people are already playing in the living room.

CHRIS DEWOLFE: And kind of paying attention to the TV, but really playing a game. But there may be certain instances where, you know, you want to play a game with your whole family, and it could be a game night.

SYDELL: And there's a big reason that Apple would want to draw in game makers like SGN to its TV box. The audience for mobile games is huge. In 2015, mobile game revenues are expected to fly past console games and hit over $30 billion worldwide. Half of that revenue came from games in Apple's App Store according to data firm, NewZoo. And mobile games are just one part of an even bigger category that analysts like P.J. McNealy call casual games which can also be played on a PC.

P.J. MCNEALY: Today, casual games can be anything from games on Facebook to, you know, whatever the latest "Flappy Birds" or "Angry Birds" games are on mobile.

SYDELL: And McNealy says every sort of person is playing these games, not just young people.

MCNEALY: The definition is pretty much 8 to 80 years old, and that's a big change from 10 years ago when we were probably talking about an age range of 25 to 40.

SYDELL: Last year, the highest grossing mobile game, "Clash Of Clans," brought in $1.8 billion.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "CLASH OF CLANS")

SYDELL: Lisa Ann Colton-Fowler plays "Clash of Clans."

LISA ANN COLTON-FOWLER: You have to go on raids and attack other villages and basically steal their resources.

SYDELL: Colton-Fowler is a mom in Brownsville, Texas.

COLTON-FOWLER: We are a three generational household - live with my mother and father-in-law and my wife and our college-age daughter.

SYDELL: Colton-Fowler plays between work and chores and uses Clash of Clans as a way to reconnect with her extended family.

COLTON-FOWLER: When we were kids, we used to all sit around a huge table and play Crazy Eights. My cousins are all over the country, and we all have our own lives. And I probably wouldn't interact with them very often except maybe at family reunions. And this is just another way to play with them.

SYDELL: Colton-Fowler has no interest in playing games on consoles like the Xbox or PlayStation. But when I asked if her family would be more attracted to the new Apple TV because it might let her play in the living room, she was enthusiastic.

COLTON-FOWLER: I can certainly see my wife going, yeah, I want that. And if I get that, we'll all be able to play games together.

SYDELL: Apple will be facing competition from Amazon and Google for the eyes of this big gaming audience. Amazon makes a game controller for its Fire TV, and at least some games from Google Play have been redesigned for its Chromecast TV device. But not everyone who plays mobile and casual games has an interest in moving to the living room. Take Lori Hanley from Seattle.

LORI HANLEY: The games that I play on my phone are because I'm sitting in a waiting room somewhere. You know, or if I'm in a restaurant, for example, and I'm waiting for my food to come, I'm going to sit and play solitaire.

SYDELL: Yet, even a fraction of the growing global audience for casual and mobile games would be significant. And as customers decide which TV box to purchase - Apple, Google or Amazon - the right game just might make the difference. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.