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Apple Lures Developers Away From Nintendo, Sony

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Designers see a brighter future in smartphones.

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While it may have gotten its share of flak over the newly introduced iPad, Apple (AAPL) has managed to gain something that could usher in a brighter future for the tablet as it has for the company's existing line of handheld devices: game designers.

A recent report by Game Developer Research details Apple's draw on designers who are now turning to the iPhone platform like never before. In fact, mobile devices as a whole have seen twice as many game developers tinkering on their OS this year -- based a survey of 800 game developers in North America. Only 12% of game developers worked on mobile devices a year ago. Now it's 25%.

And taking just that 25%, three out of four of those programmers have worked on an iPhone and iPod Touch game. Although the number might not seem like much, to put it in perspective, it's over twice the number of developers currently working with the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP (SNE).

Apple won the smartphone race and now it has its eye set on the gaming market. Last year, you may have had to visit GameStop (GME) or Best Buy (BBY) to grab a copy of the hottest game. Soon, it may just be a matter of browsing the iTunes Store.

Apple's platform does have a lot going for it. The quick fix of a cheap $0.99 game for the morning commute will always have more mainstream appeal than the $39.99 PSP game. And game designers know firsthand just how complicated PSP development can be, compared to an iTunes App Store game.

Subatomic Studios co-founder Sergei Gourski spoke with Gamesutra about the struggle to bring a PSP game to life.

"Developing for the PSP is definitely more serious business and not for casual non-developers," said Gourski, who designed Fieldrunners -- available on both the PSP and iPhone platforms. "Having game development experience is a must. You have to invest some money into dev kits and into getting ratings for your game. The costs of ratings such us ESRB is significantly more then we had realized."

The development cost on a downloadable PSP mini-game is on top of the $1,500 fee for the kit. Meanwhile, Apple charges $100 for its kit. And the difference in development cost is apparent in the game pricing: In the PlayStation Store, Fieldrunners went for $6.99 and was marked down to $2.99 for the App Store.

But while the 75 million people who own an iPhone or iPod Touch might not reach even half the total number of Nintendo DS and PSP owners, the mass exodus of developers toward smartphone gaming spells trouble for the future of the handheld gaming devices -- and hardcore gamers.

Similar to how the Nintendo Wii won the top spot in units sold over the PS3 and Xbox 360 (MSFT) with simple, family-friendly games of mediocre quality, gamers may start seeing a rise in quick, cheap, and easy games for the iPhone and iPod Touch. (See How Nintendo Lost Its Stride.) If that happens, Apple might also see a drop in development support: Of all console game developers, designers for Wii games dropped from 42% to 30%.

Let's hope quality is kept high.
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