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Diehard gamers wouldn't dare mention Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) iconic Xbox Live experience and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) nascent Game Center platform in the same breath, but that didn't stop Apple from doing just that during yesterday's WWDC powwow.
"In just nine months, we have 50 million Game Center users," Apple iOS chief Scott Forstall announced during yesterday's conference, as relayed by Engadget's live blog of the event. "To put that into perspective, Xbox Live has been around for about eight years and they have around 30 million users."
Forstall went on to add that there are 100,000 games and entertainment titles available in its signature App Store, and that iOS is "the most popular gaming platform on the planet."
Gamers will cringe to hear that. They'll say there's nothing in Game Center that can get the adrenaline flowing the way a group of battle-tested players firing up multiplayer combat on Activision Blizzard's (Nasdaq: ATVI ) Call of Duty: Black Ops on Xbox Live can.
However, Forstall has a point.
When it comes to game developers or advertisers, does it matter if it's a grandmother tending to her virtual crops in FarmVille or a teen blasting his way through Halo 3?
Sure, there's a pricing disparity. Xbox gamers are paying $40 to $60 for the latest blockbusters, while the most popular Game Center downloads are either free or fetch a mere $0.99. A gamer is likely to be less committed to a particular title if there are tens of thousands of free -- or nearly free -- alternatives just an App Store tap away. However, Apple will continue to command eyeballs, and this is demographic group is likely to be far broader than the teenagers and twentysomething males that make up a large swath of Xbox Live.
The gaming industry has publicly dismissed Apple in the past.
"It doesn't look like their platform is a viable profit platform for game development," Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said last April.
Nintendo went on to have a dreadful year, while Apple consistently busted through analyst estimates.
When Apple introduced the iPhone 4 last year, two months after Fils-Aime's comments, Steve Jobs indicated that there were 100 million iOS devices out there in the form of iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices that lean on the iTunes App Store for fresh downloads. Yesterday, Apple upped that sum to 200 million iOS devices.
Microsoft's in a sweet spot with Xbox Live. And it helps Mr. Softy that Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) PlayStation network has been victimized by security breaches. However, we can't dismiss Apple's stronghold on the growing number of casual gamers who like to play word games with their Facebook friends during commercial breaks or to pass the time on long commutes. Mobile gaming matters, and Apple is right where everybody else wishes it could be.
Can casual games eat into the realm of the diehards in the console-gaming market? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.