It's been a strange decade for the video game industry. Ten years ago, Sony's PlayStation 2 was the dominant video game platform, and Microsoft's Xbox 360 was getting ready to hit store shelves. At the same time, Nintendo was developing the Wii, which is still used as a family console by millions today.
But the video game console is slowly becoming something of an antiquated concept. Sony's PlayStation console sales peaked with the PS2 in 2000 and have slowed with the PS3 and PS4. Microsoft's Xbox 360 was the company's console peak, and that was released a decade ago.
It isn't that consoles don't sell today. Millions of consoles still sell every year -- but the top 10 most popular consoles were all released at least nine years ago. The game dynamic is changing, and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be preparing to show us the future of gaming. And you may already hold the only controller you need.
How Apple could upset gaming
The Apple TV has been an overlooked product by Apple for years, yet Apple has sold over 25 million of the devices, around the same number of PS4s installed today. But remember it was a fairly low-functioning product for years compared to Apple's other product lines.
Later this month, the all-new Apple TV will get a supercharged experience that will bring gaming to the device when the App Store is finally opened to developers. For the new Apple TV, games can be controlled by iPhones, iPads, the new remote, and even third-party controllers, opening up a new world of gaming experiences. Like the iPad or iPhone, this could change the world of gaming forever.
The Apple TV will never be a replacement for dedicated consoles for hard-core gamers, but it could be a family-friendly device like the Nintendo Wii was and fill a gap in the gaming landscape.
It will also allow innovation in everything from game play to monetization models to controllers, all on the successful Apple app platform that already boasts hundreds of millions of users. It may also open up the game market to millions of new customers who wouldn't buy a dedicated console.
Accessible to all ages
What made the Nintendo Wii so successful -- outselling the Xbox 360 and PS3 -- is that it was accessible to all ages and skill levels. Grandma could play Wii Tennis with the grandkids, or you could have an intense game of Mario Kart Wii with the whole family.
The reason the Wii never became a dominant platform is that it didn't appeal to most hard-core gamers, and that's still where the money is in consoles today. So far this year, Mortal Kombat X, Grand Theft Auto V, Battlefield Hardline, and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare are the year's top-selling video games. Those are big money games, but they aren't exactly accessible to the whole family, which is one reason the PS4 and Xbox One aren't in as many homes as earlier versions of their own consoles. Consoles have been either family fun or for hardcore gamers, not both.
But Apple TV could change that. It may bring enough apps and enough games to appeal to the hard-core gamers and designers and be easy enough to play to attract family-friendly games as well.
Apple's bet on TV
If successful, this could be a big deal for Apple's bottom line. The Apple TV could draw even more customers into the Apple ecosystem, and the company may need just that right now. According to market research firm Parks Associates, Apple has fallen behind Amazon, Google, and Roku in the streaming device business. If that trend continues, Apple could lose its place at the center of the living room.
But if Apple TV can be successful as a gaming device for all ages, it could lead to more iPhone and iPad sales, not to mention billions in app sales. There's a lot more riding on the new Apple TV than first meets the eye.