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Job's Game

Steve Jobs has finally embraced gaming as a key part of Apple's business. Nintendo and Sony should be seriously worried.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

When it launched the App Store a few years ago, introducing a marketplace for new software for its iPhone and iPod Touch devices, Apple's relationship with the videogames business changed overnight. Ever since the appearance of the iPod, the company's engagement with media has been growing - turning it into a key distributor of music at first, then movies and TV shows, and most recently books and magazines.

Videogames had been the red-headed stepchild of the bunch. Apple just didn't seem to be interested in games - a disinterest that was deeply encoded in the firm's culture dating right back through the nineties, when game developers threw their hands up in frustration at the firm's unwillingness to spend time or money on turning Mac OS into a viable gaming platform.

Perhaps the problem was cultural, stemming from the ethos which saw Macs as creative tools and looked down its nose at videogames as a consequence. More likely, it was generational - the firm's decision-making is incredibly focused on a small team of executives, headed up by Steve Jobs, many of whom are a little older than the "event horizon" for the first gaming generation.

Either way, there's a strange irony to the fact that Apple became a major platform holder in the gaming world without ever really wanting to. Once the numbers started to roll in, and the company realised just how much of the revenue on the App Store was coming from games, whatever cultural or generational issues had dogged gaming in its eyes would inevitably fade very quickly.

That's precisely what happened this week when Jobs unveiled the company's new iPod line-up at an event in San Francisco. Apple may not have planned to become a gaming platform holder, and Jobs may not be a gamer, but the firm has shed all of its qualms about the medium, and has begun to embrace its position in the games business.

The statistics reeled off by Jobs weren't the really important part of the event. Yes, iOS devices are outselling Sony and Nintendo's handhelds combined on a week to week basis - that's a solid achievement, but not actually all that relevant.

Such figures are similar to the occasional claims that the PC is the world's biggest gaming platform based on PC hardware sales. Now, the PC may well be the biggest gaming platform, but PC hardware sales do little to prove that, since PCs are multipurpose devices and many of them will never be used for gaming. The same holds true for iOS devices.

What was much more important was the tone of Jobs' statements on gaming. For the first time, Apple seemed to be aggressive in its approach to the sector - directly laying down a gauntlet to Sony and Nintendo, talking up the installed base, the distribution platform, the software library and the device capabilities, all from a specifically gaming perspective.

In the past, Apple has always treated games on iOS as a slightly amusing aside, raising an eyebrow at the wacky and weird things people choose to do with their devices. This week, games were serious business. Jobs has got gaming religion - he sees his firm as a gaming platform holder, and if that means taking the fight to Nintendo (a new rival) and Sony (a long-standing rival), then so be it.