John Carmack to Launch "Rage" on Mobile -- A Wake-up Call for Game Companies

Last Updated Aug 16, 2010 1:31 PM EDT

Legendary game programmer and id Software head John Carmack showed his latest first-person shooter gaming project, Rage, running at full speed (60 frames per second) on an Apple (APPL) iPhone 4. The game will launch first on the mobiles and, a year later, come on the console systems. The switch symbolizes a significant shift, as now first-person shooter mobile gaming is taking priority over traditional home gaming. From now on, all proverbial eyes will be on the phone and the tablet.

It's even more important to remember that the iPhone 4 has only been out for a couple months. To quote Daniel Eran Dilger of Apple Insider, "Carmack said in 2008 that the iPhone was 'more powerful than a Nintendo DS and PSP combined,' and now says he could use it to 'kill anything done on the XBox or PlayStation 2." Realize that Carmack isn't saying Apple's latest Jesus Phone can trump Microsoft (MSFT) or Sony (SNE) XBox 360 or PlayStation 3 consoles, but the previous iterations, the XBox and the PlayStation 2.

Still, Microsoft's Halo and Halo 2 became megahits on the original XBox, just as landmark first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Brothers In Arms began well before the latest consoles. In other words, Carmack is arguing that the current mobile computers are perfectly capable of becoming the next first-person shooter platform, something Carmack expected when I interviewed him in 2009.

The impact of this revelation will shift game developers, console developers and gamers themselves. For first-person shooters like id's Quake, game companies traditionally target the PC and the most popular home console. For instance, when it had the largest userbase, FPSs would land exclusively on the XBox 360 and the PC. It's easy to see mobile slowly taking over as the launch pad for the hottest FPSs alongside PCs.

First, the personal computer combination of mouse and keyboard will never be surpassed. As shown in online discussions, many hardcore FPS fans find the console limited in control when it comes to aiming, organizing weaponry and actually moving the character. Tellingly, according to Apple Insider, "Carmack also noted that an effort to deliver DOOM 3 on the Wii turned into a project that instead created Doom Resurrection for the iPhone App Store." If there is any FPS platform losing a piece of the pie to mobile gaming, it's the consoles.

Second, mobile devices represent a hybrid between PC and console gaming. It has the plug-in-and-play mentality of the console where, aside from occasional software updates, you can begin playing without worrying about graphics cards, RAM and other techie details. At the same time, mobile devices have enough control options, between the touchscreens, keyboards and optional accessories, to give hardcore FPS fans what they need to feel immersed in the game.

Third, the portability aspect is a huge win for all gamers. Carmack spoke at QuakeCon, the big annual competition based on one of his most popular FPSs, and hardcore gamers from around the world haul their PCs to the central location to compete for prizes. Is it unrealistic to imagine the several pound PCs being eventually replaced with lighter tablets? Probably not, and while the most intense gamers will probably rely on their old standbys, the most progressive will be adapting to the lighter, more travel-friendly alternatives. I think this is one of the reasons Carmack discussed mobile gaming at his QuakeCon keynote. Furthermore, gaming anywhere services like OnLive are aiming to make console-like gaming more portable and poly-platform. Tablets are the perfect medium for the next step in gaming's evolution.

Fourth, mobile is already doing what PC and console game developers rarely achieve: cross-platforming. As shown with the recent SGN game Skies of Glory, gamers can now play FPS and FPS-inspired video games with others on the Android and the iPhone/iPod platforms. Bring a bonified million-selling property like Carmack's Rage to both the Android and the iPhone simultaneously and the impact will be monumental.

Finally, the new importance of mobile gaming makes the moves from Nintendo (NYTDO), Sony, Apple, HP and Google (GOOG) that much more important. Though the Wii is slowing down, the Nintendo 3DS shows that Nintendo knows how crucial its mobile market will be in the console wars. HP and Google are organizing their respective tablet or tablet and phone strategies, and Apple is trying to capitalize on its app-based development.

It will be interesting to see how the sales of upcoming console games like Halo Reach and Gears of War 3 will be affected by the new competing medium.

Photo courtesy of Psycho Al
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