Just a few months ago, the unveiling of a new Apple TV box seemed to finally address those seemingly perpetual rumors (and analyst desires) for Apple to make a serious, iOS-style play to shake up the home game console market. Today, the Apple TV’s chances of having a serious impact on the market for TV-based games seems remote at best.
The strongest sign yet of Apple TV’s gaming struggles comes from Disney Interactive, which revealed in a forum post earlier this month that it was dropping support for the Apple TV version of Disney Infinity 3.0 (which launched alongside Apple TV in November). That means that any new Disney Infinity figures released from here on out simply won’t work with the Apple TV version of the game.
“The team is currently focusing on the traditional gaming platforms,” a moderator wrote. “We are always evaluating and making changes, but there are currently no plans for further updates to the Apple TV version of the game.”
[Update: A Disney spokesperson tells Ars that “Disney continues to support Apple TV as a platform for games, and fans will see new gaming content from Disney on this platform throughout the year. We just launched DuckTales: Remastered for Apple TV last month and have several additional titles in development.” The spokesperson said he couldn’t comment directly on the status of support for Disney Infinity on Apple TV.]
That’s pretty bad news for any Apple TV gamers who have already made a serious investment in Disney Infinity. More generally, though, it’s the kind of move that Disney simply wouldn’t be making if there was a significant base of customers buying figures and playing the game on Apple TV.
Earlier this month, Disney also dropped continuing support for the PC version of the Disney Infinity. Steam Spy estimates that the Steam version of the game has only sold about 200,000 copies so far (though the game is sold in other marketplaces as well). Those sales are a drop in the bucket for a $200 million a year franchise, and we can only assume the Apple TV version is similarly insignificant to Disney at this point.
That’s a shame for Apple TV’s gaming ambitions. Disney Infinity was one of the most full-featured games to launch alongside the hardware: a deep and complete gaming experience that equaled its console cousins in practically every way (Guitar Hero Live is the other obvious example). If a game like that apparently can’t find success on Apple TV—despite having a huge, family-friendly household brand behind it—why should other console and PC game developers give the platform a second look?
But perhaps Disney Infinity just isn’t the type of game that can do well on Apple TV. Maybe Apple’s gaming box is attracting spending on new types of games in the same way that iOS generated a market for countless touch-based and free-to-play titles that had never existed on other platforms.
That doesn’t seem to be the case so far. Back in December, Touch Arcade reported that even the most popular games on the Apple TV store were only bringing in about $100 a day in revenue—a pretty modest amount if you want to sustain an even semi-professional indie development house. What’s worse, the Pareto principle suggests that most of the thousands of games cluttering the Apple TV store weren’t making nearly as much.
Maybe the market has changed since December, but as of this morning, the top paid app on the Apple TV store was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Imagine if the most popular new games on a console like the Xbox One or PS4 were being outsold by a 25-year-old 16-bit platformer (that has previously been ported to dozens of other platforms), and you’ll realize how badly that speaks of the current Apple TV gaming market.
Those looking for hope that Apple TV could still make an impact on the gaming market can take solace in the fact that the hardware is still pretty young, all things considered. Angry Birds, one of the first mega-hits of the iOS era, didn’t launch until the end of 2009, about 17 months after Apple opened up its App Store. There’s still plenty of time for an Apple TV-exclusive (or even an Apple TV-first) killer app to come along and convince gamers that this $150, video-focused microconsole with a weird bundled controller is competitive with more-established game consoles or a full-fledged gaming PC.
But momentum certainly isn’t on Apple’s side as far as that argument goes. Back in September, in an overall bearish analysis of Apple TV’s gaming potential, I gamely offered that “for a parent with a young child begging to get into the Disney Infinity universe… an Apple TV with its intuitive remote, its suite of easy-to-use media apps, its relatively low $150 price, and its familiar Apple name could look more appealing than the likes of the Xbox One or the PS4.” So far, it seems that even that limited use case has failed to make much of an impact in the marketplace.