Right now, someone at Apple is either grinning like a Cheshire cat, or should be doing so. This morning’s announcement of the release of Lost—the latest game for the fifth-generation iPod—may not seem like a huge deal at first. After all, interest in the iPod Games section of the iTunes Store has been comparatively tepid from what we have seen, and the Gameloft-developed Lost game is arguably only a port of its previously released game for mobile phones. Nothing to get excited about, right?
Wrong. As the page above on the iTunes Store suggests, the release of the Lost game has just given Apple a quinfecta: it is now able to offer not just a TV show, but also a related game, soundtrack, audiobook, and podcasts, all from one page, and all playable on one device. Of course, if there was a Lost movie, that would have been up on the iTunes page too.
Even if you’re not a Lost fan, the importance of today’s release is hard to miss. Two years ago, Sony was touting the PlayStation Portable (PSP) as the next iPod—a gaming device that could also play movies and music at will. But through a series of major missteps, the PSP never took off as a movie or music player, and recently has even struggled for market share as a gaming device. It wasn’t for lack of impressive engineering; rather, Sony picked the wrong horse (optical discs) for distribution of its multimedia content, and only briefly, poorly tested the synergies that a multifaceted device could offer.
Apple has come at this from the opposite direction. Lost began life on the iTunes Store as one of a handful of TV shows the company was offering for digital download. Podcasts, the audiobooks, subsequent seasons, and then today’s game release followed. There are now 71 episodes of Lost, 23 official podcasts, the aforementioned audiobook (in abridged and unabridged versions), music, and a large collection of fan-created content linked together. Most of the downloads cost $2 or less; many are actually free. Best of all, you needn’t go to a store or collect special optical discs to get any of the content; it’s accessible entirely from your computer, and synced to your iPod within a minute of each completed download. Neither Sony nor any of Apple’s other competitors has come close to the convenience or variety offered through the iTunes Store.
That’s not to say that Apple’s approach has been perfect. Bringing Lost to the iPod through a partnership with Gameloft was smart, but a port of a mobile phone game isn’t exactly a trophy by gaming standards. And this is the only example of such a synergy on the Store – there isn’t a Battlestar Galactica game, movie, and music page, for example, and other gimme franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Pixar movies are as yet unexploited by games.
But at least the template’s now in place for such things to happen. And Gameloft’s involvement is potentially significant: it holds mobile licenses for Desperate Housewives—currently its most popular mobile phone game—plus King Kong and Shrek, as well as number of console game titles and well-known athletes’ sports games. Whether we’ll see them on the iPod remains a question mark, but in any case, Apple’s definitely heading in the right direction.