Would it be safe to say that iOS is the red-headed step child of the gaming world? Apple's success with the App Store and the iPhone is one of those things where you either love it or hate it. Actually, anything from Apple seems to polarize most consumers. We all know the stereotypes about the typical Apple loyalist. They live in a smug little bubble where their computers run perfectly at all times, never suffer viruses and each release of Apple hardware is an international event that would rival the Super Bowl, maybe even the Olympics.

A long history of steep pricing has also made the Apple club a fairly exclusive one. Even if you could afford to join, one could never be sure what would be the incentive to do so. Why spend $2,000 on a Macbook in a world of $300 - $1000 laptops? Why buy an iPod when there are literally hundreds of MP3 players that work just as well, and in some cases even better? Why, why, why? The answer has a childlike simplicity, but is not very satisfying. Apple understands the appeal of the seemingly unattainable.

The Exclusion Effect

We live in a peculiar world where we love the benefits of exclusivity, but despise exclusion and what appears to be discrimination. It's easy to scoff at people who live in gated communities and view them as ridiculous. That is, until you live in one. Then, you get it. It's comfortable. It feels safe. And one can rest easily at night, assured that they are surrounded by productive, peaceful, pleasant citizens, and all the "bad things"  and stuff you have to worry about is outside. Whether that is actually the truth or not is irrelevant. The truth is that fences and gates offer the illusion of safety and protection.

I didn't really get this until I bought my first Apple product, an iPod Touch. The wall around Apple users has always been built from a numbers of things. Exclusive software, exclusive hardware components, prohibitive pricing, and until recently, only being available through exclusive Apple stores and outlets. Even now, the customer who frequently visits an Apple Store is not likely to shop the electronics department of Walmart or Target.

It's a brilliant strategy. And considering that Apple was the underdog in the technology world for a long time, it makes complete sense. There are entire cultures that have overcome being marginalized by closing their ranks and limiting access to their most valuable treasures. It might be argued that this is what fueled America's love for so many, many things from all over the world. Martial arts, Ninjas and Kung Fu flicks from the far east. Blues, Jazz and Soul Food from urban America. I could go on, but you get the point. What's ironic is that Apple has become it's own cultural entity as much as any other that you might think of.

Back to my point. So I bought an iPod Touch. And as I opened the packaging and explored my new toy, I swear to you that HALF of the happiness I felt was from finally owning something that was at least for a time unattainable. It wasn't an iMac or even a Macbook, but it didn't have to be. It was an Apple product and now, I was officially part of the club.

That pride was rewarded and reinforced once I ventured onto iTunes and explored the mind-blowing collection of Apps available. And let me explain this. There is no feeling like coming from being a loyal Gameboy/Sony PSP gamer and being accustomed to paying anywhere between $20-40 for a single game, then finding that you can now buy all the games your heart desires for less than $10 each.

I know, I know, I know. I already know what many of you are thinking. "Too bad half of those Apps are complete junk and could never compete with a REAL game with REAL controls!!!" I can think of few other companies that have riled up the rank and file of traditional console gamers as much as Apple has. But if you really step back and look at what Apple did, you'll understand the genius of their approach.


When's the last time you saw a companies stock do this?


People Love Free $#*%!

If you throw an abundance of anything at people for dirt cheap, it doesn't matter what it is, they will be all over it. There are few things people love more than a bargain, or... getting access to something they believe to be exclusive. It's that feeling you have when you've stumbled upon a secret that gives you a clear advantage over every other poor schlup. No, I'm not saying owning an Apple product makes you superior. I'm saying that they've done a fantastic job of marketing that illusion.

But Apple's cleverness didn't stop with flooding iTunes with cheap software. They made the iOS platform into a nice comfy campground for budding developer's. Inexpensive to begin, easy to use, and fairly liberal standards, Apple had set the table, poured the wine, lit the candles and was eager to be gamer's new sweetheart.

The Free To Play Juggernaut

Nowadays, everybody is talking about free-to-play and how it's going to forever change the gaming world. Maybe. Maybe not. But a simple glance at how the traditional free-to-play business models have worked makes it clear why developer's have cozied up to the idea. You can try to sell a limited number of people your software at a one-time set price, or you can nickel and dime them for that same product with no forseeable end to that revenue stream. Which would you pick?

Now when you think about free-to-play, you have to think about Apple. Companies like Zynga may have been amongst the first to offer such software, but look at where Zynga is now? A good portion of the casual/free-to-play development scene was linked to Facebook. When Facebook's fortunes took a turn for the worse, developer's were scattered about like war-time refugees. And where did they run to for safety? The safe, seemingly unbreachable walls of Apple. Apple was all too eager to let them in, knowing they would harvest a considerable amount of talent in the process.

Apple's rise in the gaming world actually mirrors strategies that have been used in the world of politics. They leveraged their perception as an underdog along with their clannish community to create demand for their products. They have shown an uncanny understanding of what will motivate people to buy hardware and software. Even in a world of annual hardware revisions and even more frequent software updates, people still clamor to have the latest Apple whatever. Other companies may half-heartedly commit themselves to competing with Apple on price, hardware designs, etcetera, but few of them understand the social aspect of mobile gaming the way Apple has.


No iPad, no! Those Androids aren't you're friends! Watch out!!!!


It will be interesting to see how Apple fairs in the coming years. So many things have changed that were previously important factors in their success. They are no longer underdogs by any means. They are no longer as exclusive as they used to be. And whereas, many consumers might have assumed that Apple products were somehow superior due to their higher costs, few are likely to believe that now. Google, Samsung and others seemed to have joined forces with a commitment to knocking Apple from it's lofty perch, and they are having some success. The new Nexus 10 tablet is reported to be technically superior to the iPad in nearly every way. Could Apple's rocket like trajectory be tapering off? It will definitely be fun to watch it play out.