iPhone : A Gaming Platform?

It's a smartphone. It's an iPod. It's Apple's iPhone -- and its making room on deck for video games. One of the top casual-game publishers just stepped aboard the iPhone express, and analysts are saying the move might lead to other developers climbing on board.

On Monday, PopCap Games launched a custom version of its flagship game Bejeweled for the iPhone. If that's not enough to excite iPhone-toting gamers, perhaps the price tag will turn some heads: Bejeweled is available at no cost.

"We're excited to be providing the most popular puzzle game of the 21st century to users of the most advanced mobile device yet created," Andrew Stein, director of mobile platforms at PopCap, said in a statement. "We wanted to give the hundreds of thousands of iPhone users a fun, fast gaming fix -- and at no cost, no less."

Let the iPhone Games Begin!

Starting Monday, iPhone users can log on to PopCap.com via the iPhone's Safari Web browser and play the iPhone-specific version of the original Bejeweled for free. The customized version of Bejeweled leverages the Web 2.0 capabilities of Safari and the wireless capabilities of the iPhone, and has been optimized to take advantage of the iPhone's unique display and input controls.

PopCap developed the Safari-based version of Bejeweled in partnership with Polish developer Arkadiusz Mlynarczyk. PopCap execs did not reveal whether its newest wireless game, Chuzzle Mobile, or its popular mobile game Zuma, will be available for the iPhone. But considering PopCap's success working with the video iPod, more games could be in the works.

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg called the introduction of the PopCap classic on the iPhone a significant milestone. "We've seen a couple of different homegrown games that people have developed for the iPhone," he explained, "but now we are seeing a very powerful implementation of Bejeweled made available for free."

Viability of Gaming on iPhone

Some analysts had questioned the viability of video games for the iPhone when it launched, but Apple has clearly demonstrated a proof of concept for delivering premium gaming content on its new device, Gartenberg said. The question now is how to monetize the games. Currently, there is no way for iPhone users to purchase and download video game titles and play them when offline.

Gartenberg said he wonders whether Apple plans to address the monetization issue in the future in a way that follows the iPod model in which users can purchase and download titles directly from iTunes. Apple has not yet revealed its plans in the gaming arena for the iPhone.

"The biggest issue for PopCap is that there's not a good vehicle for selling the content over the Web so iPhone users can access it," he concluded. "And more importantly there is the difficulty playing those titles when you are in a disconnected state."

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