Measuring iOS as a gaming platform

At this year’s WWDC Apple offered an update on Game Center accounts. The data we have so far is shown in the following graph.

Before being acquired, another network, OpenFeint, announced 180 million iOS accounts in October 2011. Another figure to consider is the 40 million subscribers to Xbox Live (out of 66 million Xbox users). This subscriber base is paying for a service (about $1 billion per year) so it’s not the same as the free Game Center model.

Rather than being a revenue source, Game Center is designed to engage users and to capture usage information. It also lets us gauge gaming “consumption” on iOS devices. That itself allows us to contemplate it as a gaming platform vis-à-vis alternate platforms.

To consider the figure as a proxy of penetration and engagement, the graphic below shows cumulative sales of gaming devices.[1]

Here are some observations:

  • There is a pattern of turnover of market participants
  • Each console “generation” had a clear market leader
  • The best-selling gaming device was the Nintendo DS closely followed by the PlayStation 2 [2]
  • Considering the 130 million Game Center accounts, iOS is already the third largest gaming platform
  • Furthermore, considering the OpenFeint iOS figure of 180 million accounts announced in 2011, iOS has already surpassed the cumulative sales figures for the Nintendo DS
  • No gaming device has ever reached the 200 million mark
  • At the current growth rate the number of Game Center accounts will surpass 200 million before the year end

Apple cites the number of games, downloads and payments to developers as evidence of ecosystem health and growth. The figure of Game Center accounts is yet another indicator. It shows growth in and of itself, but it also has the side effect of offering comparative measurement of performance. That measurement compares favorably with other game platforms.

The economics are different but they always are when a disruption takes root.


  1. Based on reported cumulative sales (Wikipedia), excluding gaming devices with less than 10 million cumulative sales (excludes for example PlayStation Vita), excludes also “home computers” due to missing reported figures
  2. This Wikipedia article contradicts the previous.
  • Ben Cousins

    Remember Game Center only live from 2010, games have been on iOS devices since 2008.

  • Ceri Morgan

    The first graph makes it look like Game Center growth is steady, but the horizontal axis is not to scale. There are 13 months between the first and second data points, but only 8 months between the second and third.

    • dodgy_coder

      well picked up

    • dodgy_coder

      well picked up

    • Dirk Schmidt

      Very good point. Will change it in the next update. Thanks.

      • Dirk Schmidt


  • dodgy_coder

    Have you got any similar data for Android?

    • Dirk Schmidt

      I have not found something yet. Do have an idea?

    • Horace Dediu

      Is there a Game Center equivalent for Android or any other published proxy for game usage?

  • Seth Freudenburg

    Its one thing to have a Game Center account, it’s another to actually find value from Game Center. I wonder of those 130 Game Center Accounts how many users actually use Game Center?

    • Patrick M McMaster

      This number is a proxy. I do not use game center but do play games. I do have a game center account. Every time I log into a game it says welcome back.

      • vladiim

        Agreed. It seems to me like a clever way to get the critical mass required for network effect in the background. It will become a powerful proposition when it’s integrated seamlessly across iOS gaming in Jobs-like fashion

    • NateF

      The same question could be asked re: the number of people who own an Xbox 360 (or Wii, PS3, etc.) and/or subscribe to Xbox Live. I own an Xbox 360 and Wii, but rarely play games on them anymore. And when I was an Xbox Live subscriber, I rarely used its features.

  • suddy

    Horace, can you do an analysis of Apple’s ads? been hearing lately that their ad’s are losing the Apple sheen. Or maybe talk about in your podcast.

    • Horace Dediu

      If there is a good public source of data on sheen, preferably with a historic component, I’d be happy to try to interpret it.

      • suddy

        The Apple 1984 ad was broadcast just once, during the Super Bowl, and 28 years later it still has recall. The Mac vs PC has recall, how much of today’s Apple TV ads would have recall value? I doubt it. I do get your point, it is hard to quantify numerically but there does seem to be a shift in its appeal.

      • ralphel

        Data on sheen is almost certainly a lost cause. I imagine someone somewhere has interesting data on consumer response to Apple ads, but who knows how accessible any of it is. Nevertheless, I think there’s scope for a less data-driven discussion of what Apple’s ads say about the company’s own view of its target market(s).

  • Charles Vestal

    Though many of the XBox Live users are paid, XBox Live is not a paid service. The 40 million number includes all “silver” members, who while signed up, do not pay a monthly fee (and thus don’t get most multiplayer, netflix streaming, or early access to certain content), which makes it roughly more comparable to Game Center in service. Even at that metric, it’s at over 60% of installs, which is roughly double the penetration of Game Center. To be expected with a gaming-centric device, but still worth noting.

  • Tatil_S

    “Each console “generation” had a clear market leader”
    Well, except for the three way Wii/PS3/360 race. Sony must be quite disappointed.

    • Dirk Schmidt

      Yes. However, the scale might mislead. The Wii sold 96 million. The XBox 360 68 and PS3 64 million. One could call a 28 million unit sales lead a “clear” one.

      • Tatil_S

        Why should unit sales define a clear leader? Percentages are more meaningful. Nintendo marketers “could” call it a clear market leader, but it “clearly” does not have a dominant share.

        If one company has 35% and everybody else has less than 10%, sure that could be deemed dominant, but not when percentages are so close.

      • Cohen

        Yes, for now. But this generation is not at its end and meanwhile Xbox360 and PS3 are selling much better than the Wii. The gap will close even faster when Nintendo is abandoning the Wii (in favour to the Wii U) completely.
        I wouldn’t wonder if this generation ends in a tie with ~100 million units for each platform.

      • Dirk Schmidt


      • JohnDoey

        For now is crazy talk. These systems are ancient.

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  • KirkBurgess

    All the console models comapred are all based on one single hardware/OS design (with slight modification over its lifetime) – whereas the iOS cumulitive total is based on a constantly evolving Hardware/OS base, spread over several product lines.
    A more interesting comparison would be to a similar constantly evolving Hardware/OS base, which is actually by far the largest installed gaming base which has actually been left out of this article completely: The Windows PC (which has been selling for decades, and been used as a game platform since its inception)

    • jawbroken

      We have Game Center and OpenFeint accounts to estimate how many people play games on iOS but nothing similarly useful on the PC. Steam doesn’t release useful numbers.

    • JohnDoey

      The Windows PC is not a consumer electronics device. Game consoles and iPads are consumer devices.

      • primalxconvoy

        However, the current use of IOS and Android as PC and console replacements (connected to a large, external screen) is not fully ready for the general public. Gaming and/or app use on such setups could also be seen in the same light as a PC. They have ceased to be “consumer devices” due to the avante-garde nature of their setup.

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  • Mike

    No gaming device has ever hit the 200 million mark, except the PC. Sure, iOS may outstrip individual consoles and devices, but I’m willing to bet it’s way behind the PC gaming market, especially considering that the actual average for gamers is a 43-year-old woman playing social games or solitaire/hearts.

    • jawbroken

      I don’t think that definition of a “gamer” is helpful to anyone. You probably want to weight that average by money spent on games to be useful for developers deciding to target the platform, for example.

      • Benjy

        Disagree. This isn’t a complete view of the problem, but once you factor in reduced development costs for either micro games or games that can yield immediate profit and then be added to, the user base matters a lot in terms of attracting zyngas or micro devs, which lead to more gamers by any definition, which creates enough market for the mega expensive blockbuster games that you seem to assume defines a gamer.

    • JohnDoey

      “The PC” is not a single platform.

      • primalxconvoy

        Neither is android, yet here we are.

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    I don’t know about this. The thing is, the games consoles were purchased for their singular purpose – to play games – The i-Phone would have been purchased for different reasons such as being a communications device or entertainment system or even a fashion statement. Would be nice to see some sort of comparison to PC sales as they are more believably comparable as 2 platforms with multiple uses including gaming.

    • primalxconvoy

      That could be incorrect. I read that a recent study cites the biggest use for existing games consoles as “media consumption”. People are using (buying was not measured) their consoles more for playing the likes of Netflix, bluerays and Hulu on their consoles, with gaming a secondary use. Conversely, it has been stated that more people use the data connection on their smartphones than for call data. Thus, we may need to redifine our terms for such devices, especially as many uses and services have converged from both platforms to the other.

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