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Is quality irrelevant when it comes to iPhone games and apps?

An iPhone game developer says he believes "quality is mostly irrelevant" when it comes to making games for the new platform. We heartily disagree but the economics of cheap, useless iPhone games could be the voice with most authority.

iFart on iPhone: is this the best we can expect?
(Credit: CNET Australia)

commentary Here's something that a brief glance at the top iPhone apps could have told you.

According to Kotaku, an iPhone game developer has told an audience at the Game Developers Conference 09 that the secret to creating a successful game for the iPhone is producing a product so simple it can be described quickly to someone else.

"I think quality is largely irrelevant," Adam Saltsman, creator of Wurdle, told the crowd during a discussion of independent game development for the iPhone and iPod Touch. "I think the defining thing is how quickly you can describe your product to someone else." Saltsman prepares to put this theory into action with his next iPhone game centring around the simple act of popping pimples. Wurdle at least has the pretensions of a real game.

This position flies in the face of assertions by other developers during GDC that the iPhone was a powerful platform and not to be underestimated. The processing power of the iPhone has been compared to a first generation Sony PlayStation, but to date these resources have been underutilised by a proliferation of fart sound applications and cowbells. Add to this the fact that iPhone games wearing the badge of quality, like EA's Brothers in Arms console port or the Metal Gear Solid iPhone game, have the polish of a better product but lack the necessary elements of a good game, like the ability to produce the human experience we call "fun".

Even more concerning is that software developers are actually turning away from traditional projects for more robust desktop systems to dedicate time to churn out cheaper products for a limited platform. As reported on CNET.com, Pangea Software will develop exclusively for the iPhone following significant financial success with its current iPhone products.

These are early days for the iPhone OS X platform, but is this all we can expect in the future? There's no doubt developers are capable of harnessing the true power of the iPhone hardware, but should they bother when they can make the mad money selling useless garbage? Infomedia, the company behind the iFart app, apparently earned over US$250,000 for what surely amounts to very little development compared with more useful applications.

The real shame of it all is that there are fantastic iPhone games available. Petri Purho's ingenious Crayon Physics Deluxe is deserving of its high praise and Fieldrunners brings classic tower defence to its true home on the iPhone. Both games make best use of the iPhone's strengths while considering the limited size of its touchscreen, and do so without a single fart sound in earshot. Obviously, we want more games like this, we're just not confident that it's what we'll end up getting.

What is your take on the state of the Apple App Store to date? Is it jam packed with valuable tools and fun games, or an ever-swelling digital compost heap? Let us know in the talkback below, or jump on the CNET Australia forums.