The Race is On for iPhone Driving Games

If you’re a fan of all things four-wheeled, you may have noticed that your hobby is somewhat well catered for on the iPhone lately. With EA’s Need For Speed, Namco’s Ridge Racer and Gameloft’s Asphalt 5 all competing for market space, the race for the front of the grid is as packed as it’s ever been.

But why on the iPhone, and why now? According to Gameloft, the App Store has always been the perfect platform for throttle happy racers, and developers are now able to focus on the quality of such titles rather than making them work in the first place.

‘Driving games are a natural fit for the iPhone and iPod Touch because of the accelerometer and touch features,’ Gameloft spokesperson Sanette Chao told us. The studio’s Asphalt 5 recently won accolades from sites across the board, including a 3 out of 4 from Slide to Play.

‘The success of Asphalt 5 on the App Store essentially comes down to really great production values. The franchise has evolved over the years and we have fine-tuned it with every version,’ Chao added. The Asphalt franchise now faces its toughest test with heavyweight series from EA and Namco now entering the scene.

Rather than being a concrete sign of gaming maturing on iPhone, some believe the “big boys” are actually using the likes of Ridge Racer and Need for Speed as a bit of a test designed to figure out just who is playing iPhone games.

‘I don’t think there’s any specific event which has made people go ‘right, now’s the time for racing games on iPhone’,’ games industry expert Rob Fahey told us. ‘I mean, it’s reflective of an overall growing confidence in the publisher market regarding iPhone. Publishers are increasingly willing to move their big franchises to the platform and even to invest fairly significantly in doing so, but that’s a movement that’s in no way limited to racing games.’

Fahey believes the appearance of established console franchises is more a result of traditional publishers trying to get a handle on just what kinds of classic games an iPhone audience will take to.

‘Old, established, respected brands like Civilization and Space Invaders have done very well,’ Fahey said. ‘It’ll be interesting to see how newer brands like Ridge Racer and Need for Speed, which have traditionally sold themselves on graphics and spectacle, will stack up on a platform where consumers seem to value very different things.

‘I guess what it boils down to is that the iPhone is so new that we’re really not all that sure who is buying games on it. The ‘iPhone consumer’ is a really nebulous concept– it’s grown past the early adopter stage now, but app purchasers are still probably broadly tech-savvy consumers. Beyond that, we just don’t know. In truth, the arrival of stuff like Ridge Racer and Need for Speed is going to be important in establishing some idea of what brands actually mean in this market.’

So, while Gameloft’s Asphalt, an established force in the mobile market, was always likely to make its mark on iPhone, the performance of its rivals over the next few months could well determine just how much competition it has over the next couple of years. Let us know in the comments: Are you buying any or all of these racing games?