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Thursday, January 29, 2009, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Rumor: Apple planning premium game section of App Store

Apple may be planning to introduce a new section of the App Store dedicated to top-notch gaming titles in an effort to further solidify its multi-touch devices as the next big thing in handheld gaming.

Citing unidentified sources, PocketGamer.biz says the new listing will cater to titles in the $20 range that meet a new set of stringent requirements for quality and value set forth by the iPhone maker.

Oddly, however, the report claims that the initiative will be open only to a restricted number of commercial game publishers, shutting out the thousands of smaller developers responsible for helping the App Store thrive from the onset.

Much of the App Store's success has been attributed not only to the advanced tools that simplify application development but also its open marketplace, which levels the playing field between the established publishers and upstarts.

In an interview published this week, Apple vice president of iPhone and iPod product marketing Greg Joswiak spoke directly to this end, noting that the one of the benefits of the App Store is the low overheard required to become an influential player in the market.

App developers don't need a publisher, he said, "It's not somewhere you have to be represented by somebody; you have to be in the development programme, which is very inexpensive."

Similar comments from the Apple executive also challenge the notion that premium pricing and a focus on incumbent game publishers would serve as a beneficial shift in strategy.

Asked if smaller developers are really competing with the established players, Joswiak said: "What we'd like to do is show off the games - the 3D and the casual ones. Everyone from the big developers is excited — the EAs, the Gamelofts, Hudsons and Segas — but what's also cool is the small guys.

"You get the one or two-developer shops like the Pangeas, who are doing a great business, with anecdotal stories like paying off their home mortgages after a month or two of being in the store," he said.

In terms of pricing, Joswiak believes the "sweet spot" for gaming titles falls in the $7 to $14 dollar range, rather than those that would fetch upwards of $20. "What we typically see is people buying more titles, because it's a lot easier — it's a much smaller investment, and it's a much smaller decision to try a new title that only costs you 5 pounds," he said.

Joswiak also defended the existing but somewhat controversial methods by which games and applications rise to prime placement on the App Store, pointing specifically to the shop's reviews component "because if a small guy makes a title that gets good ratings, it tends to bubble up: the cream does rise."

That said, the Apple VP noted that the App Store already offers more than 1,500 games, which is more than all the company's handheld gaming rivals combined, namely the PSP and Nintendo DS. As such, a specific section of the shop dedicated to premium titles could be in order for the sake of visibility and boosting the platform to the next level.

However, the notion that smaller developers would be locked out of such an initiative would appear to clash with the ideals by which the store has operated to date.