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When it comes to innovation and accessibility, the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch are collectively the most exciting gaming platform since the early 90s. Who would have thought a cell phone would become the most diverse and innovative video game console?

For this, credit can only partially be given to Apple. Though Apple created the platform, the initiative and passion of thousands of individual game developers (and relatively small development studios) have made iPhone gaming what it is. Those developers resemble the community from the earlier PC gaming era, when only a few small studios were working amidst an army of enthusiasts working from their suburban garages.

While the iPhone OS isn’t the best place for gamers who enjoy complex and competitive hardcore games like Gears of War or Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, it’s the most exciting platform for folks who just want to have a bit of fun and experience something new. Don’t believe me? Here are four reasons why you should.

1. Low Development Costs Mean Designers Can Experiment

In the early days of PC gaming, today’s popular genres like “first person shooter” and “real-time strategy” weren’t yet defined, but they were born then. Hobbyists and vanguard professionals created the gameplay elements that people enjoy today.

Now the mainstream games for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (the Wii is slightly less restricted) fit snugly into just a handful of formulas. If you don’t like any of those formulas, you’re sore out of luck. If you do like them, you’ll get tired of them quickly because innovation moves at a snail’s pace. One game will add a slight variation, the next will take it a little further. After three years, you start to see some real changes — within the clearly defined borders of the formula.

That’s not the case with the iPhone platform. Sure, there are a few very common genres — tower defense, for example — but you have more options on your iPhone than you do on any other gaming machine. New genres will develop here just as they did on the PC in its early days, or on the Nintendo or Super Nintendo consoles.

2. iPhone Games Are a Bargain

Granted, the iPhone itself can be considered expensive, especially when you factor in the additional cost that’s siphoned off into the carrier’s two-year contract. But the games themselves are very cheap; they’re almost never more than $9.99, and most of the time they’re between $0.99 and $4.99.

Compare this to new games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which typically debut at $59.99. Those HD graphics come at a premium, but most folks will agree that game play is what matters. Unless you’re only interested in hardcore, competitive game play, there’s no platform that offers better deals.

3. A Control Scheme Anyone Can Understand

Respected game developer Peter Molyneux has said it many times before: The biggest barrier to participation in the gaming hobby for people who didn’t grow up on games is the controller. Complicated control schemes take hours, days, weeks or even years to master. If you grew up with them, you don’t notice a barrier. If you didn’t, it’s almost impassable.

While the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS beat Apple to the punch with their innovation control schemes, Apple has done arguably as good a job or better at solving that problem. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 still use traditional controllers for now.

The iPhone has a multi-touch screen and an accelerometer — a tilt-sensor, essentially. These two components feel more natural and easy to understand to people who’ve never used them before than other gaming control methods.

That’s a plus because it draws more people into the hobby, and also because new players are more receptive to new ideas and genres.

4. Apple’s Game Center Will Provide Fresh Opportunities for Social Play

When iPhone OS 4.0 is released this summer, gamers will be able to track each other’s achievements and set up competitive or cooperative play sessions using the new Game Center application.

This at first looks like something you already get when you play a game on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, but it’s advantageous when combined with the other points on this list. Most other accessible gaming platforms like the Nintendo Wii or DS don’t have these social gaming features, or at least they don’t have a unified system for all games. That means that the iPhone is the only platform where casual gamers (not hardcore enthusiasts) can enjoy advanced matchmaking, achievements and other social experiences.

The Game Center will likely be used in ways that Xbox Live’s features have never been used since the iPhone is a hotbed for innovation. We described the opportunities that stem from the Game Center in much greater detail when we wrote our initial reactions after the feature was first announced.

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Tags: apple, apple app store, Apple iPad, apps, ipad, iphone, iPod Touch, online games, pc gaming, social games, video games