The Palm Pre: Mobile Gaming’s Underdog Contender

I imagine the people who happened to buy a Palm Pre when it was first made available last year sometimes feel a bit like those of us who owned Sega’s Dreamcast system. They know the technology they bought is fantastic; they know the company that made their device is capable of making some wonderfully innovative software; and they know their device is actually ahead of most of its peers in a lot of ways. But for some reason everyone else in the world doesn’t seem to take much notice.

The Palm Pre was released last summer to generally positive reviews, and the hype before its release saw the device called everything from an iPhone killer, to Sprint’s savior, and Palm’s redemption.  We know now that it obviously hasn’t lived up to all of those titles, and the way that Palm’s stock has dipped dangerously low in the last few weeks is perhaps even more evidence that the Pre has had too much pressure on its shoulders from the start.

But don’t let any of this scare you away just yet. There is still plenty of good news for those people out there that have decided not to jump on the more popular iPhone or Android bandwagons – especially those that are looking for their phone to be a portable gaming device, too. The Palm Pre may not be the most famous phone on the market right now, but it looks as though it’s about to become one of the most versatile mobile gaming platforms one could ever hope for.

Gaming on the Palm Pre, like almost everything else with the device, started off slow. When the Pre was initially released it’s app catalog was still in beta; there were no paid apps, which meant developers weren’t really interested in designing for it yet; and the total number of apps you could play with was less than 20. Of those few initial apps the only games available were variations of chess, card games and sudoko.

One of the best ways to get games on the Pre in the first months it was available was to avoid the official app catalog altogether and choose the back-door method of putting Preware on the phone instead. Preware is a user-supported catalog of Homebrew applications which are all free for download. And, unlike jail breaking an iPhone, downloading these unofficial apps does not get the ban-hammer smacked upon you by the phone’s carrier.

The games available from Preware are all user-created as well, but because of that they are often not as shiny and professional looking as games you’ll find in other phones app catalogs. However, Homebrew games remain popular, even today, and have some very addicting titles available for anyone that cares to install it on their device.

(Note: The method of getting Preware on your phone starts off by putting the phone into developer mode, which is done by entering the text “upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart” from the homepage of the phone. A nice little nod to old-school gamers)

On January 7th of this year, though, there was a great announcement that had Pre-owning game lovers very excited. After more than a few months of waiting for professionally made games to debut on the Pre’s WebOS, Palm announced at its CES 2010 presentation that a select group of companies (EA and Gameloft to name a couple) had been allowed advanced access to its Plug-in Development Kit (PDK) – a tool that would allow developers a way to design games which could take advantage of the meaty hardware available on the Pre.

This announcement wasn’t just words and promises, though. Pre users following the conference were pleasantly surprised to find out that just a few hours after the presentation the Palm app catalog was filled with new, beautifully rendered 3D games. And even though the games themselves had already been available for sometime on other devices like the iPhone, it didn’t stop Pre users from downloading them all as quickly as possible.

Most recently, Palm made an announcement on Tuesday at this week’s Game Developers Conference confirming the release of the public beta for its PDK. The PDK will allow not only the development of new games by independent designers and professionals alike, but it will also allow for applications and games to be brought to the WebOS platform from other devices (like the 3Gs). John Paczkowski, of the website “All Things Digital,” reports:

“Perhaps more importantly, the PDK will allow devs to rewrite mobile apps that they’ve built for other platforms to run on webOS with minimal modifications. iPhone apps can be ported over in a matter of days, sources close to the company tell me, and they don’t really suffer any degradation in performance.”


Having potential access to the tens of thousands of iPhone apps will not only mean even greater choices for game lovers, but it will also give developers significantly increased exposure for their titles. The rumored ease of use for the PDK adds to the sweetness even more for non-professional and independent developers looking to create some fun games.

So, with PDK developed applications, as well as Homebrew designed games available to Pre owners now, what more could a gamer ask for? Well, the WebOS 1.4 patch for the Pre, which was released on February 27th, made several speed and battery life performance upgrades, as well as adding video capture and editing to the mix. Gamers love fast response times as well as the ability to play games longer and more often, and thanks to the PDK, video recording can now be integrated into future apps and games as well.

But, perhaps the biggest thing that WebOS 1.4 brought with it to the growing Pre gaming community is the ability to use Adobe’s Flash 10.1 software, via a yet-to-be-released downloadable application. With literally thousands of Flash-based games out on the Internet right now there are going to be games available that will be appealing to all types of Pre users – casual and hard core gamers included.

All Pre users will have to do to access these games is go to any number of Flash-based websites, double tap on the Pre’s multi-touch screen to bring the game or application to full screen mode, and then play or watch Flash video just like they would on a home PC or netbook. And again, since this is the multi-tasking Pre we’re talking about, users will be able to do things like start a Flash video of a upcoming movie trailer in one browser application and then switch back to a paused Flash-based game they have open on another page. This is something that even Apple’s iPhone cannot compete with.

The Palm Pre isn’t going to wake up one day soon as the king of the mobile phones; but with the options it currently has for gaming, and especially with the options it will have available soon, it’s my opinion that it will become a device gamers can feel not just comfortable owning, but damn happy with, too.

It’s mainly my hope that Palm will not allow the Pre to be its Dreamcast system – fading off into history as a valiant, but failed attempt at a comeback. The Pre just does so many things right, and if you’ve never seen a 3D game running on it (even with other applications open at the same time) it really is an impressive little phone. One that deserves more attention than it’s currently getting in the media.

Sure it isn’t the best selling phone on the market, and sure other phones are coming out every day that are making its features look somewhat average, but it does what it set out to do and it looks good doing it. And as a gamer, I find it exceeds all my previous expectations for what a mobile device was capable of doing. That’s really the best thing you could hope for as a company, in my opinion.

I hope Palm feels the same way.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • nima

    Well I don’t think the pr will take off(as much as I like mine), but I’m fairly sure web-os will. New hardware could address most of its issues, from a small screene, or a bad keyboard, to speed, a battery life. Hope palm releases some outstanding hardware.

  • platformcheck

    The Palm Pre already appears to be taking off. I just found out that the Administrative Secretary for our Executive Management recently bought a Palm Pre. Concidentally, I’ve had a Palm Pre since it’s first release. Not only am I happy to learn that more people are buying Palm Pre’s but they’re happy they’ll be getting FREE apps from the several collections I’ve already created and released.

    With huge Palm Pre ads dominating the majority of billboards across the city and better TV commercials demonstrating what they can do, more and more consumers will continue to buy the Palm Pre. Strong marketing and consumer marketing by word of mouth is spreading Palm Pre awareness like wild fire!

  • Pingback: Finally, a positive article about the pre (gaming on the pre) - PreCentral Forums()

  • Jonathan Weeston

    @Nima: Yeah, the first few Pre adds I saw featured this creepy girl who looked like a female version of Macaulay Culkin. I just remember her face looking into the camera and my face turning to an expression of horror.

    @Platformcheck: I’m glad the Pre is doing well in certain markets. Where I live it seems that everything is dominated by Apple. Even Android-based phones seem to be rare here. I hope it catches like wild fire.

    I’m anxious to see if Palm can get another phone made before/if it gets acquired by another company. I’d also like to see Palm allow other phone manufactures put WebOS on their models as well, but I’m not sure how much of their profits are dependent on them making their own devices.

    Thanks for your input, guys!

  • dave d

    Really nice article, thank you for the giving the pre some love. I got the pre plus on verizon and it is one of the most enjoyable phones I ever owned. I was thinking of getting the eris but after going side to side comparison with my buddy I am happy with my decision.

  • PreMaster

    Hands down the pre OS is the best OS around. Nothing can touch its smoothness and how everything just feels like nothing else. the Droid is a remake of the samsung instinct pretty much. The iphone is a 10-key kids toy that can do nothing but run apps. It makes me sick watching the new iphone commercials where they appear to be fake multi tasking. If palm would just release a videe of me playing doom, quake, and need for speed at the same time i think people would realize what it can do.

  • Jdub

    Too little, too late…..Palm is dead

  • amuthan shan

    comprehensive, lucid, well researched article written with passion. You should do this for a living your readers would want that