There are varying levels of gameplay depth, from the one button jump in Canabalt to the incredibly complex Yogg-Saron fight in Warcraft. A given depth of gameplay is good or bad depending on who is playing the game, how much they paid for the game and the platform the game is being played on. The PC allows for very complex/deep gameplay and I think it's obvious by now that the iPhone lends itself to 'shallow' gameplay. The iPad is somewhere in between.
It's my hope that over time we will see iPad games evolve beyond single button style gameplay. This video of multitouch gameplay in Plants vs Zombies is an indication of where games can go, it's the point where "the iPad is just a big iPod Touch" argument starts to fall apart.
Think about the size of your thumb as it compares to the iPod Touch screen. It's a huge percentage, maybe as high as 10%, but then think about the iPad. You can literally have two people using five fingers each, and still see most of the screen. Also, those 10 fingers will not max out the iPad's ability to deal with those inputs (11 seems to be the max). Those physical and technical facts make it possible to create more complex games that involve more than one person.
Now, as an aside, does "complex" = "deep"? Well, the answer is of course, "not necessarily." For me, "deep" gameplay exists when you have these three layers stacked up...
After that, anything stacked on top is flavoring and anything below is more meat. The leveling system in Call of Duty or the gear progression system in Warcraft is flavoring on top of the gameplay meat. Good design and great execution can make or break that meal of course, but (I think) you have to supply that basic framework to say the gameplay has any depth.
The iPad is uniquely positioned to allow head-to-head multiplayer on the same iPad due to its physical size and its ability to cope with a lot of incoming multitouch input. I can see an opportunity to create very social games that have much more depth than Canabalt (which is awesome, not bashing Canabalt) that you play in person. Of course, you'd have to support playing over the internet, but I think there's a great opportunity to make compelling meatspace games right now.
The theory goes like this, if you make an element of the gameplay involve other people, such as leaving a gift for someone in Farmville, then you're more likely to return and play more due to the social obligation. Another framework is layered below that, which is to have everything take a specified amount of time to complete. Farming crop X takes 2 hours and crop Y takes 4 hours. Two of ngmoco's freemium games use these dynamics, but they follow two models. As a player, one is clearly superior in my mind (We Rule), but as a business owner, I think they got it backwards.
Note: this blog entry doesn't address the use of 'for pay' instant gratification gameplay. Each game uses it in the same way and isn't the interesting story (imho).
Both games leverage a social obligation and a decay of 'stuff' in the game, to encourage you to login and do some stuff. That of course increases the amount of time you spend looking at the game which generates ad impressions. In terms of the ad supported business model, I think GodFinger should be an ad supported game, just like We Rule. Here's why...
In We Rule, I have many options for the types of crops to plant, each with its own time to maturity. Those time periods range from 5 minutes to a full day (or longer). If I know I don't want to, or can't, play for a set amount of time, I just plant a long term crop and then logoff. If someone places an order at one of my businesses, I can let it sit there for a long time before approving it. So, the bottom line is that I can control the amount of time I put into the game and how often I play it. The incentive to come back and login RIGHT NOW isn't very strong since I scheduled my crop maturity time period. Any orders placed at my business can be safely ignored since those business will generate money anyway, albeit more slowly.
GodFinger on the other hand is NOT ad supported but has a "you should come back and play right now" model that I CAN'T control. If I want to optimize my cash flow in the game, I have to log back in much more regularly to deal with things. Since, I have to log back in when the game wants me to, it would be the better game to use an ad supported model, but for some reason, it doesn't have ads and only wants me to spend money on something the game gives me anyway (slowly).
I'm writing this from an iPad, comfortably from my lap at just about the same word entry rate that I usually get on a real keyboard. I'm going to email this to my Evernote account (free) and post this tomorrow after doing some editing in TextMate (not free but is awesome). I haven't bought a single piece of software for the iPad yet and have been able to be productive. I've also had fun playing a few "freemium" games (eg, We Rule and GodFinger).
This isn't a review but here's a few things to think about...