The industry underestimates mobile gaming – and it‘s costing us

12 mins read

One of the most prevalent phenomenons of discussion among many gaming communities online, is the prospects for mobile gaming. This is a debate that‘s been bounced back and forth quite a number of times – and with some very divided points of view involved.

It‘s an argument that could and should be looked deeper into, in my opinion, seeing its perceived relevance in this modern day and era. It could just be out of interest in the extremely vast industry that we as gamers, i.e. consumers, are a big influential part of, or it definitely also could be the indismissable fact that the possibilities of change for today‘s forefront of gaming in the coming years is a potential matter to be speculated on, what with everything going on in gaming and tech news right now.

The truth? Multi-purpose devices that are smartphones and tablets are seeing mass acclaim as a permanent part of our daily living nowadays, and in many functions. In fact, I‘m using one to type this article right now. They‘re at our disposal to accomplish our ever-growing day-to-day tasks and needs and as the use of these devices continues to grow among their broad base of consumers, so do the functions, and more importantly, capabilities of these widely-used devices. Smartphones & tablets such as the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and hugely varied Android devices are establishing an extremely large consumer base and as that continues to grow, new capabilities and features are introduced and popular existing platforms on these such devices see themselves drastically expand to cater better to existing users as well as to woo potential new ones too.

Sturdier and more attractive hardware, faster and more powerful processors and more encompassing and useful services and applications; these are what we see with every new model of smartphones/tablets improved over their predecessors and, unlike gaming handhelds with average product life cycles of four to six years, these lines are often improved and re-iterated with viable successors year after year to the point that recent devices surpass both of the current-gen handhelds in the market performance-wise; mirroring what PCs have done alongside consoles, only they have gotten their acclaim realised in gaming and efficiently taken advantage of. Smartphones and tablets are no longer just tools used for calling and messaging; they are now fully-fledged portable communication and entertainment/multimedia devices. Conveniently enough,the probable most significant part of smartphones/tablets that sees itself grow along with all these improvements is entertainment – in our specific case, gaming.

Now, I may not be a huge fan of mobile gaming right now personally, but I‘m going to be obscenely blunt here; the potential of tablets and smartphones as “freelance“ gaming devices is sorely underestimated, and the current state of the iOS and Android platforms currently do nothing to hinder these widespread misconceptions, even as a digital competitor. Poor quality control, barely any ease of navigation and an overwhelming variety of shallow games are the results of an abused platform that is essentially free for all, and serve as a major hindrance to better prospective devs roaming the scene. Even acclaimed “blockbuster“ iOS/Android games with millions of downloads such as Angry Birds and Bejeweled do not fully realise the utility of these devices – their only natural appeal lies in their addictive challenge that merely lasts an average of minutes. When it all comes down to it, it is not the lack of “adequate gaming controls“ that serve as a weakness to smartphones and tablets getting more in-depth game experiences and becoming universally-accepted secondary gaming devices, as is a popular belief (though it partly prompted the somewhat strange concept of Ouya) – it‘s the lack of quality on the platform.

Combined touchscreen and motion controls present their own prospects and individuality within these devices that developers still haven‘t been able to fully tap into yet, and that is something that continually frustrates me – rather, many devs are too busy mimicking standard game experiences instead of pushing for total original innovation on this front, especially with big-budget titles from the likes of Gameloft, EA and such. I‘ve seen quite a few multiplatform titles on the iPad that did hit consoles as well, such as World of Goo, Bastion, and BIT.TRIP BEAT, and I tell you, the tablet experience is amazing – more so than the control strategies consoles are able to provide for those same titles.

The use of the touchscreen and motion controls in these games were flawless, intuitive, and an all-round refreshing experience; to replicate this success is what more mobile developers, indie and bigger third-parties alike, should be pushing for as they establish more (preferably unique) IPs on mobile platforms – games competent enough with digital services on handhelds and in some instances handheld retail-quality games, yet with their own individuality in gameplay. It should be common knowledge that recent smartphones and tablets have the extensive capacity to provide superb experiences power- and graphics-wise, which is something devs should be more than willing to capitalise on – yet it is something that is majorly lacking in abundance on iOS and Android platforms. And naturally, it upsets many other insightful gamers, among myself.

Here‘s something else I‘d like to present on this matter: insanely powerful 7-inch tablets. Yes. These are the latest deviations entering the market, and have the potential to revamp the familiar inconvenience of mobile gaming devices entirely as well as having the necessary output to create fantastic, engaging games on mobile platforms. Take the Android-powered Google Nexus 7, for instance; priced starting at £159/$199, running the latest Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS while boasting a quad-core Tegra 3 processor with a 12-core GPU, 1GB of RAM and a 1280×800 full HD screen – all within a neat 7-inch tablet weighing only 340g, equipping a convenient eight hours worth of battery life with active use. It‘s a super-fast, mighty powerful, cost-efficient and conveniently-sized device that is neither as awkwardly big as a regular tablet, nor as crampingly small as a smartphone. It‘s perfect, and with similar entries on the way like the Kindle HD and highly-anticipated iPad Mini, there has never been a more perfect time where mobile gaming can fully realise its ingenuity on tablets; we just need experienced, serious and willing developers ready to meet us halfway with befitting creations.

Imagine having more games among the likes of Infinity Blade, Real Racing, Broken Sword, Riptide GP, God of Blades, The Last Express, Indestructible, Sonic CD, Rayman Jungle Run and The Room to state a few, at the entire frontface of mobile gaming. Let‘s not forget stellar multi-platform titles like World of Goo, BIT.TRIP BEAT, Toki Tori, Bastion, Plants vs. Zombies, NyxQuest, Motoheroz and LostWinds, among a growing mix of ace retail ports and classics such as The World Ends With You, Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy Dimensions, Streets of Rage, FIFA 13 etc. All of this combined on yet another unique, portable device with its own offers. Mobile gaming could easily see itself advance further into this industry with its own exclusive experiences, and in addition start catering to the in-depth consumer base it‘s currently not fully captivating; us.

Smartphones and tablets don‘t necessarily need to unseat handhelds as many proclaimed industry analysts seem to think – that‘s still currently beyond their league. But right now, they darn well are able to see themselves a prominent place in the video-game industry, and even expand it – if mobile platforms start stepping up to the plate less in quantity and more in quality. Having an easily accessible platform that‘s easy to develop for encased in capably advanced hardware, with a diversely established install base of millions is every developer‘s fantastical daydream – yet it‘s right in front of them, and next to nobody is seeing its potential and actively building upon it to enhance its structure and give it its own serious path to gaming.

So, people say smartphones and tablets aren‘t primarily games devices – that‘s an irrelevant argument. Smartphones are now classified as multi-purpose communication and entertainment devices, and gaming is definitely both a purpose and entertainment; just because a device is multi-purpose does not mean the quality and competitiveness of each of its purposes in comparison to dedicated platforms must be compromised for the sake of it being “multi-purpose“.

PCs aren‘t primarily built for gaming either, yet those are currently dominating games consoles performance-wise, as are smartphones/tablets to handhelds nowadays, and deliver outstandingly fitting experiences for gaming according to many varied gamers – but that doesn‘t mean PCs and consoles don‘t co-exist in this era. Based on all this, when it comes to gaming, you could argue that being dedicated is a limitation, not a virtue – nor does it come bearing a significant advantage or disadvantage on consumers on either end of the spectrum. The same could and would apply to both smartphones/tablets and handhelds in their respectively shared market – if only this industry would give mobile gaming the attention it deserves.

– Farida Y

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

  • I think there's a couple of publishers that take the mobile games industry very seriously now. Square Enix and EA have both acquired major mobile developers/ publishers and have created mobile-exclusive content that's of high quality.

    I'm especially enjoying Square Enix's output at the moment.

  • I was going to say, EA especially acquired Playfish and PopCap for sore sums. EA had originally sought PopCap at 25% of its own corporate worth but the price was negotiated down. I do agree with you though — but there is reason to doubt if you can believe it. Games like Angry Birds sell millions of copies, while Chair/Epic have the fastest selling mobile title of all time. The publishers are there, but I think it's the journalism side that has ignored mobile gaming for the longest time. It was only when Angry Birds first went to prominence and you'd see an average article or review covering mobile games on IGN.

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