About a decade or so ago, mainstream analysts predicted that the mobile gaming market would boom, and even overtake the core Console/PC gaming market. While they weren’t exactly wrong, mobile gaming remains to be a purely casual experience. Meanwhile, console and PC developers and manufacturers continue to provide epic gaming experiences.
The Problems of Mobile Gaming
The problem, it seems, is that mobile gaming simply cannot produce an experience on par with console or PC. The differences in development are so glaring, it can’t even match handheld console games. For example, compare Pokemon Sun on the 3DS with say, Pokemon Go on mobile. Of course, I’m not saying Go isn’t a good game, in fact, it’s fun. But the thing with Pokemon Go, is that you can essentially boil it down to a few key mechanics. Actually, you can even find some of its mechanics in most free-to-play games. Meanwhile, Pokemon Sun delivers a solid story, a game that spans an entire fictional chain of islands, hundreds upon hundreds of Pokemon to catch, and epic cutscenes even with limited hardware power. Compare Injustice on Android/iOs with console Injustice. Do a comparison with a Kemco smartphone RPG and Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XV. The differences are just glaring.
Now, there are a host of reasons why mobile just can’t catch up to console. Some will point to the lack of top-tier AAA-level game developers for smartphone. Additionally, you can go even a bit further by noting that on mobile, only casual, easy games get money, while major undertakings barely make a profit. Just notice which games are synonymous with mobile gaming: Angry Birds, Temple Run, Flappy Bird, Pokemon Go. These games are all free, with little story and relatively smaller production costs. In fact, Flappy Bird was made by one guy.
HOWEVER, Chaos Rings would prove these claims wrong. A mobile game originally created in 2010 by Square-Enix, Chaos Rings just screams high production values. The graphics look great, the feel is absolutely epic, and it follows a linear, solid story not unlike its Final Fantasy siblings. Now on its third iteration (Chaos Rings 3), this particular series proves that AAA developers can deliver similar epic games on the smartphone.
Others, on the other hand, might note the lack of controllers or buttons on a mobile device. Indeed, tactile sensation-heavy butttons and D-Pads certainly feel more accurate and satisfying. I’d even argue that touchscreen tech just doesn’t cut it yet.
HOWEVER, this is countered by games like Angry Birds and Shadowrun, which utilize the touch controls quite well. And of course, every year, this kind of technology only improves. In fact, most smartphones have pretty accurate touch detection on their phones.
The Actual Reason – Freemium
So, if it’s not either of the earlier two, then what is it? Personally, I think I know the current problem of the mobile gaming market. Essentially, it’s two-pronged: hardware fluidity and freemium pricing.
Let’s look at the latter, first. What I mean by this is that the modern mobile gaming market is too stubborn to actually pay for games up front. Instead, the market prefers convenience and instant access–we get the game immediately, for ‘free’, but soon enough we’re coughing up money to get the full experience. We already see this blatantly in the gashapon system and the in-app purchase (IAP) system. Not only does such a system deprive devs of creative freedom as they need to bend to a specific payment scheme in order to turn a profit, it also keeps games ‘incomplete’. By ‘incomplete’, I mean that almost every piece of in-depth content in a game is gated behind a price tag. This is way different from the traditional method, where we theoretically get a full experience, and we only pay once.
The Actual Reason – Turnover Rate
With the former, it’s a little harder to explain. You know the stereotype where Apple makes a new iPhone on the very moment you get the latest one? It has a lot to do with that. Basically, phones upgrade way too often for developers to have a clear idea of what their future releases are going to look like.
Consider PC setups. On average, a top-end PC should last someone for around five years or so before they need to upgrade. This doesn’t necessarily exist with the smartphone industry. Think of how many iterations of the Galaxy S or the iPhone we’ve had, with constant upgrades to the specs. Think of how many Flare variations exist. Simply put, developers can’t make a game that will be compatible with everyone’s smartphone because it changes so constantly. Not only that, but they cannot make a long term plan like console devs or PC devs do because they probably won’t know what the smartphones of the future will look like.
Thus, they would only be able to stick to the formula that’s proven to produce money. Again, it limits creative freedom because developers simply cannot take risks in the market.
Thinking of Solutions
On the matter of constant device upgrades, we really can’t do much to stop this habit. The most progress we might be able to achieve here is expressing our displeasure by not always buying the new phone iterations. Honestly, I think our best bet is to purchase more games that offer a price tag at the very start, instead of games with IAP.
We might need to drop the mentality of playing convenient yet content-bankrupt free-to-play games. When developers realize we want fuller, more complete experiences, things should begin to change. But this is definitely a giant obstacle that definitely isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future.