There is no doubt that mobile gaming has grown immensely over the years. It is possibly the platform with the most people gaming on it. Just think about it, there are people playing Clash of Clans causally while waiting for the bus, the old grandma is playing Candy Crush during family reunions while waiting for the next dish to arrive, I’m playing Granblue to try and get the next waifu; you get the idea.
Why is it then, while mobile gaming has captured a huge chunk of the gaming market share, that it still fails to deliver the next Mario, Final Fantasy or Monster Hunter? Could these be the problems?
Budget shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to developing a top quality mobile game that can be compared with other triple A titles, as it has been proven that mobile gaming can be highly profitable. Supercell, the creator of Clash of Clans, for example, earned billions in revenue in 2016 alone. That should be very enticing to investors to invest heavily into the mobile gaming market. Then why is it, that is seems like we will never be getting a triple A gaming experience on our smart phone?
The hardware of recent mobile phones shouldn’t be a problem either. After all, Nintendo Switch is essentially a Tablet with a fancy docking station and controller. You could also dock a tablet and display it on your TV, and there are many bluetooth controllers available for smartphones if clunky touchscreen controls is a concern for you. (I absolutely hate playing any games that has a “virtual analog stick” on the phone.)
Functionality of Mobile Phone?
While the Mobile Phone may not be designed for gaming, it can certainly be made to do so. Just last year, Razer even released their own smartphone with crazy specs that is just overkill for a device that is traditionally used only to make calls.
If you need more proof that phones can be designed to game, just look at PCs these days. They have become the powerhouse of gaming when they were traditionally designed to do accounting, type articles and just about anything but play games. PC has even become the preferred platform to game for many instead of playing on gaming consoles like the PS4 or XBOX ONE. It has reached the point where laptops are being made to cater to the needs of these gamers and allow them to play their favourite game just about anywhere in the world as long as they have an electric source.
No, these are the true problems.
Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store is just too treacherous and risky to develop for, mainly because there are thousands and thousands of developers trying to one up you. This is unlike developing for consoles like the PS4 where the competition isn’t as crazy. Just imagine if a game like Life is Strange is released on the Play Store, it’ll be lost in the sea of other “choose your own adventure type games” that Life is Strange is reminiscent of.
In fact, it is precisely due to this crazy competition in the Mobile Gaming space that we get all these free-to-play, but pay-to-win type games in mobile gaming. The reason is to nullify the barrier of entry, and try to hook you in. Imagine if a full 60 dollar Street Fighter game is released on Android to compete against the free similar fighting game Contest of Champions. Chances are, you’ll try out the free game, and probably forget about Street Fighter even if the free game is bad.
You won’t run into such problems in console gaming when your options are usually guided by the quality rather than the price, since all games are similarly priced at launch. Even indie games seem to follow this rule, especially for console games.
#2: Variation in Hardware
There are tons and tons of smartphones out there. That means there are a huge variations in terms of hardware performance between those phones. Developers are incentivised to try and design a game that caters to a majority of users in order to get more profit. This means that quality and the performance of the game is sacrificed in order to cater for the older phone users.
PC gaming had a similar problem in the past, where it is risky to try and develop a game that can only be played by people with the latest tech, which is why most, if not all PC games allow users to change the quality of the game to be displayed in order to cater to more ranges of devices. Mobile games rarely allow that kind of tweaking, and even when it does, it is usually very minimal and does very little to allow the game to perform better on your phone.
#3: The micro-transaction
Since most mobile games are forced to be free or set at a very low price to even stand a fighting chance against all the other titles in the market, developers can’t create a game with deep narrative, or engaging gameplay. Developers are forced to create a shallow gameplay that is approachable by everyone and a storyline that can be infinitely expanded to allow content to be added just so they can keep creating new content for people to buy ala loot box style, or as most of the mobile gaming community calls it “gacha game” to be their primary source of profit. To my dismay, this technique is working superbly well, and there is no sign of stopping.
So what is the conclusion?
Mobile gaming definitely has the potential to be the next big triple A gaming platform rivaling gaming platforms like the Nintendo Switch or PS4, but it will have to go through some changes. There will have to be a more stringent control on the app store to curb all the unnecessary clutter to allow the good games to shine.
However, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, and that’s okay. Mobile gaming has seen a few exceptional successes such as Hearthstone, which is an overall great game and Mystic Messenger which is a really creative game, (some may say it’s gimicky, but it’s still creative nevertheless.) I do hope that we will see more amazing game on our phones sooner than later. Pesronally, I dream of a future where I can play awesome games like Monster Hunter on my phone, but sadly that may be a dream for many years to come.
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