There’s no denying that in the last few years, the market for iOS/Android games has grown massively, with games like “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” making 200M dollar profits, developers of apps like “Game of War” being able to afford to air high-budget commercials with Kate Upton during the Superbowl and games like Clash of Clans making more than a million dollars daily, It’s no surprise that big gaming companies like Capcom, Square Enix, Ubisoft, EA and even Nintendo are jumping into this market, some favoring it over the Console or PC gaming market.
Now, there’s a reason why these big companies are slowly shifting from making a new Metal Gear or Final Fantasy to making simpler games designed for Touchscreen controls. These companies are always looking for ways to make profit, and the market of mobile games is where much of that profit is. Right now Japan domestic gaming market size is at an all-time high, with a total of $9.6 Billion dollars, however, a $6.4 Billion dollar segment belongs to the mobile market, while the remaining $3.2 Billion dollar segment belongs to dedicated gaming, that is, console hardware and games. This means that 2/3rds of Japan entire gaming market is dominated by iOS and Android, and not by Nintendo and Sony, two of gaming’s biggest companies originating from Japan.
Of course, gaming companies are not going to ignore that, this is where the term “Adapt or Die” comes in, gaming companies in Japan: Nintendo, Bandai-Namco, Konami, Square-Enix and Capcom will try to cash in on that market, not only to make more money but also to survive, seeing how the market share that once was their main source of income is now second to mobile devices. Meanwhile on the rest of the world, while companies such as Ubisoft, EA, Activision or 2K are still producing console/PC games at a regular rate, they have developers or branches working on games for the Apple / Android devices.
Now, for this article I would like to focus on the problems of some companies jumping into the mobile market, especially with one I wanted to talk about for a while: Ports.
It’s becoming common for console/PC games to get released in the App Store or the Google Play store, some examples include Bioshock or Knights of the Old Republic, among others.
First of all, let me say the main issue I see, from a demographic perspective, with those kinds of games being released for iOS/Android. While mobiles games have indeed, a larger userbase than console or PC gaming, they don’t play the same games as us, they play games such as Candy Crush or Clash of Clans
Now, why are the previously mentioned mobile games successful? because unlike the console/PC games mentioned before, they cater to wider audience that isn’t necessarily core gamers, but rather people that just play a few minutes to kill some time while they wait in line for something or while they’re doing their daily commute to school or work. These games also have certain characteristics, they’re easy to play and to get into, can be played by people of all ages, and most importantly, they are either “free” or available at the low cost of $1. While most console/PC games appeal to the core audience, and ask for a certain level of skill, often are targeted at more specific age demographics and usually cost from $10 to $60.
Core games are segmented in different genres and sub-genres, but they all have one thing in common: the weren’t designed for the mobile market, the basic design for a game like Dark Souls or XCOM isn’t compatible with games like Farmville or Angry Birds. We can translate this to markets, the average mobile user simply won’t care or have the patience for this kind of games since they weren’t designed with them in mind.
Let’s look at another issue: Pricing. As we already know, the most successful mobile games tend to be either F2P or $1 (Even though many companies like Gameloft are adopting the F2P model for games that were normally paid), this being said, companies like Capcom or Square Enix are pricing their games from $10 to $16 dollars, no mobile user is going to pay that much for a single app, they will say “Oh, I can buy 10 apps with that” or “I can use that money to buy credits on my favorite F2P game”, and the Core gamer won’t pay that either because they don’t play on mobile devices.
Then we have gameplay issues, FPS is not a genre that’s friendly with mobile phones (I remember my hand hurting after playing Rainbow Six on iOS for a while), so I don’t see a game like Bioshock being comfortable on an iPad compared to a controller or a KB+M setup, don’t get me started on games like Duke Nukem or Doom which require even more precision, precision that you just won’t get from a Touchscreen.
What about plaformers like Mega Man X, Earthworm Jim or Sonic the Hedgehog, which also require a certain degree of precision? even worse, some games like Mega Man X actually implement a microtransaction system that allows you to pay money to get all the upgrades rather than using your own skill, a system that effectively rewards lazy people with big wallets. Also, the small size of the screen can prove counter-intuitive in some games.
However, I have to admit, some games do lend themselves rather well to the Touch interface, XCOM can work on an iPad due to it being a turn-based strategy game, a game like Papers Please or FTL can work on an iPad due to them having rather simple controls. Some CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate have also been released for the iPad with a new UI designed for it, but then we have the issue of whenever the mobile users will care about such games.
The racing genre also plays well when using the gyroscope, which along with nice-looking graphics could make for a nice game to play on the go.
Now, there’s the argument of some controllers like the MOGA ones, made for playing games on mobile devices, but the average mobile user will probably find them clunky and not care for them, they are however, pretty useful if you want to play with emulators (I think they take away portability though).
Now, some companies are actually using the mobile market the right way, Blizzard decided to make an iPad version of Hearthstone rather than port Diablo II or Warcraft 3, Bethesda seems to be enjoying some success with Fallout Shelter (Wheter that game will still be relevant in the long run is yet to be seen), and Square Enix is adapting some franchises to mobile in the right way. Rather than porting an existing game that wasn’t made with a Touch interface in mind, they make simple games designed for the mobile userbase like Hitman GO or Tomb Raider GO.
Rockstar seems to enjoy some good sales for their iOS ports of the GTA trilogy, but let’s take something into account, GTA is a very well-known name, It’s popular culture at this point, and it also has been the childhood of many, of course It’s going to be a hit on the App Store. The truth is that some missions on GTA 3 are harder than they really are because of the touch interface.
Also, most gaming companies will face an issue jumping into the mobile market: Many of the popular games on the App Store happen to be clones of something else. Candy Crush is actually a clone of Bejeweled, while games such as Clash of Clans or Game of War are actually copycats of Farmville, with some bad gimmick put in or a different coat of paint. If you truly want to be successful in this market, you don’t release a game like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Doom or Dark Souls, you look at what’s most popular in the market and try to copy it.
Some people think mobile gaming is the future, I disagree, while the non-gamers will certainly get entertainment from it, the money you spend on those F2P games can be used to buy better games on Steam, and the $400 that phone costs can be used to buy a dedicated device or build a good PC, hell you could buy a 3DS with the latest Pokemon and Monster Hunter and you’ll probably get more value for your money. The core gaming audience will keep dedicated gaming alive.
So yeah, mobile gaming may be big right now, but I actually imagine a future where the big companies eventually return to focus 100% on the core gaming market, where the audience for videogames is.