In late 2018, Konami, one of the gaming industry’s largest developers, announced that its shifting its focus and will now be producing mobile-only games. A large, collective gasp was heard around the world, mostly from diehard console fans, followed by a torrent of angry comments directed at the studio.
While definitely shocking, is it really all that surprising though? With smartphone games dominating gaming revenues over the past couple of years, it only makes sense that game developers would soon start producing games for a growing market.
A Change in Gamer Demographics
In the early days of development, videogames were considered by many to be the hobby of socially awkward teens and sad adults. Harsh and mostly untrue, but it was a stereotype that persisted up to recently. However, given the ubiquity of eSports in the digital landscape and the fact that many first-gen gamers are now parents, the demographics of video games have changed.
More and more people, particularly families, are getting into video games, with mom and dad teaching a new generation of gamers about the joys of their favorite gaming titles, although no word on whether this generation remembers the Konami Code (hint: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start).
In a recent study by Nickelodeon, 34% of children under the age of 11 in the country own some form of smart device, either a phone or a tablet, where they play some form of mobile game. Before you cry out that mobile devices are turning children into zombies, note that most of the games they play are educational, and have actually been beneficial to the mental development of children (although, of course, moderating the amount of time they use a device is still important).
With the prevalence of smart devices and faster internet, the need for mobility is on the rise. More and more kids prefer playing mobile games, largely because it gives them the opportunity to play wherever and whenever they want (much to the dismay of school officials and teachers). Because of this, many game developers are focusing on developing apps for kids. But despite the shift in demographic, many adults are also enjoying the same game their children play: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Candy Crush. It’s like, who would have thought repetitive, colorful, loud, and flashy games would be addictive?
Smarter Phones, Smarter Games
Of course, mobile games and console games are still vastly different creatures, although they do overlap from time to time. Their fans are different too; dedicated, hardcore console/PC gamers will always scoff at smartphones, citing the device’s lack of console technologies like motion sensing or gesture detection. Casual gamers, on the other hand, will forever tout gyroscope-aided, location-based and/or AR (augmented-reality) games as one of the main appeals of staying in the mobile realm.
The fact of the matter is, in terms of hardware capabilities, smart phones are catching up to consoles. No longer is raw processing power, extremely detailed graphics, astronomical image resolutions, and bigger display sizes confined to consoles; the new generation of smart phones now have processors and graphics cards that are just as powerful and just as fast as any traditional console. To prove this point, ROG, a tech company dedicated to creating hardware for gamers, released a gaming smartphone in collaboration with Asus. Their ROG Phone boasts specs not unseen in top gaming PC’s, all inside a typical smart phone case. Coupled with cloud storage, the option to use VR glasses, and other gaming augments, mobile games aren’t just catching up to consoles; it’s starting to beat it.
One of the biggest incentives for mobile gaming is also one of its most heavily criticized: free-to-play models. Critics of free-to-play argue that games running this model are of inferior quality and offer poor playability. However, supporters of this financing model argue that free-to-play games enjoy more downloads and a larger community of players. Because of this, more and more game developers are creating free-to-play games that can match priced games in terms of quality and playability. The fact of the matter is: people would rather download a game with ads and in-app purchases rather than pay for a game made by a profit-centric game studio.
Developers credit this to the shifting attitudes people in general have of the digital world: if you can get it for free, why shouldn’t you? As time goes on, even established game studios like aforementioned Konami, Blizzard, and even Square Enix are all considering the switch to mobile, if they haven’t already. While those studios can still enjoy profit from putting a premium on beloved franchises like Metal Gear, Warcraft, and Final Fantasy, some studios like EA and Ubisoft are accused of developing premium games that are marketed as complete, only for players to find out after purchase that a majority of the games advertised features are only available as further DLC purchases. While the latter examples are a bit harsh, it does play into the pro-f2p camp’s arguments.
More and more gamers are starting to despise these “freemium” games; games that require further purchases for the full experience. Indeed, game developers can see more profit from making f2p games with in-app purchases that either slightly enhance gameplay or are purely cosmetic than creating premium games with purchasable content.
The Future of Gaming?
The more ingrained smart phones and tablets become in our daily lives, the more mobile gaming gains ground. Already there are mobile-versions of PC apps that are rivaling console games in terms of both popularity and playability, with the former being available to be downloaded with all features intact.
The sheer popularity of mobile games is not only manifesting itself in increased profit for game developers, but also in the entertainment sector: The Angry Birds Movie, a 2016 movie based on the wildly-popular mobile game of the same name, raked in over $350 million at the box office and critical acclaim. An impressive feat, considering that video game movies have historically received critical panning and box office failure.
While it may never replace consoles, mobile games are definitely challenging the throne, and with more technological advancements in the smart phone industry, it only makes more sense to start appreciating mobile games.