Let’s play a quick game here. What do all of these items have in common: Angry Birds, Temple Run, Candy Crush, and Cut The Rope? You guessed it; all of these games are made for smartphones. Of course, people like me can dump a few solid hours into each game before moving onto the next, and many are quite addictive. Even though these games can consume much of our playing time, are they overtaking the mobile industry? Analysts tend to think so; they’re often talking about how new phones are moving closer and closer to the point where dedicated handheld gaming systems will become obsolete.
I, on the other hand, am going against the grain; I don’t think that mobile gaming devices will be going anywhere within the near future (I mean within at least five years conservatively, and ten years radically, or possibly even longer). There are lots of reasons for this, and unless some completely unforeseen innovation comes forth, I will stand by this claim, and here is why:
Reason #1: Gameplay and Story
For me, gaming is story driven. I will most likely play a game because I’ve heard it has a good, solid, believable storyline. What do all the mobile games listed above have in common as well? None have legitimate storylines other than “pigs stole eggs, so kill them,” or “you stole an artifact, now run from the mutant gorilla monkey.” Now, let’s take a look at some popular DS, 3DS and Vita games. Pokemon Black had a surprisingly good storyline, I felt, especially for a Pokemon title. The characters were more fleshed out and easy to relate to. Fire Emblem: Awakening has a quite lengthy script complete with cutscenes and some voice acting. I’ve read that Uncharted: Golden Abyss had a decent story and good voice acting as well. These are experiences that you just don’t get on phones, and there are a few reasons why.
First of all, there is the data issue. iPhones don’t have SD card slots, so developers don’t want to make lengthy games (which many story driven games are due to large amounts of text, animation, cutscenes, voice acting, etc.) that people will not end up buying due to the low storage space on their phone. Androids usually have a micro SD card slot, but with so many devices to optimize the experience for, it’s much less cost effective than only optimizing your game for one or two dedicated gaming devices. As for Windows Phones… we won’t even go there (aside from the Windows Halo).
Secondarily, with a game large enough to hold a decent story, you’ll spend far too long on your phone, which will kill the battery rather quickly, as games tend to draw serious power from a device. This is why mobile phone games are fast paced and bite sized; that’s about all a phone can handle. As I touched on in a previous article, the only way to get around this is to make a larger battery, and end up with a phone nearly as thick as a Vita or 3DS, which is exactly the opposite of the “big screen, thin phone” mindset of many smartphone companies.
Lastly, the smartphone games are made for a different purpose than dedicated handheld titles. For example, the other day I had a dentist appointment, and my mom (yes, she still drives me places) was driving. Since I had a sizable amount of time at my disposal, I played my 3DS during the ride. Then, in the evening I had an evening class at the local community college (I do that part time alongside my high school work). The class was three hours long, so we had a couple ten minute breaks. During that time, I whipped out my phone and played some Bike Race; a simple game with no storyline. As you can see, I’m not replacing the handheld games; no phone games can come close to doing so at this point. However, when I don’t have the time to become completely engaged in the storyline, I call upon a bite-sized form of entertainment.
Reason #2: Graphics
This is a point that’s a bit tougher to defend. As it is, last-generation games can be ported to mobile devices, so they aren’t too far from modern graphics. However, this comes at a cost. As I stated earlier, graphics draw on a system’s power supply more. You’ll see that a lot of the downfalls of mobile gaming comes down to battery life, and one device can only hold so much. After all, this phone has to last all day until we can get home to charge it again. It’s basically our mobile office; it does everything.
One day, batteries will get to the point where they are thin, inexpensive, and long-lasting. When all three of these criteria can be met, then we will see a rise in mobile experiences on par with those of dedicated gaming devices. When the general public finally has access to a battery that will do everything we need it to do all day long, then then we can play high-def, high-res, battery sucking games for long periods of time. Until then, there is no point in making a visually appealing game; nobody will download it because it will deplete much of their battery quite rapidly.
Once batteries are more efficient, you’ll start to see games with longer stories and better graphics, as it will be more practical to play these types of games on a phone. The next steps will be to increase storage space and make it simpler to optimize for many devices. How long could that take? Years, at best. As it is, the flagship cell phone–the iPhone– has failed to drastically improve battery life in their latest model unveiling. Apple improved battery life by between 5 and 10 percent, but I’m guesstimating that on top of that, you’ll need another 20 to 40 percent increase to make mobile gaming practical on a phone. This could take anywhere from a few years to a decade to accomplish, not to mention how long simplified optimization might take.
“Ok, so when batteries are better, storage space is larger, and devices are simpler to optimize for, then mobile phones will take over the dedicated handheld system market, right?”
Simply put, think of the children. How many elementary school kids have a 3DS? How many have a smartphone? I’m going to wager that the latter is a lower percentage, although these days, times are a’ changin’. Parents are probably going to be more apt to buy their kids a system where they can’t make phone calls, run up a data plan, or get themselves into some other sort of trouble. Although serious gaming on a phone may be more convenient for a teen or adult, this is not so for kids. Therefore, I forsee one of two things happening to combat gaming on mobile phones:
1: Game developers will create multi-platform releases between phones and handhelds. An equivalent in today’s terms would be if Ubisoft released the next Rayman on iOS, Android, Vita, and 3DS. That way, kids get the same experience on their dedicated gaming device as adults receive on their mobile office/smartphone.
2: (I mentioned this vaguely in a previous article) Handheld systems could have an optional feature to include phone service on their gaming devices, essentially turning a gaming system into a phone rather than trying to turn a phone into a gaming system. I think this is doable and quite logical. I’m no expert, it’s probably a lot easier to set up a game system to make phone calls than it is to make a phone do everything a gaming device can do. As it is, the Vita has 3G mobile networks on it; would it be that much harder to integrate cell service?
Honestly, when my contract is up, if the Vita 2.0 is available at AT&T for $200 with another 2 year contract, that will be my next “phone.” I mean, Sony has a phone line already, and their Xperia Play “experiment” was a decent effort to integrate phones and gaming devices. With a little better support and legitimate games, their next attempt could be even better. How awesome would that be? Then, handheld gaming systems would have truly evolved, and they would be bringing the fight to phones instead of the other way around.
In a situation like this, offer a version without cell integration at Walmart and Toys-R-Us stores everywhere for a certain price, say $200. Then, offer the one with cell signal integration at Verizon, Sprint, and other carriers for $200 with a contract or, say, $400 unlocked and contract free. Sony, take note please.
Reason #3: Money
Developers are out to make money. At this point, it isn’t profitable to take the plunge and create a legitimate gaming experience for a phone. Until they are proved otherwise, most game developers probably aren’t budging. This is a rut similar to the one the Wii U is in. Third party developers don’t want to make games for the Wii U because it isn’t selling. It isn’t selling because there are no games. There are no games because the developers don’t want to lose the money making a game for a system that isn’t selling… So basically, it’s a never ending loop!
The same is true for gaming on phones. Unless it can be legitimately proven without a shadow of a doubt that a game developer can create a lengthy, engaging title that will sell well, there will be few of said titles. On top of that, most mobile games are free or very inexpensive. Like, under $5 inexpensive. You can’t make an engaging game on this budget, and like I said earlier, as of now, these aren’t even the types of games that phone gamers are looking for.
Yes, it’s quite complicated, but as you might be able to see, lots of things have to happen before big games are made for phones. Let’s recap what needs to happen:
- Better batteries
- More storage
- Device optimization
- Dedicated gaming device/mobile phone integration
- Widespread use of these new phone/game system devices
- Affordability and profitability for big budget games
Do you think this is happening anytime soon? Within 5 years? 10? 20, even? I doubt it, but honestly, what do you think? Let me know in the comments with how long you think it might take before phones become serious mobile gaming devices. Then, leave a like or a follow if you enjoyed, and check out the Let’s Play channels in the “Links” tab.