Is it time to take mobile gaming seriously? - Article

By Chris Kerr, April 14, 2012
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In terms of gaming, what does the future hold for the mobile devices such as the iPad and iPod touch?

It’s a question I have been thinking more and more about recently. If you had asked me that question a few years ago I would have told you that the future is bleak for mobile devices as they can’t, and never will, compete with dedicated gaming devices. I’m not afraid to admit that I was wrong to think that. I’m also not afraid to admit that I honestly believe these mobile devices, the same devices I was willing to ignorantly decree inadequate, can, and will, compete with dedicated handhelds.

Why the sudden opinion shift? Well, since joining gamrReview I have been focusing a lot on reviewing iOS games. I have seen the great things these devices are capable of. I have also seen all the shortcomings they display, and after seeing these things I can only come to one conclusion: these devices have mountains of potential.

When it comes down to it, these devices can compete on multiple fronts. You only need to look at games like Infinity Blade, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Mass Effect: Infiltrator to see just how much have to offer, not only in terms of sheer power and scope, but also in terms of variety. Regardless of what type of gamer you deem yourself to be, I guarantee a place like the App Store will have something for you.

For me though, the best, and most exciting thing about these devices, is that they demand innovation. Developers have so many different features to play with. Features such as the touch screen, the accelerometer, the camera and the connectivity of the device. It’s exciting just waiting to see what these creative minds will do with all of these unique features; it’s literally innovation waiting to happen.

I, however, am also a realist; I realise that some of you will be reading this thinking that I must be absolutely crackpot-crazy and that my opinion couldn’t be further from the truth. While I may be slightly unhinged, I do believe in listening to multiple voices. So, I thought I would go ahead and get some more opinions regarding the future of mobile devices from people in various sectors of the industry.

Read on to hear what Scott Lowe, Giles Hammond, and Nate Ahearn have to say on this contentious issue. 

The Journalist: Scott Lowe, Senior Editor at The Verge, and Formerly Executive Editor at IGN.com

The days of dedicated handhelds are numbered. Despite the success of the Nintendo 3DS and the recent introduction of the PS Vita, the portable market has made a permanent shift toward multipurpose devices. Many have interpreted this refocusing to be the death of true portable gaming, but nothing could be further from the truth. Smartphones and tablets are faster, more powerful and versatile than any dedicated handheld, and with access to robust digital storefronts like iTunes and the Android Market, the library of available titles is exponentially larger.

The key to encouraging enthusiast gamer adoption, however, will be the development and promotion of alternatives to touchscreen controls. Effective as they are for casual to intermediate titles, more immersive gameplay will always require tangible control schemes. Sony had the right idea with the XPERIA PLAY, but underpowered hardware and pitiful software support destined it to be dead on arrival. With support for Bluetooth gamepads on both iOS and Android, there’s also untapped potential in the accessory market. Add-on grips that offer analog sticks, triggers and buttons could effectively bridge the gap.

It’s a future many will find difficult to envision, but then again, we never expected to find Sony or Nintendo falling behind Apple in terms of portable gaming market share.

The industry may still cling to the concept of the dedicated handheld in the years to come, but it’s only a matter of time before smartphones and tablets are seen not as supplemental revenue streams, but as viable handheld alternatives.

The Developer: Giles Hammond, Maker at Explore and Create

I think that both dedicated handhelds and mobile devices, such as the iPad and iPod touch, will live on side-by-side. I am sure that smart-phones have the technical potential to compete, however I think that the bigger budget, non-casual games, will stay in a separate market.

It is certainly possible to create 'hardcore' games on a smart-phone. The interface to the game may be different but the type of challenge and experience it gives to the user need not be. As a result of this I believe that the rise of gaming on smart-phones is sure to have an impact on sales of dedicated handheld gaming platforms, as these devices are competing with each other for people’s time.

That being said, the beguiling feature of the App Store is that it is possible for anyone to build and sell a product to the world, so at the lowest point the competition can come from free products made with the marketing budget of something bigger. A free product may just be ‘good enough’ to fill someone’s time. Unfortunately, filling all the little blocks of time with a shallow experience will reduce the time people have to get to grips with something more substantial. If you are a gamer then, I am sure that in general you will get a better experience at the dedicated, more expensive end of the market.

The Marketing Guy: Nate Ahearn, Senior Developer Relations Manager at Tap.Me

I think we’re already seeing iDevices like the new iPad surpass dedicated handhelds such as Sony’s PlayStation Vita. In terms of pure entertainment value, there’s no question that I get a lot more from my iPad than I’ve ever gotten from a dedicated gaming handheld. I can check news, use Facebook, Tweet, read magazines, read books and play thousands of games, each of which has a very low bar for entry with a typical price point of around a buck. What’s really astonishing to me is how quickly devices like the iPad are evolving into true powerhouses in terms of computing power. The Retina display on my ten-inch slate has more pixels than most HDTVs, which is astonishing, and the quality of games is growing right alongside the technology. 

When it comes to marketing on the iOS platform, I don’t think that it’s difficult. What I think is difficult is getting a sizable audience to both stick around in your game, and to get that audience to spend money in your title. Both are problems we’re helping developers solve at Tap.Me. We provide developers a toolset to monetize the vast majority of players who aren't micro-transacting with a credit card by enhancing their experience via in-game boosts or items in exchange for engaging with a brand. In other words, the brand becomes the 'payment' form if you will. As a result, players stay in a game experience longer and perform better. We're doing something that's simple to implement, authentic to the game, and it's a scalable way for brands to connect with consumers in a way that's beneficial for everyone. 

Discoverability is more an issue in the App Store than marketing. If you have the money to spend, marketing an app and getting people in the door is relatively easy (though the costs can be quite high). But if you’re an indie developer, the challenge is getting tougher and tougher to be discovered organically because of the intense congestion present on the App Store.

The most obvious thing that people point to when they talk about iDevices not being good for hardcore gamers is the lack of two analog sticks. That’s a valid argument. Until the iPad and iPhone can integrate haptic feedback in a very innovative way or Apple designs some sort of first-party controller, first-person shooters simply aren’t going to have the same size audience as they do on consoles. Now, if this sort of controller or haptic feedback comes to fruition then it surely won’t be long before we see the next Call of Duty releasing on iOS right alongside consoles. But even if these sort of controller innovations don’t materialize, genres like racing games and flight sims are already seeing great success with the use of the gyroscope as a controller input. The feeling of navigating a crowded course or dogfighting high in the clouds, all by manipulating a display in your hands, is, to put it simply, pretty damn cool, and something that consoles can’t touch… yet. 

After reading all of these opinions about mobile gaming have you had a change of heart? Maybe you’re filled with rage at some of our idiotic opinions? Well, whatever you’re thinking, don’t forget to share your opinions too. More food for thought is always a good thing right?

Oh, and if you happen to be a member of Twitter, and for some reason wish to hear more musings from the people involved in this article, you can find the neccesary links below. Yes, this is blatant self-promotion. 

Chris Kerr - @kerrblimey

Nate Ahearn - @Nate_Ahearn

Scott Lowe - @ScottLowe

Giles Hammond - @GilesHammond

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