Why mobile games? (mobile vs desktop/console gaming)

I’ve been in discussions before where I’ve tried to list the advantages of mobile games as compared to desktop/console games but it’s a pretty difficult proposition.

Desktop/console games have the advantages of better graphics, better sound, bigger and better displays, more diverse input controls (mouse, keyboard, etc.), and faster CPU. To top things off, desktop/console games have a long multi-decade history of well-established companies putting out great games.  These games can run a bit pricey at $50-$60 a pop, but with online app stores such as Steam we are getting better pricing, including some free titles. For the top tier (~$50) games, there is a high confidence level that a team of skilled professional developers, artists, and other people have spend months, if not years, polishing the game.

What about mobile games? Well, ironically one of the only differentiating factors with these games is that they are… mobile. For all their disadvantages like worse displays and controls, the main tradeoff is these games can be played practically anytime anywhere: in the library, subway, classroom, and even the bathroom. While it’s true that laptops would work well in most of these environments, laptops have their own disadvantages and are arguably less convenient that pocket-sized mobile devices. iPads and larger tablets are another middle ground on the mobility continuum, but share much in common with smaller mobile devices like iPhones.

I was a pretty serious desktop (and to a smaller extent console) gamer for many years. But thousands of hours behind the monitor started to pay a toll in the form of things like wrist, shoulder, and back problems. Since I’ve become a father I have less free time in large chunks, so I tend to just grab a mobile device wherever I am and play in short bursts, as opposed to going into the room with my PC, turning it on, loading up a game, and playing for a few hours. The small weight and size of something like an iPhone gives less restrictions on my body position while playing, so I can avoid repetitive-stress problems, and also reduce my exposure to the evil position called sitting.

Honestly, the types of games I enjoy on mobile are totally different than those I was into on desktop – casual puzzle games vs Real Time Strategy games. Two or three years ago I spent a few months playing Starcraft 2 in the evenings – an experience not comparable to anything I’ve seen on mobile yet – but it’s hard to maintain in my current lifestyle.

Besides the reasons stemming from my own recent gaming habits, I think the prospect of a wider audience is another thing that got me into mobile game development. Even though desktop platforms also have app stores, I think it’s just amazing to be able to upload an app to iTunes and have it available for download by millions of people around the globe with iPads and iPhones. Had I been brought up in a generation when Steam was popular I might not feel this way, but I can’t help comparing games published on (mobile) iTunes with desktop games sold in brick-and-mortar stores of my childhood. It’s not just the wider audience, but the lower barrier of entry for me to get listed on any of these app stores.

Ironically, I feel that this low barrier of entry creates an illusion that it’s easy to make a blockbuster game, but a little experience actually trying this quickly brings one down to earth.

One factor I haven’t mentioned yet is the integration of mobile technology into daily life. This is a major aspect of mobile apps (apps using GPS are a great example), but from my experience the mobile gaming industry hasn’t learned how to effectively bridge from the real world to the fantasy world. Things like augmented reality show some promise, along with other hot technologies like Virtual Reality.

This leads me to my final reason for being interested in mobile game creation. As a developer, it’s still a relatively new field with so many possibilities for being creative, and I enjoy just thinking about these. Once you learn programming basics, it’s relatively easy to prototype your ideas on mobile platforms without actually pushing things to a public app store.

Without major leaps in both display and control technologies, I don’t think mobile will be able to come close to an experience like desktop RTS or FPS games, even if the fundamental gameplay is similar. But mobile gaming has already proven it can capture the hearts and minds of millions of everyday people.

If you’re read this far please consider checking out my first attempt at a mobile game. Though it’s still in an early stage, I hope you’ll find it a lot of fun:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?mt=8

(Image credit: http://www.gratisography.com/)

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