I've had a chance to talk to a variety of developers lately from different corners of the world, and on each cast, we got on the subject of the mobile industry. As we've talked about in previous posts, we're seeing more and more posts and videos from people declaring that mobile is the future for video games.
Speaking with them, it was interesting to hear their thoughts on the matter and confirmed to me one thing: Mobile Game Development in its current form will never be the future of the Video Game Industry for several reasons.
1. The Race to the Bottom
Mobile games are famously known at this point for being insanely cheap; either being free to play with microtransactions or a 99 cent price tag. Mobile Game Developers who defend the practice say that it makes it so that games are very accessible by removing the pay barrier traditionally up for other parts of the industry, but there is a big problem with this.
What has been dubbed, "The Race to the Bottom" represents game designers being pressured to make their games as cheap as possible, or get punished by the market.
Now, it's important to point out that while the use of game sales is part of the problem, it's the outright demanding atmosphere and pressure from mobile publishers to make games on the cheap that is the issue. Video game development is a costly endeavor; more so if we're talking about quality games.
There has always been a risk of working long-term on a game, and that has become even riskier in today's market. There is an entire market of consumers being conditioned that games should only be a few dollars regardless of the genre and quality of the game. When you have digital stores being flooded with games of this kind, the higher quality and more expensive ones stick out like a sore thumb.
To make matters worse, is when legitimately good game ideas are punished or forced by publishers to add in monetization options like in-app purchases, ads, pay to win options and more. Not only does it cheapen the game, but not every game can be designed this way.
Complex or unique titles, like the ones we see from the Indie market, work because they're not like anything else. Imagine for a second if Undertale stopped the player every few minutes to ask them to review the game or watch an ad, or you had to purchase the game in bits and pieces or the game stops at key moments. Being told by a publisher that you must have them in your game or they won't publish you limits creativity and quality.
The fact that the mobile market has been conditioned to this race to the bottom is not good, and severely limits any kind of growth from the market.
For mobile developers, they'll have to completely redesign their games if they want them to succeed anywhere else in the game market, and PC developers run the risk of porting their game to a market that has been conditioned to not even look at the game because of the price.
Simply by the point that there is such a huge price disparity between mobile and other platforms is not a good sign.
Moving on to point two, what the mobile market means towards game design itself and the limiting factors.
2: Limited Design
As we talked about in the last section, the race to the bottom limits the kinds of games that can be safely released on the mobile market, but mobile development in of itself limits the option of game development.
Control design is an understated part of game development, and a topic that I want to explore on a cast at some point. If your game doesn't control right or feels responsive in the player's hands, then your game is doomed. The touch interface used for smartphones and IOS titles may be intuitive, but it immediately prevents many games from ever working right on the platform.
Any mobile title where the player needs the tactile feel and response from a gamepad, will never be up to par compared to the other platforms. There are many games that require gradual or incremental inputs by the player; again, won't be effective on a touch interface.
While we have seen mobile versions of complex games, their depth and fluid control schemes are always lacking compared to the other versions. When combined with the race to the bottom, these two points massively limit the number of viable options for the mobile market.
If you try and tell me that it is possible to put out a Dark Souls or League of Legends-complex title on IOS that works equal to or better than the console/PC's counterparts, you are lying through your teeth.
Control design has become standardized across the game consoles, computer, and even handheld markets. If your platform can't produce the same control schemes as everyone else, say goodbye to a vast number of titles.
For the mobile market to grow, it needs to both embrace a tactile control option, and educate the consumers on the value and possibilities that it could provide, but I'm not sure if they're willing to do that, as we move on to the final point and turn to a more philosophical discussion about the mobile market.
3: Consumer Treatment
At the end of the day nothing is set in stone, and developers could "adjust the course" of the mobile market. However, that won't matter due to how the people in charge view the consumers of it.
I and many developers have talked about our displease feelings of calling consumers, "Whales." In the past, I've talked about my thoughts of adding in more gambling mechanics to the Game Industry and saying that certain markets don't matter due to the amount of games they've bought.
It's proof enough of the views on its consumers by the number of posts, videos, webinars and more, discussing the ways to get more money out of people, instead of providing more value. This is eerily similar to the rise and fall of the arcade market, and how the market eventually bottomed out due to its increasing attempts to get more money from people instead of providing value.
Of course, it's important to point out that not every developer shares that sentiment, and there are developers who are trying to create a quality product to provide value to its fans. However, instead of one bad apple spoils the bunch, it's multiple bad apples drowning out the good ones. The Monument Valley example of consumer outrage over paying for a piece of paid DLC is a good example of how the market has been conditioned by the race to the bottom and marketing tactics.
We have seen thanks to the arcade market crash (and the 80's crash,) what happens when publishers and developers try to get greedy and downplay quality in favor of profit; it's never good. If you have to rely on IAPs, monetization and the use of whales for your game to succeed, then that shows the makings of a poor game (and poor market) to begin with.
The best games and the ones that are held in the highest regards were designed around a quality product first and making money second.
We have talked multiple times about the balance of product and art in the Game Industry, and you need both in order to create great games.
Just as how the artist needs to learn how to sell their game, the business person needs to make a quality product and respect their consumer to come out on top.
We have been talking now for awhile about a supposed "Mobile Industry Crash," and how different people think of its actuality. While I don't have the powers to see into the future to say whether or not it will happen, I can say one thing for sure.
In its current state, I would not risk bringing something new to the mobile market if you expect to get the same level of success that the big names have gotten. And I just don't see a long-term future for mobile development in its current state, unless there is a radical change in both design philosophy and the consumer's attitude.
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