Mobile gaming is one of the fastest growing markets in the video game industry. So why are so many of them trying to stop me from actually playing them?
I can’t remember exactly when I braved the storm of negativity swirling around the mobile gaming platform, but it was at a time when cell phone companies and game developers were both navigating the growing pains of a niche that had just recently exploded onto the scene. Fast forward about five years later, and mobile gaming has shed its label as pretender or fad and become an erstwhile presence in the video game scene. That’s great – and I think mobile gaming is a very tangible piece of the future, like it or not – but the announcement of Nintendo’s Miitomo made me realize there is a disconcerting trend happening in our purses and pockets right now.
My two current favorites – Final Fantasy Record Keeper and Pocket MapleStory – were downloaded expressly because they promised a portable trip down memory lane. Instead of investing time I didn’t have into reliving classic JRPG battles or leveling a 2D anime sprite by killing slimes for four hours, the mobile versions of these games allow players to jump in for 15 minutes when they have some downtime. Despite my continued devotion to both, however, neither of them actually delivers on the silent promise they both made to me when I downloaded them from the Google Play Store. The fact is, a lot of new mobile games don’t actually want to be games.
Both Record Keeper and Pocket MapleStory feature combat against enemies, and both of them offer an incredibly watered-down and simplistic take on the battles that made them popular. Pocket MapleStory over-simplifies the combat that made the MMORPG version so much casual fun, making it so easy that I am currently able to write this article while simply keeping an eye on the phone beside me to occasionally avoid danger. Record Keeper even has an “auto” function during gameplay that lets the game play for you. I’ll be honest: if I wanted a mobile Final Fantasy simulator, I would have asked for one. Developers have been able to port entire Final Fantasy games onto mobile platforms like Android and iOS, so there’s no excuse to not have a deep combat system, at the very least.
I love these two games, and despite my complaints, I’m going to keep playing them because they satisfy a certain gaming niche I can’t sate anywhere else. But mobile gaming, despite the advances in technological capabilities and ever-expanding market, is trending towards unexciting game choices. Miitomo looks and sounds for all the world like a companion app rather than a mobile game, a decision that mirrors the uncertainty Nintendo fans have about the Wii U and the NX’s future.
Seeing that kind of approach from an entity known for its innovation deepens my concern about the way major industry players will integrate mobile gaming into their business models, but if there’s any consolation to be taken from this it’s that there is plenty of time to right the ship. Nintendo has at least 4 more mobile titles on the way in the next couple of years, and they’ve hinted that they understand the different needs of mobile gamers, admitting that those who want RPGs and those who like casual gaming don’t often overlap.
There’s been a lot made about what the term “casual gamer” really means, but I think we can all agree: even the most laidback gamer wants to push the buttons themselves. Because, in the end, I download or purchase these mobile games in order to keep my mind occupied when I’m traveling, and I’d like the opportunity to make my own entertainment rather than have my hand held while interacting with it.