Console gamers tend to dismiss mobile games as dumbed down, casual, kids stuff. Whenever I write a column about how mobile games can be as "good" as console games, the outcry is often loud and fervent.
With the power of current-generation iOS devices, it’s not a stretch to consider that many games that we see on consoles could be ported to mobile devices almost as is with the full game intact. And yet, it does indeed seem that when titles have a console and a mobile version of the same game, the mobile version suffers in terms of content.
Why is that? Even if we assume for the moment that an iOS device can’t push the same high quality graphic power as a dedicated gaming console, why must games on mobile be so much less in-depth than their console brethren?
Console Vs Mobile/iOS
Should gamers expect the same experience on mobile devices as on console? Probably not--but that may be changing. Michael de Graaf, the producer for the mobile version of Need for Speed Most Wanted, feels that the difference between console and mobile is narrowing. “At the moment, consoles still have an edge when it comes to raw power but that gap is narrowing,” he told us, “and we’ve seen possibilities continue to expand on mobile. The current quality of screens we are seeing and new form factors are increasing the quality and diversity of experiences that gamers can now have on a mobile device.”
Nick Rish, vice president of mobile publishing for EA, believes that comparing the two is futile. “There is something very immersive about holding a device 10 inches from your face,” he said, “putting on headphones and enjoying a game like Need for Speed Most Wanted while on your lunch break … It’s tough to say one platform provides a better consumer experience than the other; gaming is in the eye of the beholder.”
"Mobile gaming grew from very basic flash games we all've been playing on web browsers," said Przemek Marszal, art director at 11 bit studios, the developer behind the Anomaly Warzone series. But that's changing, he said, noting that even a hard-core indie developer like John Carmac sees the potential of iOS gaming.
Is it fair to expect console-level graphics and performance on an iOS device? De Graaf thinks not, and helps his team tailor the gaming experience based on what mobile players want, versus simply what the hardware can do. “For instance, when we approached creating the control scheme for Need for Speed Most Wanted on mobile,” he said, “we wanted to provide consumers with the option to play in a way that was natural for a mobile experience. We listened to our mobile gamers and as a first for the franchise we gave fans the ability to control their vehicle via touch or tilt steering options.”
"I think hardcore gamers should expect the "same level" of experience and immersion but not the exact same experience," said Marszal. "iOS is about touch, mobile, close-to-your-eyes feel, immediate experience. For a console, you almost need to "plan" your time with it." He noted that the gap between console and iOS is narrowing, however, saying that the iPad 4 and iPad 5 is about as powerful as the original XBox.
Handheld? Or Mobile?
It’s hard not to compare the current state of iOS mobile gaming to other handheld gaming devices like Sony’s PlayStation Vita or Nintendo’s 3DS. It seems that for every story about the successes of mobile gaming, there’s a story about disappointing sales in the handheld gaming realm. “The DS and PSP are primarily gaming machines, but taking a look at the gameplay in Real Racing 3, Need for Speed Most Wanted or ShadowGun DeadZone it’s mind boggling just how stunning graphics and engaging gameplay can be on iOS devices as well,” said Rish.
So why don’t we see more console-like experiences on iOS and other mobile devices? Could it be the business model? Rish referenced the fact that with consoles and dedicated handheld gaming devices, consumers pay for their games up front, often spending twenty, thirty, sixty dollars or more for the entire experience. “We are seeing that when a developer gives a mobile game away for free,” said Rish, “there is more of a focus on replay-ability and the continual development of the experience through content updates, which prolong the experience, as opposed to creating an in-depth story from the beginning with a definite end.”
Could it also be that developers and publishers who do business in both worlds want to avoid cannibalizing their sales numbers? Our focus has always been on building an incredible experience on mobile that can sit alongside, rather than replicate, the console title,” said de Graaf. With gamers clamoring for high-quality realistic gaming experiences on living room consoles, a company would be hard pressed to give that up and move all its gaming resources to the iOS world, right?
Mobile titles, then, are like extra DLC, available to gamers who own both an iOS device as well as a console. They also function as advertisements for their console versions, driving even more sales to the publisher and developer than anything else.
While games on iOS can offer near-console quality and depth, then, perhaps consumers are, in fact, driving the types of games that show up on mobile devices. Rish pointed out that mobile gamers tend to prefer shorter play sessions when on the go, as well as the ability to immerse themselves into a deeper game as they have the time for.
Depth And Scope
Industrial Toys CEO and industry veteran Alex Seropian thinks we can have both kinds of games on mobile devices, but that developers are rightly concerned about just how to do so. "There seems to be some built up developer fear of bringing console games to mobile," he told 148Apps, "because most of the ports and games that are structured like console games have been commercial failures on mobile."
Seropian makes a distinction between the scope of a game and it's depth. A deep game, he says, "is one you can play over and over again, the same bits, and get better at it and continue to enjoy it. A game with scope is a longer game with more things to look at and lots of single use content." He points out that creating a console-type game with scope isn't the best strategy for success, as people use their devices differently than they game on consoles. "The real trick," he said, "is marrying those depth elements - compelling story, fantastic artistry and deep game mechanics with that accessible and quicker structure."
The benefit of mobile gaming, then, may in fact be ability to serve many types of people by providing many different types of gaming experiences. It’s much easier to have some shorter, more casual experiences available on the same iOS device as the more console-like games with depth and immersive gameplay.
It's Just Different
Perhaps it’s best to stop trying to compare consoles and iOS games altogether, and note that there is room in the market for all sorts of games. The mobile gaming world has proven to be a disruptive force in traditional gaming, but that doesn’t mean it will replace it, completely. Both executives seem to say that replicating a game like Need For Speed on iOS or mobile would be counter-productive, as they already HAVE a console-quality version of the title: on consoles. Creating a second, mobile-friendly counterpart to a console game just might expand the title’s audience, as well as provide new customers who might purchase the higher-initial dollar title at some point, based on the mobile experience alone.
It’s the publisher’s job, then, to differentiate the mobile titles even more, if that’s the case. It also doesn't quite explain why there aren't at least SOME games with the kind of depth and immersiveness we expect from console games made by the larger gaming companies like EA.
In addition, maybe the games we're looking for, the ones with depth, significant gameplay,storytelling, and amazing graphics, won't be found fromt he larger publishers. Perhaps we'll only see them from smaller, less risk-averse companies who don't need to worry about a console vs. mobile version.
If companies want to make games to meet their customer's needs, then there should certainly be a market for deeper, console-style type games on iOS. Here's hoping that the increasing power and ability of mobile devices continues to allow game publishers to create a few more deep, long-form video games for our favorite mobile platforms.