Why Mobile Gaming Is Becoming Its Own Type Of Video Game

Senior Contributor
10.16.13 3 Comments


If you’re a gamer, there’s one overriding theme to the larger industry lately, namely “OMG smartphones are going to kill us all!!!” But they aren’t. In fact, mobile gaming is increasingly evolving away from competing with console gaming and becoming its own form. Here’s why.

The Input Is The Message

When you’re defining games, one thing that people don’t often think about is control scheme. A game designed from the ground up for a console is going to feel and play a lot differently from a game that’s built from the ground up for PC.

And the same is true of mobile gaming. Touchscreens present problems if you’re trying to just fart out a console knock-off; they lag, especially Android devices. Lag is decreasing over time, of course, but even then, buttons are more responsive than touchscreens, and the tactile sensations help muscle memory substantially.

Yeah, there are solutions like the MOGA or consoles like the NVidia Shield… but most people aren’t going to spend money on a controller. If in gaming the input is the message, the result is that mobile gaming is going to be defined by what a touchscreen can do… which means we’ll see very different games, genres, and styles.

The Best Mobile Games Work Best On Mobile

Most people look for examples that wouldn’t work on any other platform, but a better analogy is a game that works better on a specific platform. A good example of a game that could really only exist on mobile is Blackbar. It’s a game that combines 1984-esque dystopian fiction and word puzzles in the form of figuring out what censors have struck out of letters you’re sent.

It could work on a PC or a console… but not as well. Clicking from letter to letter to figure out words would be agonizing on a console, and on a PC, it would feel like word processing. On mobile it has the feeling of actually reading a letter, and there are other concerns as well; at three bucks and a quick download, it’s a game you want to play because it’s so simple and accessible.

The same is true of other mobile games genuinely worth playing, like Rymdkapsel or Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, or even Square’s surprisingly complex and compelling string of RPGs. They could, and have, worked well on other platforms, but the mobile platform is just the best fit.

How You Make Money Is Entirely Different

Finally, there’s basic economics. Most mobile games worth playing will run you three to five bucks and they’re built accordingly; there are very few games with thirty hours of content. But that’s OK. Mobile games are built to kill time waiting for the bus, or to keep you amused on plane trips, not to have you on the couch mesmerized for hours.

And that’s OK. Games are just sets of rules, after all, and there’s no reason a game has to be defined by how many hours of enjoyment you get out of it. But it does mean that the style and creativity of mobile games will be driven away, over time, from trying to emulate console games and into more experimental and dynamic territory.

In short, mobile gaming is becoming its own form, with its own classics and its own way to play. And that’s not bad for gamers; more and better and different games are always good news.

(Image courtesy of Mrgan LLC)

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