Biggest myths about mobile gaming debunked

For as long as I’ve been following the gaming industry, I cannot recall one aspect of it, one phenomenon that grew and is still growing as rapidly as mobile gaming. What was a barely existing market in 2004 is now one the most lucrative parts of the video game industry ten years later, and is largely responsible for the fact that today, more than half a billion of people are playing games for at least one hour a day.

As with everything that gets tremendously popular, mobile gaming has been getting a lot of hate from various directions. A smaller portion of it was somewhat justified, but most either wasn’t or was wrongly aimed. Today, I’ll attempt to debunk the most common myths regarding playing games on smartphones and tablets. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve identified as the biggest myths about mobile gaming:

Mobile gaming is just for casuals!

Not all mobile games are made for your grandparents.

Not all mobile games are made for your grandparents…

The myth that mobile games are only played by and aimed at casual gamers is probably the most common stereotype people, especially other (core) gamers have about playing mobile titles. To put it simply, this isn’t true at all. If you’re an avid PGR reader, you surely don’t require any further explanation, as serious, core and hardcore mobile gaming experiences are our focus here, but for those of you that aren’t, let’s look at some numbers:

... nor little kids, for that matter.

… nor little kids, for that matter.

According to an Entertainment Software Association study released in 2013, 30% of mobile games played in the US in the last year can be classified as core titles (e.g. strategy, RPG), and knowing that there’s currently around 130 million of smartphone and/or tablet gamers in the States, this puts the number of people playing non-casual creations on their mobile devices in millions, even if we presume that casual users on average play more titles simultaneously. It has also been suggested that these percentages are similar in Europe, though we’re yet to see an in-depth study on the old continent’s gaming habits. As for Asia, its biggest mobile game publishers that are focused on core pocket gamers like Square Enix amount over a third of their recent income to the portable market. Though not covering the entirety of the planet, this info should be more than enough basis for conclusion that core mobile gaming isn’t a niche market and portable titles aren’t exclusively casual-oriented.

Mobile games are dumbed down, fragmented, and IAP-filled versions of actual video games!

There's so much more to mobile gaming than Dungeon Keeper...

There’s so much more to mobile gaming than Dungeon Keeper…

This myth is closely connected to the above one and as with most generalizations, it’s just plainly wrong. Still, I’m often told that smartphone and tablet titles are basically undemanding, money-grabbing, and gameplay-chopping versions of actual video games, especially when I tell my fellow gaming journalists that I’m currently focused on mobile gaming.

When encountered with such comments, I always say the same thing something along the lines of “you’re not playing the right mobile games.” Truly, there’s a whole sea of crappy and/or casual-oriented mobile games, but there are also hundreds upon hundreds of quality, complex, immersive, original, artistic, mature, and serious pocket titles available on both iOS App Store and Android Play Store. Surprisingly, some even made it to Windows Phone. And if you show me a person who claims that there’s not a whole bunch of horrible and/or undemanding games on any popular platform that was ever used for gaming, I’ll show you a dirty liar.

... or Final Fantasy All The Bravest.

… or Final Fantasy All The Bravest.

Off the top of my head, let me name just some out of many mobile games that will appeal to all kinds of core and hardcore gamers, in no particular order: Infinity Blade III, Deus Ex: The Fall, the entire Gangstar series, Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies, DEVICE 6, the entire Final Fantasy series, Transport Tycoon remake, The Shadow Sun, Ravensword: Shadowlands, Baldur’s Gate remakes, Asphalt 8: Airborne, XCOM: Enemy Unknown port, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, Symphony of the Origin, Shadowrun Returns, all three Grand Theft Auto remakes, the entire Chaos Rings series, Bastion, Great Big War Game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic port, Call of Duty: Strike Team, the entire Modern Combat series, Starbase Orion, The Walking Dead series, Year Walk, Dead Space, Skulls of the Shogun, Republique, etc.

Sure, some of the above aren’t exclusive to mobile platforms, but I’m just dropping some of the more acclaimed titles that come to mind; there are literally hundreds of other fantastic and exclusive games of all genres available on smartphones and tablets, with many more set to come out in this year alone (check our picks of most promising 2014 projects for a better perspective on the matter). The bottom line is: not all mobile games are like described in the subtitle, you just don’t know where to look.

Mobile games are destroying the gaming industry!

Actually, screw the industry, THE ENTIRE PLANET IS IN DANGER!

Actually, screw the industry, THE ENTIRE PLANET IS IN DANGER!

The accusations that mobile games are destroying the gaming industry in general stem from the recent increase in IAPs present in console and PC titles, an influx of low-quality freemium titles on those platforms, absolutely horrible mobile rip-offs based on popular IPs, simplification of non-portable games, and other similar issues.

Regarding the IAP-filled spin-offs of popular (hard)core series, we already discussed that issue in greater depth back in November, but it’s worth noting that the casualization and increased frequency of in-game purchases in titles based on strong IPs isn’t exclusive to mobile platforms, nor is it happening solely because smartphone and tablet gaming. Sure, developers may have gotten the courage to force IAPs into their AAA games due to their profitability on portable platforms, but that trend would have died instantly if console and PC gamers weren’t giving their money for hundreds of unnecessary DLCs, thus further enticing it. In fact, this whole situation reinforces the aforementioned statement that casual gamers aren’t the only ones playing mobile games, nor are the said products solely aimed at them – I’m certain there’s plenty of people like me who are looking for core experiences on both home and pocket systems, as well as PCs.

To put it simply, mobile games aren’t destroying the gaming industry. If anything, gamers are destroying the industry by continuing to pay for in-game purchases, but in reality – nothing is getting literally destroyed; things are changing, for better or worse, but a multi-billion dollar global industry isn’t going to crash and burn overnight just because big heads decided it’s a good idea to implement microtransactions and appeal to a larger audience by simplifying some games, especially when the result is more profit for them.

Mobile devices can’t compete with handheld gaming consoles!

For 100 bucks or less, your mobile device can have all the functionality of a handheld console.

For 100 bucks or less, your mobile device can have all the functionality of a handheld console.

The myth that smartphones and tablets can’t compete with dedicated handheld gaming consoles is ridiculous because not only are they already actively competing, but they are also winning. Hell, some even suggest that they’re leaking in the less serious part of the dedicated home gaming market, which is one of the reasons Nintendo Wii U is selling like crap. Still, let’s stick to the rivalry with handheld consoles.

In a historical context, the sales of Nintendo 3DS are significantly lower than that of DS, and PS Vita is doing so bad that even Sony’s executives are openly expressing their disappointment with the system. The decline in popularity of all handhelds started around 2010, which corresponds with the time when iOS and Android devices were getting established on the global market, and if you’re still so naive to attribute this to coincidence, Sony has already acknowledged their role in the decline of popularity of dedicated portable gaming systems, and while Nintendo’s too prideful to admit it, many industry experts agree that this isn’t even up for discussion.

This all looks especially bad when you think of all of the first, second, and third-party exclusives 3DS and PS Vita currently have that mobile devices don’t, not to mention the native lack of physical controls on most devices. Now, with the rise of popularity of MFi controllers and availability of various Android ones, as well as the increasing mobile user base that peaked the interest of almost every video game developer on the planet, the future of mobile and handheld gaming has never been more uncertain, and to say that dedicated consoles are obviously a better choice for a modern portable gamer is at the very least frivolous.

But… but… mobile gaming sucks!

You play mobile games? What are you, a moran?

You play mobile games? What are you, a moran?

I wanted to end this write-up with the myth, or should I say saying that mobile gaming sucks because it’s just so vague, so generalized and stereotypical, so elitist and baseless, yet so prevalent among people, both online (Google found 132,000 exact matches for the term “mobile gaming sucks”) and in real life that it’s almost terrifying. Go to any general gaming forum and ask for mobile game recommendations… hell, go to dedicated mobile sub-forums of general gaming forums and ask for the same thing and you’re bound to get spammed by dozens of replies along the lines of “w0t r u, 12? mobile gamez suck n00b, get real & stop being filthy casual” (there’s usually more profanity involved).

If Dungeon Keeper is proof that mobile games suck, then Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin is proof that movies suck.

If Dungeon Keeper is proof that mobile games suck, then Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin is proof that movies suck.

The frequency of this kind of well-educated opinions most often increases when some heavily-marketed abomination enters the portable digital marketplace. Not that long ago, that atrocity was Final Fantasy All The Bravest. Today, it’s Dungeon Keeper. Tomorrow? My guess would be either Heroes of Dragon Age or Final Fantasy Tactics S (if it ever gets localized), but who knows? The point is, there always will be a next piece of crap backed up by a huge marketing budget, but mobile gaming isn’t special in that way. To quote one of my favorite gaming journalists, Owen Faraday:

If you dismiss all of mobile gaming because of mass market drivel like Dungeon Keeper, then you may as well dismiss cinema and literature, too, because Sharknado and Taken By The T-Rex exist.

Video games, film, music, literature, pottery; every art, discipline, industry, every activity that involves someone making something has examples of horrible work that resulted in catastrophic creations. And though this has turned into an extension of my second passage, the whole “mobile games suck” mindset can be induced by any of the myths listed above, not just stereotypes based on specific titles. The thing is, that kind of thinking is just plainly wrong, and if you’re still not convinced that’s the case, then I guess there’s a good chance you’re one of those people who won’t bother spending three minutes on reading this article, but will gladly go through the subheadlines and say “nuh-uh, you’re wrong and I’m right”. If that’s the case… well, I guess it sucks to be you. Now excuse me, I’m off to play some mobile games.

- DB

  • Sparr

    I can just imagine my granda playing arma tactics on hard: yeah, TAKE THAT GRANDMA!

  • Perko

    You know, not everyone wants to play a Skyrim on a smartphone.