5 things I hate about mobile games and why they're actually good
Mobile games' staple characteristic is the mechanics that are a bit (or a lot) simpler than their console and PC counterparts. Take Super Mario Run for example. It's a simple one-click runner that allows you less control than the original Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System. But it actually makes sense for it to be dumbed-down.
3310, it had one key component that made the more sophisticated controls possible – an actual physical controller. You could stuff several buttons on it without hurting the image on-screen. This is not the case with smartphones, unless you use a gamepad for your mobile gaming needs. And while some people do, most casual gamers don't.
Imagine Super Mario Run on an iPhone SE with its 4-inch screen, packing a full D-Pad and several buttons for jumping, shooting and what not. What little space would be left for Mario and the actual level to be displayed would just not suffice.
There's another aspect to dumbed-down mechanics. Allow me to explain it by taking Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links as an example. The game is based on an incredibly complex trading card game, with a steep learning curve. One match could stretch out for quite some time. The dumbed-down mechanics of Duel Links enforces faster duels that you can play on-the-go and that won't drain your battery after just one match.
Mobile gaming will never represent the full experience. Smartphones are just not meant for it, due to several reasons. First of all, touch controls are awkward, and they're not good enough for sophisticated action mechanics. Also, we usually turn to mobile games when we have a few minutes to kill. Getting stuck to your phone 10 minutes before a meeting in an attempt to reach the next checkpoint would be less than ideal, especially if said checkpoint is half an hour of gameplay away.
Therefore, dumbed-down mechanics are actually good for mobile games. They're perfect for the platform, and work well with the way we play games on our phones. And this is why infinite runners are so popular on smartphones, despite my disdain for them.
Limited items and lives
I'm a grown man with a full-time job, a girlfriend and a ton of responsibilities. And I am completely capable of ignoring all of these, just to play “one more turn” when I start playing video games (I'm looking at you Sid Meier's Pirates). And since I can't take my gaming PC to the office for my lunch breaks, I play some games on my phone.
Guess what happens when I have unlimited lives. My lunch break suddenly becomes twice as long as it should be. So, thank you limited lives and items, for making me stop playing after 15 or so minutes. I know that's not their primary reason for existence, but that's one plus of limited lives.
On a side note, I just realized that my superiors will be reading this article. At least they'll know why I take such long lunch breaks.
In-app purchases (if done right)
Speaking of limited lives and items, I can't help but to mention in-app purchases too. Now you're probably scrolling back to the title of the article and you're wondering if you read it right. Yes, you did. In-app purchases can be good for everyone if they're done right.
Let's take Pokemon GO for example. The hit AR title relies entirely on IAP for monetization. It's obvious how that's good for the developers, but how is it good for players? Well, the free-to-play model, paired with IAP, allows you to pay what you want for a game.
If you want to play completely for free, with no ads at all, you're free to do so. But be prepared for some more grinding than paying players. This, of course, gave birth to the unofficial pay-to-win model, where developers would force you (intentionally or not) to buy items in order to stand any chance of winning. Pokemon GO, however, did it just right. The shop contains items that will help you progress faster and easier, but won't guarantee you a win. Any player that hasn't paid a single cent can compete with you if they're serious about playing the game.
Don't get me wrong, I still don't like IAP in most games. Especially when the game itself is paid, or it contains ads already. I'd be more than happy if developers could choose just one monetization method and stick with it.
Hey, mobile developers, it's 2017. The technology for real-time multiplayer games over the Internet has been around for approximately 20 years now. Why do we have to deal with asynchronous multiplayer against an AI representation of our friends? Because it makes sense, that's why.
It's as close to the real thing as it gets.Let's get back to the lunch break situation. Let's assume that mine starts at noon, and my best friend's starts at 1:00 PM. We obviously can't play together in real time, because we have a different schedule throughout the day. And when we get back home from work, we'd prefer to start our Playstations and duke it out in Mortal Kombat or something like that. But we still want to play this awesome mobile game with our friends.
What's the solution, then? Asynchronous multiplayer, where our friend is simulated by a piece of code on a faraway server. It's as close to the real thing as it gets. We can still sort of see how they're progressing in the game, and we can also feel like we're competing against them, but the annoying difference in schedules doesn't matter anymore, because we can challenge the AI substitute whenever we want.
Lack of end-game
Infinite runners, how I hate you all. Why do I hate you? Because you're infinite, that's why. What's the point of a game without a win condition?
Subway Surfers has been in the Top 100 charts in all app stores for more than four years straight. It's nothing fancy, has almost no new features since its release, but it's still going strong with no signs of slowing down.
The reason for this is that people don't want to spend time on looking for new casual time-killers every week or so. If end-game was implemented in games such as Subway Surfers, everyone would just stop playing them after a while. Instead, mobile games provide a simple formula that makes you compete with yourself. They give you the opportunity to reach an infinite score, and until the app runs out of memory, you're free to keep pushing the boundaries of the game world. You can always get that one extra point on top of your score and that's enough to keep people interested.
Back in the 80s infinite games kept people at the arcades, dropping quarters. Now they keep people glued to their phones, seeing ads. It's just a modern twist on a decades-old formula.
There are plenty of reasons to love mobile games, and even more to hate them. But we have to ask ourselves if we're being fair in our hatred. Give me a game stuffed with ads, with little to no content, and pay-to-win microtransactions and I will bash it faster than you can give it a one-star rating on Google Play. But all of the traits of mobile games have their purpose, and developers that truly grasp them can make them enjoyable and beneficial for all of us.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my Duel Links session lunch break.