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5 things wrong with mobile gaming

5 things wrong with mobile gaming
Homo Ludens. The playing man. The play element is deeply woven into our culture and society. It’s an evolutionary tool to help us learn new things in the most pleasant way. Kittens play to learn the art of hunting. Gazelles play to learn how to escape the claws of grown-up cats and so on, and so forth.

No wonder games have been so popular throughout the history of mankind. Our prehistoric ancestors played dice games with bones. Ancient Greeks held athletic festivals every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia. There are countless artifacts from different times in history that show how much humans loved to play.


Fast forward to present days and the precious rectangular slabs we keep in our pockets and call smartphones. Games have found their way inside, disguised as tiny bits of digital information. In practice, our modern smartphones are filled with swords, magic, little cars, and big guns.

And yet, modern mobile gaming seems to suffer from various diseases. None of them is terminal but together they ruin what playing was supposed to be all along. A free and enjoyable experience. Let’s find out what’s really wrong with mobile gaming.

1. The shotgun strategy - mobile games as ad platforms


One of the big issues with mobile gaming is that mobile games are everywhere - just like smartphones themselves. How so? Well, it’s another opportunity for companies to blast users with ads. It’s all very convenient - just by downloading a certain type of game, you spare these companies all the resources and time they usually spent targeting their audience. But that’s not the main problem.


Mobile games are so fruitful as an ad platform that many developers start to make games with that sole purpose in mind. We have millions of mobile games on Google Play Store and Apple AppStore and millions of people are downloading them on their phones. It doesn’t matter if a game is good or bad, it will find its way to somebody’s phone. And so will all the ads.

All this impacts mobile games’ quality, of course. And that’s even before we factor in how annoying it is to watch these ads and be asked to pay for an ad-free experience.

2. When random is equal to gambling


Modern mobile games exploit another psychological treat of humans: the gambling effect. It’s very simple. Just put a big prize behind a random generator and see how people will spend vast amounts of time and money to play for that prize. We just love to be surprised and not know the outcome of certain things. Take lottery, roulette, slot machines, virtually every game that has a prize, and a random element to it.


Take any mobile RPG game and you’ll see a mechanism that locks heroes, weapons, spells, or whatever behind a random event. You collect shards to make a hero pull, or spend in-game currency, or pay with real money. And most of the time the odds are ridiculous. You spend 50$ on a single pull for a decent hero with less the 1 percent chance for success. It’s also repetitive and addictive and doesn’t even qualify as real gameplay.

3. The not-so-tiny elephant in the room - microtransactions


That’s the big one. I’m sure it’s been addressed many times in other editorials, so let’s make it quick. The vast majority of mobile games are branded as free-to-play, but there’s always the option for in-game purchases. Sometimes people spend thousands of dollars on a game that's billed as free-to-play. The issue here is that very few games apply these in-game purchases without any impact on gameplay.


And the problem is not that you pay large amounts of money on a mobile game. It’s not even the imbalance in gameplay resulting from the above. The real problem is that developers now make games specifically suited to this business model. There are countless paywalls and things like story or gameplay matter less and less. The reality is that we’re stuck with thousands of lookalike mobile games that play the same and sometimes even look the same.


4. The idle conundrum - when you pay not to play


To my big surprise, the so-called idle games are on a rise in recent years. The premise is that you’re so busy, that you don’t have time to play, so the game plays itself, more or less. Of course, once or twice a day you have to log in to collect rewards, watch those ads, and maybe buy something. 


The need for idle games is a natural result of the sheer number of mobile games that are spat out constantly. You already have one or two games installed on your phone. But wait, get this one, it plays itself, you’ll still have time for the other ones. And before you know it, there are a dozen games on your phone and you’re barely doing any “playing” at all.

5. Infinite mobile games lifecycle - until it suddenly ends


Finally, all the issues mentioned above give birth to another “curiosity”. At first glance, many of these mobile games seem epic and never-ending. There are countless updates, new heroes, new events. Which is all good but if at any point users and/or earning of the said game fall under a certain threshold, the game just gets killed. The real lifecycle of these games is very unpredictable. And it’s frustrating really, even if we leave all other issues aside. You spend your time, and most probably your money, invested in the game and one day it’s all gone. Nothing to do about it but start browsing for the next in line. A vicious circle.


And most likely there are many other aspects of modern mobile gaming that are questionable, to say the least. Share any of those in the comments below. What’s your worst mobile gaming experience?

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