Man oh man. This question has been coming up with incredible frequency over the last year. I’ve probably had the debate 8-9 times since GDC, and I still haven’t fully formed my opinion on the subject. There’s certainly some indications that gamers love mobile, and some pretty depressing indications that people aren’t buying as many traditional games as they used to, but does correlation equal causation?
Is mobile another platform or THE platform for hardcore gaming?
At the highest level, I’m a pretty big believer in the power of hardcore for mobile. I joined PlayMesh because I was truly compelled by the hardcore opportunity and the potential for mobile to capitalize on a person’s “idle” gaming hours while they’re away from the computer. But that’s just it – I’ve viewed the mobile opportunity to be about expanding the relationship with gaming, not replacing preexisting habits. That viewpoint was rooted in a deep feeling that the mobile platform wasn’t likely to offer the same quality of experience you could obtain from the traditional platforms.
Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps the unique characteristics of mobile are sufficient to overcome the “quality” deficit. It’s very difficult to invest time into multiple hardcore games simultaneously, and mobile has the distinct advantage of availability. The ability to engage in multiple mini-sessions throughout the day permits the player to remain immersed while still leaving the option for longer evening sessions. If this becomes a typical use case, then I do think mobile is going to pose a real threat to the traditional platform.
Of course, the use case I mentioned above is not something typically seen in the mobile context. Numerous short sessions define the mobile user, and most developers design their games around that particular interaction. It’s atypical to have a game that plays well at 5 minutes as well as 60. Without that flexibility, it’s very difficult for a mobile game to demand a gamer’s full attention during the prime gaming hours. However, I can certainly envision certain games that could capitalize on a wider range of session times – Infinity Blade could be a good example (stay for one sword fight or do an entire run over the course of 20 minutes).
It’s an attractive argument, but I’m just not convinced that accessibility is enough to overcome the quality differential, which is significant. Mobile has a long way to go before it is providing players with the depth that they can obtain on the PC or console. I’m proud of the quality of experience Valor (PlayMesh’s game) delivers to the players, but I don’t expect them to forsake Diablo III for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t occasionally pause their D3 gaming to get a bit of Valor in though. This is a roundabout away of saying that mobile is probably a supplement to console play in the short term, but it has strong potential to be a replacement as the delta in quality drops. That time may be sooner rather than later when one considers the constant flow of talented developers from traditional to mobile companies.
At this point, it’s pretty clear I’ve got a somewhat schizophrenic take on the subject. There are just too many variables to consider to reasonably conjecture about the future of gaming from a platform perspective. For example, the fact that mobile gaming ultimately resides on a device that it optimized for utility rather than entertainment is probably a meaningful constraint on the ability of the platform to evolve. Consoles aspire to ever greater usefulness in the household (Blu-Ray, integrated streaming services, Kinect functions, etc.), but they ultimately recognize the primacy of gaming in the feature set. Mobile isn’t arranged around gaming, though it certainly recognizes the value it provides.
So what do I need to make up my mind? A look at the next generation of mobile games and a roadmap for the next generation of consoles would probably be sufficient. The rapid upgrade cycle of the mobile phone (yay for two-year contracts) means mobile can move faster than consoles, and conceivably outpace consoles during the next generation. However, there’s a real caveat that the next console generation may make use of cloud gaming, which could provide it with far greater ability to adapt to technology advancements.
Blarg. I don’t know. I work at a mobile company so I know what’s probably best for the ole career, but the gamer in me has a hard time letting go of the 19-inch monitor.
JM: Haha! This is what we were talking about at the Grove yesterday! Very cool. I am also biased toward the idea of mobile approaching the market of console, but even setting aside the questions of technology, connectivity, and play sessions, there’s the challenge of input on tablets and smartphones. I hate the virtual joystick thing, although in fairness I’ve seen very creative control systems on unreleased games. Even an action RPG, finally fun to control on iPad. But like you, I’m not giving up my computer or my PS3. Diablo III is the second piece of software I installed on my new 2.6GHz MacBook Pro Retina, which is shipping to the rest of you in 3 weeks, after Aperture. And Aperture was necessary to go in first, so I could get my cat pictures all loaded in. You know Shawn, the amount of time we spend thinking and talking about photos, it surprises me that we don’t start a photo-related company. Maybe the next go-around, buddy?