Portable gaming has had one overlord- Nintendo. They have dominated and controlled the market. Each handheld system has propped up the company. Now the king has acknowledged and knighted another- mobile gaming can no longer be ignored.
If I am honest, mobile gaming has been flourishing for years. Humbly, the mobile gaming upstart started with a small snake. The industry grew, just as the snake grew with dots, with each passing generation of phone. It began with games that took up virtually no space. With each advance in phone technology, so too the games grew more complex.
Old games, such as Final Fantasy, have been ported to phones. Recently though the medium seemed to take its next step through a couple of Nintendo related events. The first was Pokémon Go. Rarely does a game on any platform enter into the mainstream media. When’s the last time you saw a video game on the local news, CNN, or the New York Times. Pokémon Go broke through what few games since Grand Theft Auto 3 have. Even Esports has not been able to accomplish this yet. This move is significant, no matter your view of the actual game, as it brings validity and creativity (hoping to cash in) in the growing market.
The second major development was Nintendo putting Mario on the iPhone. This might not seem like a big deal, but as I noted in the beginning, the king acknowledging another’s crown. If the rumors are true, then Nintendo might be going a new direction with NX to merge their mobile and console gaming.
The stars are aligning and it appears that mobile games are the future for gaming (that and VR if you believe the hype). That said, there tends to be two big limitations to gaming taking its next big step on mobile.
As Crosstix noted in his Shuemue 3 piece, games have been building off one another and becoming “open world” and almost movie-like with quick time events. Many of the AAA games utilize these deep story elements to carry the game. If these have become staples, I wonder how well they translate over to mobile.
These core developments in gaming highlight a few of the limitations left in mobile gaming. The first is the space. Games have become huge. Console games now do not even fit on the 60+ GB available on Blu-ray disks and require GBs of download and save space upon each console. No matter how you slice it, mobile platforms just do not have that amount of space. Even with a slot for a SD card there are huge limitations to achieving the space needed to produce an open world game like Last of Us. Other programs, downloads, and updates quickly fill up any space left.
The second issue is controls. The biggest complaint I often hear from friends obsessed with mobile gaming is control issues. PC gamers have often lauded the mouse and keyboard as the best setup for shooters and many other genres. Controllers leave the imprecise touchscreen behind. Many companies have tried to solve this issue by creating a controller that houses the mobile phone. The issue though is that this is a peripheral, and as most gamers know, peripherals lack the level of adoption to usually garner the AAA large budget support.
The last pillar of issues for mobile gaming is the issue of battery life. Most successful games on mobile are quick play short games that realize a player is probably playing on a lunch break, or waiting at the bus. Think Angry Birds. The more in-depth titles require long stretches to play. That frequency and processing demands drains the battery for most phones like there is no tomorrow. A dead battery and being unable to make phone calls or save at a crucial moment kills your gaming mojo fast.
So there are problems still to overcome for mobile to truly become what it can be. That said there are a few unique aspects that other platforms could only dream of. The highlight here is augmented reality. Pokemon Go highlights this so well. The player can be in the real world, moving, becoming part of the game.
There is definitely potential to be tapped in mobile gaming. If we can hurdle past a few barriers, then one new frontier could be coming into its own.