If we go back a decade, mobile gaming was seen as a revolution of the gaming industry. Smartphones are the most accessible platform in the world with each and every one of us undoubtedly having a smartphone in our pocket right now unless you’re wearing a tinfoil hat and thinking that the lizard people are influencing our brains with magic waves. The early successes of mobile gaming exploded with such popularity that the small indie teams responsible for them are now billion dollar companies. Mobile was a way to unify gamers and expand the medium into the international stage where even your grandma would play a sneaky game of Fruit Ninja.
Then it all came crumbling down.
The reasons were numerous, but the effects of it can be seen quite clearly. When Blizzard announced Diablo: Immortal which is a mobile Diablo experience, things got way out of hand. Fans were furious at this announcement, developers were booed on stage, Twitter fights predictably erupted and the gaming community got labelled as a bunch of entitled whiners once again. It was all a giant mess for everyone involved and it brought the ugliness out of people no matter what their stance was. This was pretty silly considering it’s just a mobile spin-off of the game that wasn’t even hyped up to be the next evolution of the franchise. The mainline franchise was more or less untouched with different teams working on the games. So why all this hatred? Let me outline it for you.
Mobile games jumped the shark in more ways than one with their monetisation tactics. Initially, mobile games had a set price that you paid for an experience and that was the end of that, but once companies caught wind of the sheer number of potential users, things started to get extremely precarious. We saw a shift in games going from a set price point to becoming “free” with entire regions of the screen being dedicated to premium currency, shop “specials” and boosts that you can buy. Everything in mobile games started to take an inordinate amount of time such as completing structures taking upwards of days to complete unless you pump some premium currency in.
Things started to get absolutely ridiculous. Middle-of-the-road titles with negligible mechanics started charging hundreds of dollars for digital currency with the promise of having you become the best. It is predatory, it is scummy and there is actual psychological trickery going on. Nobody in their right mind would want to be treated like some lab rat that gets tricked into giving resources away for the momentary rush of dopamine. It’s nearly inhumane, but corporate companies don’t care about that. Gamers that have broken out of the illusion of bright graphics and gentle nudges wrote off mobile games because of these greedy practices and rightly so because your time and money can be spent on things that give infinitely more fulfilment without even breaking a sweat.
Mobile phones have gotten significantly more powerful throughout the years and we’re reaching a point where the quality of the experiences on there can rival older generation consoles. Hell, you can play older Final Fantasy games in all their glory on your phone while sitting on the toilet. You can even play the entirety of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas if you wish. However, mobile games usually don’t utilise the power at their disposal choosing instead to go for mediocre cartoony visuals in order to remain as inoffensive as possible. It’s quite obvious that mobile games go for the casual market which includes children and older people that have never had their hands on a controller. It’s all about getting the broadest audience and if you want to do that, all innovation goes out of the window.
Stellar mobile games like The Room, Swords and Sworcery and Monument Valley are all games that have an upfront cost and have concepts that won’t be understood by the casual market. Those games get absolutely buried by awful mobile games with the same art style that have the goal of exploiting children. There are worthwhile and wonderful mobile experiences out there, but you’ll have to dig through a million Clash of Clans clones and Angry Birds wannabes in order to get to them. Some of my favourite mobile experiences were only found because of some recommendation from obscure YouTube channels which is certainly a sad state of affairs.
The effect of this is that when you hear “mobile”, you think derivative garbage with no real value, even if the opposite is definitely possible.
Lack of respect
One word: whales. It’s a term liberally used by mobile game developers to refer to an extremely small subset of people that spend massive amounts of money on their game to offset users that don’t want to spend anything. Whales are part of the parlance for mobile gaming and the reality of that is immeasurably sad. Who can we exploit the most? How can we get people to spend their life savings on our terrible mobile game? How can we create systems designed to get the most money out of people? It’s an absolutely disgusting way of looking at your audience. There’s no respect there at all, all you’re seeing at that point is giant bags of money and keeping investors happy.
It’s the polar opposite of what I stand for. I want gaming to be considered art and if you give me these examples as a counterpoint to why it’s not, I don’t have much to fire back with. It’s so cynical and the scariest extreme of what capitalism is capable of. If this happened in core gaming, which it admittedly has in less severe ways, I might just throw my consoles out during the next garbage day. But because we’ve grown complacent with it on mobile, it’s just seen as the way things are now. It’s so rooted in what the platform has become that there’s no turning back now.
Back to the devil
Diablo: Immortal got such a torrent of hate and we didn’t even know what the game was really about outside of small gameplay trailers and the fact that it exists. Such a response doesn’t appear out of nowhere and unfortunately, it isn’t the game’s fault at all. When you’re burned so many times, you will stay away from the fires, even if they are harmless. Did gamers jump the shark and turn this into a completely unnecessary debacle? No doubt. Did the game deserve this gigantic torrent of hatred and having innocent developers dragged into the destruction? Absolutely not. I also think there’s a huge element of closed-mindedness involved here. However, with how the mobile gaming industry has been tainted by unchecked greed and an absolute disregard for customers, it’s also something that can be seen as warranted. When you’re treated with such a lack of respect, it’s a natural response to retaliate with the same.
We can go on all day about gamers being entitled or a bunch of whinebags, but the industry is definitely not without sin. What we saw here was a perfect storm of tainted perception and a severe lack of faith, which is so unfortunate that it hurts.