The Mobile Game Stigma – Why Mobile Games Get a Bad Rap

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Person playing a mobile game.

In most gaming circles, I often hear mobile games getting the short end of the stick. Most people who consider themselves “gamers” turn their noses up at mobile games, citing that they aren’t real games. While I believe that many of them have predatory monetization practices, I see potential in the mobile gaming market. The fact that a phone’s interface is simple and more people have them nowadays, I feel there is room for truly great mobile game experiences.

I’m not ready to give up on mobile games, however. In this article, I’d like to explore the possibilities of mobile games and what can come of them in a perfect world.

Money hungry mobile games.

As a bit of an antithesis of my usual formula, I’d like to start with the issues I have with the current ideology of mobile games. My first gripe is with game companies. I’m sure a vast majority of my audience noticed this, but on mobile markets (Google Play, Apple App Store, etc.) many games are free-to-play at first, but that soon cut the player off with a vast difficulty spike until they pay a premium currency in some way to gain additional support in beating the level in question.

While I understand that a game has to make money somehow and that a game needs to ramp up the difficulty at some point to keep things fresh, these spikes come from seemingly out of nowhere. In a typical game, this would be highly contentious. Mobile games tend to get a free pass because they don’t have an up-front cost. I’m afraid I have to disagree with this difficulty scaling method, as designing the game’s difficulty curve is an integral part of a game’s design philosophy. If a developer willingly implements a haphazard difficulty spike, the player is eventually going to react in kind (usually by dropping the game and never coming back to it.)

Purposeful obfuscation of Microtransaction spending

One thing that frustrates me with some games is when the game, or its developer/publisher, makes it purposefully obscure to track how much the player spends on their game. It’s bad enough that the game asks for real money (sometimes on top of the upfront cost of the game itself), but to downplay how much the player spends is just downright scummy.

I’ve often heard stories on how someone spent their life savings to get a character in a game. When they ask the publisher how much they spent on the game, the publisher often has to have their arm metaphorically twisted to provide this information. At that point, it’s clear that they hide this fact so that the player doesn’t think they’ve spent so much money on a game to entice them to spend more.

This is where I have to put my foot down. Not letting the player know or refusing to let them know how much they spent on their game seems contemptuous from the publisher or the developers. My first wish for mobile games is to have an easily accessible option that shows the player how much money they spent on certain games or microtransactions. Google Play or Apple’s App Store could include this information within their user profile settings or mandate that developers or publishers make that information available and transparent, which would be terrific.

I saw glimpses of that idea implemented in a few games and Google Play. In the game’s case, some of them will display a message stopping the player from spending too much money at one time. In Google Play’s instance, there are parental controls that prevent young players from adding money to their accounts. These are a nice thought, but ultimately, I do feel like this needs to be regulated more closely.

Mobile games which are pretending to be console games

I’ve noticed that within the last couple of years, big companies best known for making large-scale PC and console games, switching their focus on the mobile market. Like many people, I also feel like this is a money-seeking idea rather than an innovative one. Don’t get me wrong; some console games translate beautifully to mobile. Where
issues lie is when they make an entry into a beloved franchise, only to stuff it with microtransactions.

While I see an attempt to make the game enjoyable to play, playing a platforming game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with touch controls is far less than ideal. This is where my next suggestion comes in; know what should go on mobile and which ones should stay on consoles and PC. RPG and puzzle games are two game genres that work well on mobile. On the other hand, action games and platformers need to accommodate the simple interface of the smartphone. Most of the time, smartphones can only have two inputs simultaneously, which makes playing games like Mega Man X or the aforementioned Castlevania: Symphony of the Night challenging to play.

Hopeful optimism for mobile games

A significant reason why I review mobile games is that, despite my many issues with the platform, I do think there is potential. I’m always on the lookout for a surprising mobile hit (Genshin Impact comes to mind here). I take mental notes on which games try to gouge the player out of their money so that people know what to expect from them. I often equate mobile to flash games, as they are often similar in scope. Mobile games are also an excellent place for indie developers to get their game out there since so many people have phones.

My list of wishes for mobile games improvements

I’ve touched on a few suggestions I have for mobile game developers in this article, but here is where I would like to concentrate specifically on what I would like to see given the perfect environment.

  1. I would like free-to-play mobile games to focus more on game
    design, rather than trying to force the player into spending
    money. This would include: removing purposeful difficulty spikes
    (often called “paywalls”), optimizing gameplay and having a
    meaningful story.
  2. Microtransactions need to take a back seat and not be as
    intrusive as they’ve been in the past.
  3. The game should let the player know how much money they spent on
    Microtransactions so that the player doesn’t go overboard.
  4. The game should be self-explanatory on what the player is spending
    their money on.
  5. I would love for games to have an upfront cost and not ask for
    any more money after the initial purchase.
  6. RPG and puzzle games on mobile are a-ok. Platformers and
    console action games need to be re-worked, or not have a mobile
    the port at all.

Closing thoughts

Like any other development platform, mobile gaming is a tool. It is a way for people to experience games in a small and portable fashion. It has the potential to be something exceptional but often gets squandered. This squandering is why a lot of people don’t take mobile seriously. If people make good games on mobile, then people will have a reason to play those games.

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