So, mobile gaming. Much maligned though it is, I’ve always had a soft spot for this market in which a game as enjoyable and finely-crafted as, say, 80 Days can coexist with a game as creepy and distressing as, say, Celebrity Crazy Little Dentist.
It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to turn to my fruit-based cellular communications device and see what wonders have found their way onto the smaller screen. It’s definitely not, as some malicious naysayers would have you believe, a necessity brought about by my computer’s recent death. I’m now fully on board with team mobile. #TeamMobile, and so on.
Seriously though, the prevailing opinion in PC and console circles seems to be that mobile games are, with some notable exceptions, garbage with few redeeming factors. Just how fair is this assessment? Well, let’s look at some of the main criticisms levelled at mobile games.
There’s the frankly terrifying amount of ‘freemium’ content that adorns the various app stores. Vampiric games, tapping at the window, smiling a gruesome smile and holding up a price tag reading a big fat zero. When you invite them into your device, to inadvisedly continue the vampire analogy, you recognise all too late you’ve welcomed the villainous Count Zynga and before you can say “This is getting a bit long-winded”, your bank account is sucked dry.
It’s not news to say that, particularly amongst free mobile games, there’s an increasingly cynical range of attempts to ensnare money away from consumers. You’ve got cosmetic changes, which as far as I’m concerned are fairly benign. Then there’s pay-to-win elements, such as power upgrades, which really have no place in gaming. Most egregious, however, has to be the use of paid ‘energy’ in order to continue playing the game past an allotted time point.
These are all, to varying extents, methods that prey on the vulnerable and the unknowing. They feed on the addictive nature of wanting to play just a little bit more, or on the child who’s somehow gotten hold of their parents’ phone in which their card details are stored. There aren’t many shittier and morally objectionable target markets to aim for. I mean, maybe neo-Nazis? But even then, you’d be taking money from neo-Nazis. They’d be poorer. Maybe that’s a noble aim. Uh… I mean, you can go ahead with that one if you like, I’ll probably leave it alone.
So, surely the PC and console wins out here, right? Well, I’m not so sure. Look at some of the latest big releases, and look at the business models they apply. You can find yourself paying sixty bucks for the privilege of owning an incomplete game. Elements are withheld from you, hidden behind microtransactions and pre-order bonuses. At the very least, you’re not looking at shelling out anywhere near that kind of money up front on mobile, unless you buy one of those weirdly expensive apps that seem to let you monitor the security systems of a warehouse somewhere in rural Bulgaria.
So, we’ve conclusively proved that exploitative economics are not a mobile-only problem. They’re a games problem or, to get a bit more political, a human problem. And while you’re reeling from that sick burn on the socio-economic landscape of our modern civilisation, let’s move on to another criticism thrown at mobile games: Low quality control.
Sure, if you’re looking for the bad in app stores it’s there in abundance. There’s a million crappy Flappy Bird clones, even more endless runners and far too many pregnant X surgeries, where ‘X’ equals any character, fictional or otherwise, ever.
What else have we heard of with less-than-stellar quality control? Something that I’ve written about fairly extensively. The lowest of low-hanging fruit. That’s right! Steam Greenlight! You can’t in earnest say, while titles like Grass Simulator and The Slaughtering Grounds have slipped their way through Steam’s quality filter, that this is an exclusively mobile problem.
There you have it. The Emperor truly has no clothes. Or, to be more specific, the smaller emperor who everyone knew wasn’t really wearing any clothes isn’t so different from the two larger emperors who, in spite of general opinion which held that they may be wearing skin-coloured latex, are also fully nude. Maybe now, safe in the knowledge that we are run by three emperors with more-or-less equal sartorial shortcomings, we can evaluate the advantages of the smaller emperor more fairly. And now I’ve run that analogy into the ground, I’ll bid you adieu.