“Mobile gaming is the future!”. I’ve seen this statement, or something like it, numerous times over the last few years. And while there can be no doubt that mobile gaming is a huge industry now, it has never been the future of gaming. Yes, games like Clash of Clans raked in mountains of cash, but it is hardly a game that people will sit down and play for hours. It gets played on the toilet. The future of gaming is not played on the toilet. There have been a few games on mobile that could be played for longer, Kingdom Rush comes to mind, but it that was a tower defence game. It was excellent, but it was hardly the future of gaming, and being a game you had to pay for upfront, it made nowhere near what things like Candy Crush do.
No, for mobile gaming to be even on par with other platforms, the games available need to evolve past the Clash of Clans, Kingdom Rush and Angry Birds. They need to change from a way to entertain players while on the toilet, to something that they want to sit down and play in the same way they would a PS4 or PC game. And it finally seems that this change might be coming. It was announced a few weeks ago that Runescape is coming to mobile, and honestly, I’m surprised it took so long. Even relatively basic smartphones are far more powerful than most PCs were ten years ago. I remember getting my first computer in 2006 and being amazed that it came with 1GB of RAM. One whole gigabyte! My current phone has 2GB, and was a fairly mid-range phone two years ago.
Perhaps the biggest issue with gaming on a phone or tablet, is the UI. Games that require nothing but a mouse to play work well, because a touch screen simply replaces a mouse with the players finger. But most games use more than just the mouse. They need a keyboard, or a controller. Working around the lack of either of these is the toughest obstacle to overcome. On screen controls just don’t work very well, even in relatively simple games. I have a Gameboy emulator on my phone, and even playing Pokemon is harder because using buttons on a touchscreen doesn’t work as well as ones you can physically touch. The sort of games that work well on mobile devices generally don’t require the player to perform multiple actions at once. Even games which are normally fairly simple, shooters for example, require aiming and shooting at the same time. Racing games need players to accelerate/brake and steer at the same time.
The key to a great mobile for me is having complex gameplay, with simple controls. Everything has to be done with the touch of a finger. This is why I am excited for Runescape coming to mobile. It is a complex game, with thousands of hours worth of playtime, but currently everything can be done with the mouse, meaning the controls will translate perfectly onto mobile. The same can be said of FTL: Faster Than Light, also known as the best £10 I’ve ever spent. I have spent more hours than I care to imagine playing that game on my iPad, because it works so well on there. In fact, I would say it works better than on PC. Again, fairly complex gameplay teamed with simple, mouse-only controls and the ability to pause and issue commands made this the perfect game to port to mobile.
Another issue for developers looking to release games on mobile is what to charge for them. A quick look at the Play Store game charts show that the top 54 highest grossing games are all free-to-play with microtransactions. The gaming behemoth that is Minecraft comes in at 55, costing £2.99. If something as popular as Minecraft can only manage to hit 55th place, despite costing less than a latte from Starbucks there is no incentive for game developers to actually create the kind of games that gamers are looking for. The type of games we already play on PC and consoles.
This is why I’m excited for Runescape on mobile, other than the obvious reason being I’ve wanted Runescape on mobile for years. It is a proper game. It isn’t something you can only play for 10 minutes unless you pay. We are carrying around hardware in our pockets with more power than a gaming PC from ten years ago, so why don’t the games developed for mobile reflect this? Almost all the really good games available on Android and iOS are games originally designed for PC. We need more games, not just ways of killing ten minutes while on the bog. These supposedly ‘free-to-play’ games are not the future of gaming, because they barely count as a game. The future of gaming should be awesome games, anywhere, at any time, because we have the hardware to do it now.