…does anyone really play them? I don’t know a soul that does. Even when I travel (which I do fairly extensively) I never, ever, see anyone playing a game on their cellphone. I see lots of PSPs, and the occasional Gameboy Advance. I have only seen two, maybe three Nintendo DS systems ever….
When the mobile games industry started getting a lot of attention from venture capitalists (pouring millions and millions into mobile development), and a fair number of acquisitions in the last year or so, I was somewhat puzzled. Ok, sure, there is a market there, and it seems to me that it is pretty large in some Asian countries, but is the market really big enough and lucrative enough to dump vast amounts of capital into? I assumed that maybe I just don’t get out enough and people everywhere are constantly buying and downloading mobile games. The few times I have opened my mouth and expressed my opinion on this, people were generally dismissive and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about…mobile gaming is HUGE, or it soon will be. “Ok ok”, I thought…I know the MMO industry and maybe I should keep my opinions there.
Anyway, I have noticed that in the past few months, other people and analysts are starting to echo my thoughts and befuddlement about mobile gaming…it isn’t making money, the market is inflated and overcapitalized, and no one is buying the games. Of course, this is very heretical to think or speak about in some circles, and any opinion like this is usually immediately shot down by someone else claiming that billions (or at least hundreds of millions) of dollars are being made, and mobile gaming is growing very fast.
Ok fine. So, I am at the IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) annual party at E3, and I meet someone from a rather large mobile phone / platform company. He was pretty smashed, and I was only on my second drink. Somehow or another we got onto the topic of mobile gaming, and like an idiot, I opened my mouth and said the unforgivable…”so, I’ve heard that mobile gaming isn’t doing as well as the media portrays it, what do you guys (meaning his company) think about that? Is it as bad as I think it is? I mean, honestly, I don’t know ANYONE that plays (or buys) mobile games.” OMG, he turned six shades of red and started spluttering to me about how many hundreds of thousands of handheld and mobile units his company was selling, and how extraordinarily profitable mobile games are. Then he proceeded to educate me about the company was totally dedicated to growth and development in the mobile industry and that anyone that thought things were on the decline, or not performing as well as the public thinks, was certainly an idiot.
Ok, I may be pretty confidant about my opinions, and possibly a bit arrogant about them (I have little tolerance for ignorance, idiots, and bad game design), but I am still at heart a nice guy. So, I just quietly nodded my head and let the guy rant. I made some comment about how my “sources” must have been wrong, and I changed the subject. I mean heck, just because my opinion is different from his, doesn’t mean that I am right and he is wrong…I am more than happy to admit when I make a mistake or I am wrong. I am also willing to bite my tongue if I can make a new friend.
Anyway, market research, press releases, and all that jazz aside, what I want to know, is how many people out there (informal poll!) actually buy and play games on a mobile platform (meaning anything that isn’t a handheld like the PSP). How many games have you bought? Do you play them regularly? Was it a waste of time? Is the mobile market saturated with too many games? Are “mobile conversions” of popular franchises a total waste of time?
While you think about that and are typing your answer in the comment box below, I want to comment on something else…John Carmack has been talking about doing an MMO for mobile platforms. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to say here. It seems like he wants to do a sequel to “Orcs and Elves” (wow, original content there) and make it massively multiplayer. Ok, from one perspective, yeah, fine, sounds fun, good luck to you. On the other hand… is it time to have new definitions for MMO?
Let me explain…when you say MMO or MMORPG to me, I immediately think of a massively multiplayer large scale persistent environment (usually immersive) that has elements of role-playing in it. Everquest is an MMO, Battlefield 1942 is not. Neverwinter Nights and Diablo are likewise not MMOs. I would classify Second Life as an MMO -environment- or simply a massively multiuser 3D chat world, but not as a game. One of the critical defining elements here, is the user to user interaction. Neopets is certainly massively multiuser, but then so is Amazon.com…neither offer shared environments with direct interactions between multiple people (or groups of people) simultaneously.
Anyway, I digress… How exactly could you make a MMO game suitable for a mobile platform? I don’t think you can…or you can, but then it isn’t exactly a true MMORPG. If you completely stripped out chat (what, you are going to keep sending text messages to everyone in your party while you try whacking some rats at the same time?) and other social elements but kept the gameplay elements simple (while still offering a rich world), would it still be defined as a traditional MMORPG? Or would it simply turn into a game where people rarely interact directly, but still encounter them in the cities, or from time to time out in the wilds?
I don’t know. I think it will be interesting to see what Carmack et al come up with, but I have a feeling that it is going to be rather disappointing and probably a terrible flop. But of course, it will take a while to create, and there will be lots of press, and hey, if Carmack is doing it, it must be a good idea, so soon there will be announcements of some VC fund or another (maybe one of the big daddy publishers) will dump a massive amount of money into some franchise….Mobile Matrix MMO! Star Wars Mobile Galaxies! Evermobile! Asheron’s Call on line 1! Project Mobiletropia!
When is someone going to trow money at making some truely next generation innovative games? Where are all of the brilliant designers hanging out at? When is the true online games renaissance going to start? I feel like we built up some steam, and then things just started faltering, and now we are in a period of stagnation and recycling. Where are the risk takers?
In the interests of disclosure: A few months ago, my crappy cellphone died, and I bought a spiffy (and sleek) black razor V3 (Cingular). I got bored waiting for a meeting, and I went and downloaded Bejeweled (and paid for it). I’ve played it maybe 5 or 6 times (I rather like bejeweled), but I much prefer it on the PC.
If I rambled a bit in this particular rant, please overlook it. I’m a little low on coffee today.
Signing off for now…