The soft-brained among us would start and end with the monetization practices that mobile and tablet game developers use to, you know, pay their bills, and while a lot of the complaints are legit — these are supposed to be games, not tollbooths — there’s a lot of things that more discerning (and bored) gamers can pick apart about the mobile ecosystem.
Things such as:
I got this from Google’s Play store listing of a game called Star Battleships, which is what you call your game when you want people to know your product has stars and probably battleships. If you want to know anything else about the game, well fuck you because Commander Anime here has level 9999 photobombing skills, and feels that it’s important that he be included in the promotional material. The game is free, after all, so what are you complaining about, sissy-pants?
If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that assholes are way more prevalent than scientists believed. While the world-wide network makes it easier for us to find people who share our interests, it also brings jerks to our doorstep, and a lot of time of anyone‘s daily Internet regimen is spent actively avoiding other people.
I get that multiplayer is a way to avoid having to code AI and to make gameplay more dynamic, but mobile games seem to have a fetish for forcing you into a menage a Internet with people in order to progress, or at least to not make your game time a living hell (beyond the fact that you’re opting to spend your time playing mobile games, of course).
If there was ever a trope that represented the salt thrown at mobile gaming, these kinds of ubiquitous images (complete with saliva-flecking tendrils to signify that they really mean it) are the lazy icons that mobile gaming deserves.
This picture is the equivalent of that painting that Ted Striker was working on during his stint in the mental hospital in Airplane!, except far less amusing and with even less context. Oddly enough, it checks a whole lot of mobile game advertising boxes: Hard to see and therefore hard to understand screenshots of actual gameplay? Check. Oversized text stating the obvious? Check. Unassociated character taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the screen? Check. Boobs taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the unassociated character taking up a disproportionate 3/4 of the screen. Check and check.
This is a fucking war-crime. Stop it.
I’ve seen all kinds of UI violations over the years, and I understand that with a touch screen that everything needs to be big enough for the most sausage of fingers to be able to find purchase, but nothing boils my rabbit more than games that take taping shit to stratospheric levels.
I’m not a fan of trying to get traditional controls like gamepads and buttons on the screen either, but in this screenshot from Megaopolis, and as with many other games like it since the atrocity that was Farmville started the whole despicable trend, being asked to touch each and every house, business, and person isn’t gameplay. It’s a behavior that people with (actual diagnosed, not Internet-assumed-WebMD-self-diagnosed) OCD take medication to stop doing, and yet mobile games go out of their way to encourage this kind of behavior in those of us who don’t suffer from the need to touch every doorknob in the room.
This is really the frosting on the cake (my favorite part of the cake, but my most hated part of mobile gaming): most of what we’re asked to do in a “mobile game” isn’t a game mechanic at all; it’s busy-work. And I’ve played enough MMOs at the level cap to know busy work when I see it. Using things like dailies and gear and rep grinding as a stop-gap between the last bit of content and the next expansion is one thing. Modeling your entire offering around the practice is like being proud of just being able to show up for work in the morning.
We’re getting devices that are rapidly closing the gap between what we could play on PC and console 10 years ago, and what we can play on them right now, but mobile already seems stuck in this hamster-wheel-style game rut that it shows no interest in breaking out of. Shouldn’t we have better games than what we’ve got now? And by better I mean games that make us think, reward us for actual hard work, and make us feel good, sad, or angry (and not angry because someone in the house ran up a $1200 bill buying in-game gems)? PC and console games have always tried to break molds and invent new forward-looking genres, but mobile games appear to be content with whatever mechanics can be subverted to make players pay for the privilege of more of the same.
Game developers frequently pride themselves on the creative nature of their work, and I suspect that not a few have had their souls crushed by churning out another Clash of Clans clone for the mobile market. Where’s the creative horsepower for the mobile and tablet set? I’m not even talking about ports of games awesome PC and console games like Life is Strange, but just original games that offer more than match 3, levels, and 15 minute bursts of time-wasting collection mechanics. I’ve been looking for city-building games for mobile and tablet that are on-par with my beloved Caesar III (which was released in 1998, by the way), but all I’ve been able to find are games that limit my engagement, want me to engage in terribly repetitive tapping, and reward me for the most inane and base behaviors with bright colors and flashing lights. They all feel like a Playskool version of what I’m really looking for.
What’s funny is that I seriously think there’s a legion of traditional gamers out there who’ve turned their back on mobile gaming because it’s been commandeered by companies who found that catering to the lowest common denominator can be wildly profitable, and that riding coat-tails to collect the leavings of the leader du jour can also yield some nice kickback. These companies and divisions don’t have any kind of mandate to “do better”, but rather to “earn more”, and that’s turned off a lot of people who really want games with more challenging and in-depth gameplay. The original wave of mobile games were targeted at an underserved demographic, since PC and console gamers already had service, but I think the pendulum should now start swinging the other way to attract the new underserved mobile population of traditional gamers. I don’t think these traditionalists have buried the possibility that mobile and tablet gaming is something they’d like. It’s going to take some quality product like what they’re used to on other platforms, but I think PC and console gamers would quickly and happily embrace mobile and tablet gaming if only someone would think about developing up the ladder instead of always punching down.