Mobile Gaming’s Top 5 Dirty Secrets

Mobile Gaming’s Top 5 Dirty Secrets

When you break out your mobile phone for a bit of gaming, where do you tend to be situated? And don’t say “Oh, usually on the bus or the train,” because EA has been watching you and it knows that you’re lying.

At the recent DICE summit (“DICE” standing for “Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain”), EA’s Vice President of Mobile Worldwide studios, Travis Boatman, attempted to dispel what he called “five major myths” about mobile gaming. The first one is a big one: According to Boatman, 47% of mobile gamers play at home as well as on the go, where they have easy access to Wi-Fi networks.

It’s not difficult to believe this “busted myth;” many of us can admit that we don’t play our handheld and mobile games exclusively when we’re on the go. There are several reasons for that, aside from the aforementioned easy access to Wi-Fi. For one thing, portable games have come a long way from Tetris and Game & Watch titles. If you get wrapped up in a deep role-playing game on your Nintendo DS, or your PSP, or your iPhone/iPod, you’re probably not going to save the experience for the twenty minute bursts of playtime that make up your morning commute. You’re going to keep playing at home, maybe even in lieu of a big budget console or PC title.

Also, portable game systems are pretty bad about sucking up the juice. Even Nintendo, a company known for performing acts of wizardry with the battery life of its portable systems, has warned players that they’re only going to get three to five hours out of the Nintendo 3DS before it needs to be hitched to its charging cradle.

The second myth Boatman tried to disassemble is the belief that the iPhone’s top games are all casual. Boatman cited games like Infinity Ward and Dead Space to illustrate that mobile gamers are a diverse bunch. This is a harder claim to back up. When Apple revealed its Top 10 Most Downloaded Apps last month, the overwhelming majority of the games on the list were casual distractions in the vein of Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, and Flight Control.

That’s not to say we won’t see more hardcore fare catch on on iOS, but for now, controls seem to be a sticking point: A virtual analogue stick or d-pad is no substitute for the real thing, and Sony and Nintendo have not been shy about offering control options on the 3DS and the NGP. Moreover, developers know that casual titles are in high demand on mobile platforms, at least for now. We can probably expect to see more diversification over time, though.

The dissection of Myth #3 is important for developers and gamers alike. Most of us carry an assumption in the backs of our heads that a mobile game can run identically across multiple platforms. Not true, says Boatman. As smartphone tech branches off into wild new directions, so do its games. Ergo, a game that runs on the iOS might be very different on Android. To expand on Boatman’s point, it’s important for gamers to remember that there’s not even a guarantee of games working smoothly on older iterations of the same system. What runs beautifully on the iPhone 4 might choke and die on the 3G.

Boatman addressed “marketable brands” in his discussion of Myth #4: “Marketable brands don’t matter.” Yes they do, he argues, bringing up EA’s success with Need for Speed on the iPhone. Of course, the App Store has built up a whole new generation of marketable brands–refer again to Apple’s list of the most downloaded games on the App Store–but there’s no denying the benefits that a comfortably familiar brand name can offer, especially for a console gamer who’s still unsure about this whole mobile gaming thing and is only dipping his or her toe into the water. A marketable brand can also backfire, though, if an iPhone port or adaptation of a beloved console classic ends up being slow, ugly, or unplayable because of bad controls. A negative experience might leave a sour aftertaste in the player’s mouth that will refresh every time he or she sees the game in any incarnation.

And finally, Boatman talked about Myth #5: That mobile gaming has peaked. Most of us can probably agree with him on this one: The market has only just found its legs, and it’s running fast.

And now, a bonus fact. According to Boatman, 7% of mobile phone owners game while they’re on the toilet. Not hard to believe. In fact, if you’re in the habit of exchanging anecdotes about smartphone mishaps, you’re sure to find a couple of people who will tell you that the iPhone can float. They usually relay this fact with embarrassment, sadness, and/or a hangdog face.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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