About one third of all Americans own a smartphone. Roughly 64% of all smartphone users play games on their mobile devices. That means about 64 million Americans are playing video games on their iPhone, Droid or Blackberry. “Serious” gamers may continue to turn up their noses and scoff at the “casual” gamers who limit their game time to a couple hours of Angry Birds every week, but those numbers don’t lie. Thanks to smartphones, video games have reached a whole new audience and are now more popular than ever. Are X-Box’s and PlayStations going away any time soon? Nah, but mobile gaming is here to stay. The big question is what it will look like in the coming years.
Right now, most mobile games are simple in design and execution. You can only do so much with a touchscreen and many gamers who like to game on the go have already invested in a Nintendo 3DS. For someone who only plays games while on a work break or waiting for a bus or sitting on the toilet, mobile gaming is cheap and easy. However, the technology used to create mobile games is getting better. Graphics are improving. Gameplay is getting deeper and more complex. Id Software (the company behind the Doom series) co-founder John Carmack says that mobile devices will “almost certainly” be as powerful as home consoles within two years.
Presumably, games on your iPad are going to get prettier, deeper and more challenging. In other words, they’ll more closely resemble the the modern crop of console games. Therein lies the two-part question: 1. Will hardcore gamers embrace mobile gaming if it gets meatier? and 2. Will casual gamers keep playing if their games stop being so casual?
Simple games aren’t going anywhere. As long as smartphones exist, people are going to buy tower defense games and the like. It’s that simple. As those numbers above imply, this is no longer a niche industry. Still, mobile developers are looking past the average user and reaching out to gamers in a big way. Devices like the Xperia Play slide open to reveal full blown PlayStation controls, allowing you to play Call of Duty immediately after you’ve called your mother. The OnLine app may still be in development, but the promise of streaming video games onto your tablet and playing them with a wireless controller is almost terrifying in how revolutionary it feels. Then there are Sony’s S1 and S2 tablets, which will give gamers access to all kinds of PlayStation related goodness.
The success of Infinity Blade for the iPad suggests an interesting compromise. As far as presentation goes, it looks like a console game, a sweeping fantasy epic with gorgeous graphics and deep options. The gameplay though, is strictly casual, limited to creative finger swiping. It’s the halfway point between what we commonly think of as a mobile game and a console game, offering something for both parties.
What do you think? Are you happy with mobile games being casual or would you like to see them evolve to match consoles?