Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Designer Notebook: Are we all jumping over to mobile games too?

Recent Japanese game development trends have been interesting, with a range of notable Japanese developers leaving their current tenure over to mobile games, with the likes of Keiji Inafune(Mega Man), Yuji Naka(Sonic), Suda 51(No More Heroes), Yoshifumi Hashimoto(Harvest Moon) all jumping over to pretty sizeable mobile game announcements with DeNA. To put that into perspective, this is the equivalent of Miami Heat picking up James, Wade and Bosh in the off-season; or like getting Bay, Bruckheimer, Spielberg and Cameron on the same movie; it's gathering the biggest and brightest all under the same roof... for mobile games.

...are we on the cusp of something significant that we don't realize yet?

Mind you, this isn't a trend limited to these stewards of of gaming either, with developers like Bungie and Insomanic Games also setting up new divisions into this market. It honestly seems like everyone and their mother has realized that mobile gaming is here to stay, and they want a slice of the pie.

So, what does this mean for traditional gaming? Is it as bleak what Mike Capps of Epic Games has predicted (ironic for statements coming from him, as Epic stands to gain alot from Unreal on iOS devices). Will the triple A, blockbuster model disappear? Or will it further squeeze out the middle range developers?


  1. Games for iOS and Android are a different beast than the more traditional mobile games we see on the various Nintendo platforms. They're almost always small, simple games made by tiny dev teams with even tinier development cycles. And they're making a lot of money. So of course there is going to be a huge corporate push to get at those dollars.

    And I bet that iOS/Android development is attractive to a lot of old school creative directors. It allows them to work on many more ideas than they normally get to. So I'm not surprised to see big names making small games.

    But I don't think the middle is getting squeezed out at all. It's just changing. The middle used to be dominated by smaller publishers and developers often pushing out games that were just copies of bigger, more successful games. Sure there's the occaisonal diamond in the rough, but it's mostly shooters and platformers.

    Now the new middle has taken over XBLA/PSN/Steam. Small developers are able to get their games onto these services without much risk to publishers since capital investment is so much lower with digital distribution. And in the case of steam they don't even need a traditional publisher.

    And these games are easier to make than ever. Just look at Bastion. It's a game made by 5 people living in a house in the suburbs. But it looks better than a lot of the shit coming out of clusters of cubicles.

  2. The costs for making a commercially viable game have just continued to go down. Mobile games just seem so easy for these companies to get into; if they can make a safe load of cash on little investment, why not do it?

    From a consumer perspective:
    I think it's not so much people jumping from hardcore gaming to mobile gaming as it is less technically adept people jumping into the mobile gaming market from the outside.

    It seems games are differentiating themselves in terms of complexity, with 'traditional' gaming consistently having moved upwards. After a point there has to be decreasing returns, and I think we're close if not already there. If we keep moving upwards, not everyone is going to be on board when they see the cost it comes with. I haven't been willing to pay $60 for a game for awhile now, barring few exceptions. More people are comfortable with not being a hard core gamer, as long as the games they're playing are fun.

    As for the future, I think there will always be the huge blockbuster game as long as there are enough people to support it and until something more exciting than video games comes out (affordably), there will be that market. For middle-tier developers, there are always the console download games. Most old gamers won't end up spending all their time on mobile games. They're just not... satisfying on a different level. I mean I can blow hours and hours of time on mini games. But for me there is mini game saturation. I need something long term to play, to defeat, without a never-ending cycle of more of the same just around the corner.

  3. anyprohphet: Agreed with XBLA being the new middle, but even that scares me now. The old XBLA of 2006 was the equivalent of flash games with bite size experiences, the XBLA of today is pretty much any game that could be in retail but didn't ship on a disk because no one wants to take a gamble on physical format.

    When I speak of the middle, I look at all the smaller/port devs and see them disappear faster and faster, and that concerns me. I think THQ's recent cuts are a good example: those smaller teams were pretty much the bread and butter for most publishers in the last gen. Should it be a concern that companies like THQ say that they need to compete with AAA to survive?