Is This Mobile Gaming’s Big Moment? There’s Hope Yet

Mobile gaming was the future… until it wasn’t. Maybe now we’ll actually see that promise fulfilled.
Image credit: Karolina Grabowska/KaboomPics

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Despite the relatively short period of time they’ve been around, mobile games have had a tumultuous history. There was a time when well-paid financial analysts were heralding the death of the dedicated game console, saying we’d all be playing games on our phones.

That, of course, didn’t happen. There have been some fantastic mobile games, but they were counterbalanced by free-to-play games with paid energy systems, gacha mechanics, and a general lack of gameplay. Just when things were at their worst, a new hope has arisen, but will it last?

You Can Finally Use a Real Controller

You’ve technically been able to use controllers on both iOS and Android devices for some time. Android has always been the more open and friendly of the two platforms, while Apple devices were stuck with mFi controllers for a while.

Finally, with the arrival of iOS 13, you can use PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controllers on your iPhone or iPad. This has been the case for Android for a while now, but it means mobile game developers can code their games assuming you can easily add a controller. That alone is a big deal.

All You Can Eat? All In!

Another big step in the favor of mobile gaming is “all you can eat” subscriptions. For Apple, it’s Apple Arcade, while for Google, it’s Google Play Pass. Both of these cost you $4.99 per month, granting you access to a cache of games.

As I write this, these are still the early days. We have yet to see how many people keep their subscriptions after the initial trial periods. How frequently Apple and Google continue to bring new games to their respective services also remains to be seen.

Still, these services are incredibly promising. I have yet to try Google’s offering, but thanks to Apple Arcade I’ve done more gaming on my iPhone and iPad in the past month than I’ve ever done on any mobile device before. This includes the time I spent playing a stripped-down version of The Sims on my first smartphone.

One question is exactly how well these developers are being paid. Some of the games on Apple Arcade are also available on the Nintendo Switch while others appear to be exclusive to Apple Arcade for now.

Sick of Microtransactions? So Is Everyone Else

One thing that both Apple Arcade and Google Play bring to games is actually a sort addition by absence. It’s not a feature, instead it’s a lack of microtransactions.

You pay your monthly fee for these services and you get the games. The entire games. We’ve been so conditioned by what mobile games has become that it actually feels weird to play a game that is just that: a game.

Developers and publishers need to make money, but we’ve seen that the free-to-play model can only go so far. After a while, I’ve started to distrust any game that doesn’t have an initial price tag, because obviously they plan to bleed me dry once they’ve got me hooked.

Not seeing this in the games on Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass is a reminder of how good gaming on mobile devices can be.

If Not Now, When?

If Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass fail, that will likely mean that not only will microtransactions take over, but they’ll take over with a vengeance. Some people may be fine with this, but those of us used to the idea of owning a game probably won’t.

What can we do to prevent mobile games staying the shallow semi-game experiences they’re on the verge of becoming? Simply put, pay for games. Treat Android and iOS devices like you’d treat your console or PC. This allows developers to make a decent living which means they can keep making games worth playing.

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