AAA vs Indie in the mobile space. Who is winning?
In the gaming industry, the term ‘mobile’ gets a bit of a bad rep.
That’s the opinion of many non-mobile playing members of the gaming press, at least. It would appear that even though mobile phones and tablets are perhaps bigger than consoles are – more people are likely to own a mobile phone over a PS4, certainly – they are looked down upon as systems worth nothing more than shovelware which wouldn’t survive on a home console. Is this a fair assessment? Well, maybe.
The fact is 80% of games that are available on mobiles are never going to make it. Once developers have the license and the approval of Apple or Google et al to develop a game for their respective platforms, it’s then up to the developers to create engaging, addictive and immersive content. Games that are genuinely fun. Are there plenty of fun games on mobile? Of course there are, the industry isn’t a big as it is for nothing. Smaller developers who create new IP are just looking for an audience, it’s that simple really. And no doubt some AAA developers would kill for the kind of audience that some of these indie devs get on mobile. When it gets to the point that Ubisoft, EA, Activision are porting some of their biggest games to mobile, it’s fair to say that people should probably stand up and take notice. As a platform, mobile gaming is the biggest out there right now and there’s simply nothing Microsoft or Sony can do about it.
The only hardware company out there who seem to be aware of this paradigm shift is Nintendo, who have recently announced they are to start developing mobile games. Now, we have no idea what they’ll be creating at time of writing but it’s safe to say we might just see their biggest licenses appear in some capacity. Whilst we expect puzzlers/platformers (Dr. Mario? – seems like a perfect fit) there’s no doubt they’ll be coated in Nintendo goodness, with mushrooms and stars and Princess Peach splattered across the palette. Nintendo, a company who are currently hanging by a thread in an industry that’s outgrowing their ideals have seemingly figured out that enough releases on a mobile platform could see them not having to rely so much on hardware sales – something they are not particularly doing so well with at the moment. The 3DS is still going strong, sure, it’s a shame then that the Wii U is so nearly dead and buried before it’s even really begun. Nintendo do things their own way and if they just realise that if they release a mobile Pokemon game they could probably retire from the industry altogether in about six months. No doubt they are very aware of this, the ball is in their court now to see where they go with this plan.
Nintendo games are sure to be a huge success once their games become readily available on the App Stores. But what of the other companies? A quick look at the Google Play Store charts in the UK makes for some interesting reading. The Top Selling top 5 sees the usual suspects that doesn’t really change unless a sale is going on. Looking closely we can see three major studios that take up the spaces, namely Mojang, SEGA and Team 17. UKTV Media and their frankly rubbish Storage Hunters game is sitting pretty at the top after the success of the British version of the American show. Licensed games have always done well on mobile stores. Minecraft will pretty much stay there for the rest of time so that’s not a big deal. SEGA and their latest iteration of Football Manager is doing well despite being considerably more expensive than a large amount of games on the Store and the mobile version of Worms – a perfect game for the a mobile platform – rounds off the Top 5. There’s only really one uniquely indie game in there which is You Must Build a Boat from EightyEight Games and is terrific and well worth a download at £1.99. It’s brilliant to see a game like that mix it up with the big hitters, even Square-Enix are getting in on the action with Hitman Sniper at number 6. Still, if it’s on your local Store, get yourself You Must Build a Boat. I’m very much enjoying it.
The Top Grossing, meanwhile, is where mobile gaming dominant forces compete for absolute majesty.
The top 5 Grossing games on the Play Store are all games that are absolutely free to download and play. I wonder where all the money is coming from? Well, duh. The Top 5 Micro-transactioned games in the world sit neatly atop their throne, their enormous advertising campaigns battling for time on the air against each other – that’s a point actually. Nothing against Kate Upton but if I see that Game of War advert again I’m gonna throw my TV out the window -. Each one of these games have an advertisement that runs at least twice a day. Mobile giants King and Supercell know exactly what they’re doing. The tried and tested ‘give it away free-get them hooked-make it nearly impossible to succeed in unless you pay for countless upgrades-charge players to win’ system is one that has yet to fail companies like King, Supercell and ‘Game of War’s Machine Zone. That’s not to say these games aren’t fun – my nephews adore Clash of Clans and rightly so, it’s well built and addictive – but damn, it scares me how much money these games are making daily and they don’t even charge you to download the game.
It’s an interesting concept that the smaller companies who have seen this success would want to replicate it. There’s no guarantee that the formula will go on forever, it’s simply the big guys that have noticed how profitable it can be. Whilst the AAA still charge for a ‘one-time download’ and include ‘optional micro-transactions’, the ‘smaller’ companies like King and Supercell – who must be nearing AAA status – focus primarily on their micro-transactions and advertising space’. Who’s to say who is doing it the right way? From the evidence of the current Play Store charts, both aren’t doing too badly.
So can smaller developers who simply just want their game to be played with no expectation of a huge financial return find a home on mobile? An addictive game will always get noticed, once word of mouth gets around. Look at Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Temple Run.
Quite simply, if you have a good game, build it. They will come.