It’s fair to say that mobile gaming has an image problem. While the platform has birthed many excellent games (Pokèmon Go, Monument Valley, and Clash Royale) and genres (gacha, location-based, endless runners), these are often overshadowed by the less nice side of mobile gaming. Predatory free-to-play practices, objectification of women, and a steady stream of shovelware are a very real problem.
However, the tides are turning, and there are signs that mobile gaming is, finally, reaching a point of maturity. You need only look at recent titles Genshin Impact, Wild Rift, and the upcoming PUBG New State to see that a new breed of mobile gaming is forming, and it’s delivering a very strong message: mobile doesn’t have to be low quality, over-simplified, and greedy. It can be what it was destined to be all along: a legitimate platform for a different, yet not inferior, breed of gaming.
When mobile gaming boomed along with the birth of the App Store at the tail end of the ’00s, it was a land grab in much the same manner that the Nintendo Switch is experiencing right now. Developers flocked to the space, releasing bite-sized experiences that you could access for mere pennies, and play no matter where you were, or how much time you had on your hands.
Eventually, greedy publishers figured out that you could extort more money from mobile gamers through the use of microtransactions. Instead of charging once for a complete game, why not make it free and repeatedly charge gamers to bypass wait timers and energy systems, summon characters in bulk, or even access parts of the game previously locked? Free-to-play was born.
Now, this isn’t a problem unique to mobile – the platform has merely seen the very worst the monetisation scheme has to offer. And it makes sense. Mobile gamers aren’t your traditional ‘core’ gamer, brought up on ‘real’ console and PC games. Mobile gamers are literally everyone with a phone and spare time. In other words, they don’t know the alternative, so are blind to how predatory the practices are.
Fortunately though, we are seeing signs that this new generation of gamer is growing wiser. Energy and wait timers all but died off years ago, and fairer subscriptions are taking over from ridiculous microtransactions. Developers are also waking up to the fact that we want ‘real’ games too, and have started to take the platform seriously, giving us long a overdue sense of challenge that you can’t mitigate with the flash of a credit card.
We’re talking about Genshin Impact, with its Breath of the Wild-style open world, myriad quests, complex crafting systems, and seasonal updates. Wild Rift, which has all of the complexity of League of Legends, just with shorter matches to suit the gamer on-the-go. While we haven’t played it yet, PUBG New State looks like a very convincing sequel to the original, but built from the ground up for mobile.
And that’s without mentioning Diablo Immortal, Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier and Ever Crisis, Path of Exile Mobile, Catalyst Black, Pokèmon Unite, Castlevania: Moonlight Odyssey, and Nier Reincarnation. Some developers are really starting to get mobile, and this new breed of mobile games feels like a veritable victory lap.