Have Mobile Games Changed The Videogame Landscape?

Are Mobile Games really changing the landscape of videogaming? TwinStick Gaming looks back at the uprising of mobile gaming and what it really means for console gaming today.

Mobile games title

As recently as 2012, many industry analysts were declaring that gaming, or more specifically ‘console gaming’ was dead. Not only that, but Mobile Gaming was the future. As you can imagine, this was greeted with panic and cynicism from the videogaming faithful. We felt it couldn’t possibly be true – analysts just make this stuff up to sell the news!

However, the industry analysts and statisticians were able to produce fairly compelling numbers that showed that Sony and Microsoft had been on a steep decline since the year 2000 – hemorrhaging $10 billion between them over that period. Conversely, the mobile market was growing, visibly, on an almost daily basis.

It was undeniable. Console games were out, Mobile games were in.

Fast forward to 2014 and you can clearly see that the analysts vision of the future was – thankfully – way off base. So what went wrong? How were their predictions so far removed from what happened and how does the gaming landscape now look?

Well, simply put, there seemed to be one or two factors that the industry experts didn’t take into account, and a couple of other things that were certainly misleading for all of us!

The biggest factor that they forgot to consider (or at least didn’t fully account for) was the fact that in 2012, we were at the end of the longest console cycle in history. Typically, at the end of a console’s life, sales do drop off massively and though a few games strike it big (The Last of Us, GTA V, Call of Duty), more often than not, fewer games are being produced and the overall spend on videogames is decidedly lower. It’s not a quick drop, but a slow descent – just like the analysts had observed, but they regarded this as something bigger than the typical end-of-cycle-drop. And with good reason.

GTA V Mobile
Not only did GTA V have a supporting mobile app, the in-game mobile was a path to side missions and secrets.

The $10 billion drop over that 12 year period (2000-2012) was massive – but worse still, the majority had happened over the last 6 years – the PS3 and 360 generation. However, the second contributory factor – that made it hard to accurately predict – was the fact that the whole global economy was in dire straights. The banks had gambled and lost. No-one had any money, sacrifices were made, belts were tightened.

The first things to go when times are hard are extravagances such as: entertainment and leisure activities. Do I buy Batman or food? (Ok, bad example, the Caped Crusader always wins out over lunch). But – do I buy Asura’s Wrath or food? Mortal Kombat or petrol? Games sales were not what they would have been 6-7 years previously.

What do we do when we can’t afford to buy  triple-A games for us, DVDs for the kids or trips to the cinema for all? Well, we get free ones instead. This period of economic downtown hit the whole entertainment industy – EXCEPT mobile games. Because mobile games are ‘free’ (plus adverts and / or microtransactions) or cost so little that people feel they have barely paid. (This period also saw a spike in illegal downloads in some parts of the world, but that’s another story).

Social media was also approaching an all time high. Weirdly, mobile gaming and social media suddenly seemed to coalesce into one giant, global phenomenon. Hands up who has played ‘Candy Crush Saga‘ or ‘Farmville‘? If you’re on this niche website about ‘real’ videogames – chances are you haven’t. Now hands up who has 500 000 requests to play both those games (and more) via facebook? Oh look at that, every hand in the virtual room! Angry Birds, a simple free app for your mobile device, got so big it had multiple sequels, a StarWars licence and Theme Park in Yorkshire!

angry birds theme park
Angry Birds Activity Parks have opened in the UK at Lightwater Valley and Särkänniemi Adventure Park in Finland!?

Mobile gaming EXPLODED – and we all got to hear about it through various social outlets. Under these circumstances it was easy to see why people – including the journalists by this point- had started to think it was over for console gaming.

So what did the likes of Sony and Microsoft do to strike back at mobile gaming and social media? Nothing. At least, nothing to ‘strike back’. In an unusually forward thinking approach to the gaming wars, both Sony and Microsoft – wisely – looked at ways to integrate both mobile games, apps and social media into their new consoles when they finally got around to announcing and releasing thPS4 and Xbox One in 2013.

Combined with a small, but perceptible economic shift towards (though not quite into) the black, the next-generation of console gaming came out swinging, struck back at the critics in force – and brought social features and mobile support with them. More and more games had iPhone and Android apps that directly impacted the main game. GTA V had an app where you could train your in-game dog or upgrade and customise your in-game car, Splinter Cell Blacklist had a stealth game app in which you could earn points that unlocked in-game rewards.

Possibly the best example we’ve seen so far is on Watch_Dogs from Ubisoft. Their mobile app allowed players to play against people who were playing on the console version.

Ubisoft CEO, Yves Guillemot, recently spoke with MCV about the app.

“We had almost 1.5m downloads of the mobile application for Watch Dogs [ctOS Mobile], […] What I like most is that not all 1.5m are necessarily people who bought the game.

That is something I want to do a lot more in the future: to make sure that you can get a game, and all of your friends can play with you or against you or create things for you via their mobile application. By doing so, they get more things out of their mobile game and you get more things for your console game.

”That is what we need to do in the industry: make sure we have more people playing these brands than just the people who own a console or a powerful PC.”

The PS4’s ‘Share’ button couldn’t be simpler – do something or see something awesome in your game? Hit share to post it to facebook and / or Twitter in seconds!

Both the PS4 and Xbox One have integrated ‘sharing’ features that allow players to quickly upload images and videos to facebook, twitter, and even stream live play through Twitch or Ustream (with YouTube support on the way). Suddenly the console architect’s vision of the future – with consoles being a fully integrated media-hub that sits in everyone’s living rooms – is looking rather more possible.

Possibly the wisest move of all was the idea to embrace mobile games and apps as part of the next-gen eco-system, almost like a road to the consoles. People of all ages were using their phones to play games. The consoles never tried to tell these people to put their mobiles down and try console gaming, instead they said: “Hey guys, here’s something else you can use your mobile with!” Furthermore, understanding how reliant people have become on their phones and social media, they fed straight back into that world from the consoles. Not only with share features, but with apps of their own. Right now, I could fire up the Playstation app on my iPhone, accept a couple of new PSN friends, check out the Summer Sale, make a purchase and then tell my PS4 to download it – all while I’m at work or riding the train.

Soon, you’ll be able to stream Playstation games directly to your TV, your tablet – or your mobile – through Sony’s Playstation Now service. Particularly Sony and Microsoft are doing everything in their power to intertwine all your electronic devices to make each an essential part of your experience with the others.

Mobile Games
Some mobile games are already getting quite sophisticated – almost on par with the last generation of consoles.

Though there are some consoles that have struggled (Wii U and PS Vita selling under the hope projections), the net result is that we have one of the fastest selling console generations of all time. To date, PS4 has shifted over 10 million units in less than a year. The Xbox One is ‘languishing’ behind on around 6 or 7 million – this is still way ahead of the last generation of consoles, by a considerable margin. And it hasn’t come to the detriment of mobile gaming. Instead, the two have formed a somewhat symbiotic relationship were each exists to help the other survive. Some players will always prefer one type over the other – but a lot of us are making use of everything that’s on offer.

In conclusion, the landscape of gaming has irrevocably changed. Mobile games are a big part of that landscape. They’re like the cellular trees, roots and rocks that hold up the mountainous next-gen consoles. Some people appreciate the mobile games for what they are, others don’t even notice they’re there. I’m just thankful they supported the industry I love in its time of need and continue to be a part of what keeps console gaming fresh, alive and kicking.