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Mobile gaming is on the rise. From the players that only frequently load up a game on public transportation to the mobile addicts that launch apps 60 times a day. Most of these apps are single touch and simply designed, such as Flappy Bird, Tippy Tap or Temple Run, and there is little question about why they are so popular; their adoption of Bushnell’s age-old theorem (Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master) means that they can be taken in by any new player, which fuels their vitality.
There has been, however, a rise in the number of high quality mobile games. This week saw the release of Hearthstone, Isolani and Hitman GO; all three games would be stretched to appeal to casual gamers (or rather, the more casual of the gamers that frequent the app stores), and Hearthstone and Hitman GO would have some reliance on their existing audience. Yet the connection between these games’ success and the popularity of the examples above is one of hardware, not software. It is their optimisation of the touch-screen that makes them superior.
The best games on the App Store are those that have made the most of their hardware. Hearthstone uses the touchscreen so the player can place cards; Warhammer Quest uses it for turn-based strategy; Brave Frontier uses a tap or a swipe for different attacks; each game is made with swipe or tap mechanics in mind, and thus seem intuitive for new players. Card games, strategy games, puzzle games and point-and-click games are all genres that are perfect for touchscreen gaming; especially because, in one form or another, each comes under the umbrella of “turn-based combat”.
There are other games that have attempted to recreate a sandbox game, or that rely on movement-based combat, such as Mobage, Inc.’s Horn or the mobile port of Supergiant’s Bastion. Both of these games use the touchscreen for movement, tapping on the area that the player wants their character to move to; yet these movements do not feel smooth or natural because the environments that they are built on are more suited to a console game, where the player will have a two joysticks – one for the camera, and the other for movement. While the virtual joystick can solve some of these issues, it is a design mechanic that is seeking to recreate what is not instinctive to the hardware. The evidence of hardware add-ons such as the Wikipad shows how tablets could be used for more FPS or sandbox games (those that really need dual joysticks), but because of the somewhat expensive cost of the extras, it seems unlikely that gamers will be too taken by it.
If the standard of mobile games is going to improve overall then the more games optimised for the hardware, the better. There needs to be fewer games that try to recreate what is done on consoles or PCs, trying the same demographic, simply because the players are different. With a new platform comes an opportunity for originality, and it will be originality that makes great games, and makes the money.