“Mobile first” isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity
by Giordano Bruno
Mobile – by which I mean smartphones and tablets – is one of the hottest and fastest-growing gaming platforms, and it shows no sign of slowing down. A few years from now, I believe, mobile will be the largest gaming market in terms of audience size, and the primary platform for a majority of gamers – maybe even for a majority of Earth’s population. Mobile gaming is causing a dramatic paradigm shift in the market, one that few would have predicted could happen just five years ago.
At the turn of the millennium, the idea of gaming as a massmarket pastime wasn’t even on the horizon. Around 80 million people were playing games worldwide, and they were mostly young, male and of questionable hygiene (I can say it – I was one of them). We’ve all seen how much the market has changed and expanded since then, and companies like PopCap played a big part in making gaming accessible to a larger audience by capitalising on the emergence of massmarket computing platforms to introduce non-gamers to the joy of our favorite pastime. That said, no matter how awesome and accessible those games are, they would not have gotten anywhere without platforms to run on, and the market would not have swelled to its current size – an estimated 1.5 billion players – if every one of them didn’t have access to one or more gaming devices.
If the PC and the web were the drivers of casual gaming’s rise, mobile and tablet devices are the poster boys for the ongoing explosion in terms of addressable audience of players, rising in five years from being a tiny slice of the market to represent around 20 per cent of the total time spent playing games. That number will only increase. As of today, at least 500 million smartphone and tablet devices are active worldwide, but a common estimate is for between 1 billion and 1.5 billion devices to be sold in 2015 alone. As hardware gets more powerful, cheaper, and as update cycles bring holdouts to purchase new phones, the net result will be that, three years from now, more than 2 billion people will own mobile devices that are able to run current-generation games, and the vast majority will come equipped with an app store, making discovery and downloading easy and even fun.
Strength in numbers, then, but the sheer size of the audience only tells half the story: the strongest indicator of the increasing importance that mobile has in the gaming space is how pervasive it becomes once an individual starts to play games on a phone or tablet. A recent PopCap survey, for example, found that 44 per cent of adults have played at least one mobile game in the last month, an increase of 29 per cent compared to the previous year. What’s even more interesting, though, is that nearly all of the gamers surveyed admitted playing on their mobile device at home, and 50 per cent of mobile gamers agreed that mobile is their favoured method of play at home. This has important and wide-ranging implications: first, if gamers are playing on their mobile phones while at home, they are playing less on computers or traditional and portable consoles; second, gamers playing on the couch (a whopping 69 per cent of mobile gamers do so) probably aren’t paying as much attention to what’s on TV, be it advertising or a show, as they are absorbed in activities on their mobile device.
Those trends, I think, point to a pretty straightforward conclusion: as the vast majority of the audience will be spending the vast majority of their gaming time on mobile devices, it’s absolutely imperative for every game company, no matter what its specific target audience is, to have a viable mobile strategy and to devote a sizeable slice of its resources to mobile. At the very least, casual and massmarket gaming companies should go “mobile first”, meaning that every game should be developed with mobile devices in mind, and often should be coming out on mobile before reaching other platforms.
This has wide-ranging implications for the way games are designed (controlled by touch, optimized for smaller screens, playable in brief sessions), operated (every game should be a connected live service and be updated regularly), marketed (having a portfolio of games that can be used to promote new titles will be increasingly important) and monetised (freemium will be the dominant, maybe the only, model, as it allows a much larger number of potential players to try out the game without committing to it). Furthermore, there may be a risk of uniformity, of games becoming similar to each other in the effort to adapt to the characteristics and limitations of the platform. In fact, I don’t believe that will happen at all. Developers will be leveraging the platform to achieve more diversity, not less, and dramatically lowering the barrier of entry in terms of development cost and effort required by players should actually encourage experimentation and give rise to games that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. Hits will still be hits, but niche games will prosper, and the long tail will get longer.
So, will all gaming be done on mobile? No, of course not. People will still be playing on computers and on TVs, even though they will increasingly lose the need for a dedicated console to do so, and might indeed be using their mobile device to beam games to their TV screen and to control them. That said, the majority of game time will be spent on mobile devices, and games that aren’t available there will lose the opportunity to engage constantly with players. Most games will be designed with mobile in mind, and even games that are meant for big screens will have to have a mobile extension, which might eventually become equally or more important than the main experience. The most successful games will play to the characteristics of each platform, and deliver engaging cross-platform experiences.
The rise of mobile is changing gaming; the advent of mobile as the most used gaming platform will change it even further, enrich it and make it more accessible. (source:edge-online)