There is no doubt about it, iOS has become a major gaming platform. It’s hard to believe how sophisticated and diverse mobile games have become in such a short amount of time. And it’s all thanks to the hardware capabilities and market created by Apple, which allows developers the ability to create the games that they want without requiring the resources of a major studio. The walled garden of game development long maintained by the big league companies is no longer the end of the road for tiny studios who aren’t necessarily producing blockbuster titles. Indie gaming seems to have truly flourished across Android and Apple’s devices but what does the future hold for mobile games and these two very different markets?
These days mobile gaming exists in two very distinct platforms, a pair of long and successful lines of purebred handheld videogame systems and an ever expanding line up of smartphones and tablets. Now variety is good but many of the differences between these two camps are based in conflicting principles when it comes to how gaming should work. At the end of the day developers want as many gamers to buy their games and enjoy them enough to buy their next title, but how wide does the market need be in order for a game to find success and what is the dev capable of publishing? This seems to be the question that divides developers when choosing where to release their games.
A major advantage of mobile gaming is that players are much more likely to have their phone with them, making gaming on the go more convenient than having to carry a separate device. And perhaps there is something more socially acceptable about iOS gaming since it appeals to a wider audience. Do you feel more comfortable playing on a 3DS or iPhone in a public place?
At the heart of the matter is of course, digital distribution. Where consoles are only just beginning to align their retail and digital releases, iOS games have no physical counterpart making them far less risky to publish. Being able to safely publish more games means more opportunities for developers and a much lower cost of entry. On the other side of the handheld spectrum, the download only PSP Go is widely considered a flop and Nintendo’s eShop hasn’t offered any hugely successful original games. When it comes to digital, iOS and Android are definitely leading the way.
It can be argued that iOS games and handheld console games offer different experiences and the price of each type of game should be proportionate to the amount of time you spend enjoying the game. iOS games are generally speaking simple and can be played in short bursts, while 3DS and Vita games have more content. Despite this, gamers will play the games they like however they choose, so it is all a matter of getting the games you want on the system you want, so what do all those indie iOS games need to do? Expand their territory.
Nintendo and Sony need a real App Store alternative. Their current digital offerings just don’t cut it. iOS and Android are capable of pushing the technical limits of their games through their annual hardware upgrades while expanding their marketplaces with both multiplatform games and niche hits that can currently only find a home on iOS and Android. If the 3DS and Playstation Vita are truly dedicated gaming platforms, shouldn’t they offer a independent developers the same chance to publish games and distribute them digitally?
In the last few years, independently developed games have shown us new ways to play, broken sales records and brought real gaming into the hands of nearly everyone. The smartphone and tablet market is constantly improving its hardware and redefining the types of games possible on mobile devices. By the time the next Nintendo and Sony handhelds launch Apple will have released an iPhone capable of much more development potential. As indie games continue to show increasingly high rates of critical acclaim and commercial success, they will either be accepted into the mainstream handheld console market as it steadily improves its own digital storefront, or it will continue to thrive through its own means such as steam and via iOS and Android devices. Either way, the raise of the smartphone and tablet has finally given a voice to so many developers and as a result we have many praiseworthy games that could not have been released otherwise.
Whether or not Sony and Nintendo acknowledges the indie market and the iOS platform, it still has to compete with it and there isn’t much to show how they plan on doing so. But there’s no doubt about it, indie games have a home on iOS where developers have built their own major gaming platform.
At any rate, this is Analyze and Discuss, so let us know what you think! Will you be exchanging a DS for an iPad any time soon? Or can a multipurpose device that just happens to play games never surpass a dedicated platform? Chime in on the discussion in the comments below.