It’s 2021 and I can’t believe we’re still gaming on mobile.
For more than a decade, mobile games have become something of a laughing stock in the industry in the eyes of self-proclaimed “hardcore” gamers. They have long had a reputation as simple money-makers that prey on players through seed microtransactions and overly addictive gameplay. Those criticisms are not unfounded; there’s definitely some sinister nuance in seemingly innocuous games like Candy Crush. But mobile games are not only Candy Crush – and they’ve been gone for many years now.
The more I hear people talk about outdated generalizations about mobile games, the more clearly I see something: Gamers don’t play enough of them. Otherwise, the debate over their legitimacy will go up in smoke.
The fundamental oddity to the arguments against mobile as a platform is how uncanny they are. While in the past phones were very limited in the type of games they could run, giving players simple playtime, today they are much more capable. “Mobile gaming” umbrellas have become as useless as umbrellas for PC or console gaming. There are a lot of ridiculous games with different levels of depth that players can download on their phones. Did you know that you can play Nintendo 3DS RPG The story of the monster hunter on your iPhone? How are yout Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas?
The definition of mobile games only becomes broader when you start to take into account how cloud gaming has completely changed what is playable on mobile devices. I can log into Google Stadia and play strategy games on PC like Human on Android devices with exclusive touch controls. Or I can use my Xbox Game Pass subscription to play any number of new releases on my phone. Attachments like the Razer Kishi or Backbone make it so I don’t even have to mess around with awkward touch controls to do so.
For the sake of argument, let’s put all that aside. After all, people who denigrate mobile games aren’t usually talking about portals or cloud platforms. The stigma is around games that are specifically designed as mobile-first experiences. It’s not unfair to say that different philosophies go into designing for mobile devices compared to PCs. That’s definitely why we see so many simple jigsaw puzzles that can be easily played with one hand with touch controls. Most players likely won’t have the full range of controls, so careful thought is required to make a game work for anyone who picks it up by accident.
There are two rebuttals to criticisms against the simplistic nature of mobile games. The first is: Yes, so what? Many popular video games are built on simple core mechanics that are easy to understand and implement. Games like Tetris timeless for a reason; Anyone can pick it up and play. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed a variety of mobile games that work with streamlined touch controls. I’m currently having trouble with World Flipper, a free-to-play mobile shooter RPG where players simply tap to press flippers and swipe to activate character abilities. I might not do complex combinations on eight nodes, but it hardly matters what the inputs are when you’re having fun doing it.
More importantly, the arguments against the overly simplistic nature of mobile games won’t work because they no longer hold true. Apple Arcade’s Fantasian To be one of the hardest RPGs of the year, complete with a thoughtful turn-based combat system that will give even the biggest of genres a challenge. The Genshin effect, even with its obnoxious gacha mechanics, is a surprisingly deep open-world RPG with strong combat potential. And there are still a lot of games like Call of Duty: Mobile Requires PC level skill to win.
I’m preaching to the choir here to some extent. This is all pretty obvious information to anyone really up to date with mobile games these days. Platforms like Apple Arcade have quietly helped rekindle the story of the platform by providing highlights like Grindstone, South of the circle, and Alba: A Wild Animal Adventure. In fact, a number of games released exclusively on Apple Arcade have become important darlings after receiving ports to consoles and PCs, including The Lego Builder’s Journey. Why these games don’t get the time of day until years after the fact is beyond me.
The continuing stigma against mobile games has only become more subdued as time goes on. While there is a lot of predatory shovel software on the app stores, it’s not too different from any other platform. Check out the Nintendo Switch eShop and you’ll find a bunch cheap title, messy content. And while microtransactions and gacha practices are a pain in the ass, they’re not a mobile-specific issue. Lots of well-loved PC games, free to play or not, collect money from players through skins, season cards, and loot boxes. Hell, even classic arcade games like Donkey Kong designed to get as much money as possible from game addicts, a quarter at a time – and we celebrate them as classics. Hate the system, not the platform.
It’s time for gamers to stop guarding and accept that mobile is a legitimate gaming platform like console or PC. The Crusade continues to only make players who call themselves “hardcore” look regretfully disconnected from the medium they claim to be experts in – and that’s some fun irony.