Mobile gaming no child’s play

2014-01-26 14:00

The winning formula that makes some games net half a billion downloads

Video games are big business, with the largest game releases of last year – like Grand Theft Auto?V and Call of Duty: Ghosts – beating the best films Hollywood has to offer.

But there’s a growth area that is often overlooked and that is mobile, specifically video games that are played on smartphones or tablets.

But just how are games like Candy Crush Saga, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (yes, smartphones are as powerful now as computers were in 2005) and the all-time champ, Angry Birds, doing it?

There are several factors that have allowed mobile gaming to take off to a point where a single mobile game can net half a billion downloads and the industry as a whole can carve out a niche in the global economy. They are: pricing, gameplay, portability and technology.

Mobile games are, in the world of $1 apps, cheap. But not all of them. Something like Firaxis Games’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown will cost about R210, but that’s a full living room console game on a tablet.

Most games are priced between free and about R50 at the high end. Those with larger budgets are increasingly being released with a free-to-play (F2P) price scheme, where the game itself is free to download and play.

Advancing faster within a given F2P usually calls for microtransactions – small sums that might buy better gear or upgrade items for the player. But usually only a small percentage of players take this route.

Though the business model can be mishandled at times (see Sonic Dash for how it can be done right), it usually means high-quality games for next to nothing.

Gameplay – or how the game is designed to be experienced – has been specifically constructed for mobile. Mobile games are made to be experienced in small chunks when you’re standing in a queue or waiting for an appointment.

The most popular games are those where you can complete a level or 10 in under five minutes, like Angry Birds; or where you can easily stop and get back to it later, like Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled.

Smartphones and tablets have scaled up in size, technology wise, allowing game developers to offer better quality over time.

The uptake of games-on-the-go has been driven in part because users are able to have a better-looking experience thanks to the advent of quad-core processor chips and mobile graphics processing units.

And, with Apple rolling the dice on 64-bit CPUs, gaming is looking that much brighter. Being able to take your game with you wherever you go doesn’t hurt either.

By the end of 2012, mobile phone usage in the US was outstripping TV viewing by 17%, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry.

Market research companies IDC and Gartner have consistently said each successive year has been the best on record for smartphones and tablets.

Mobile developers and gamers are smiling at this, while those involved in more traditional entertainment media are bound to be looking a little worried.

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