I’m noticing something lately with mobile games. They seem to be getting better. The Candy Crushes and Angry Birds of previous years appear to be struggling, blasting ads out everywhere for what used to be big name brands. Free-to-play games are coming and going at a much faster rate, meaning much of them aren’t doing so well financially. After all, when even console games are trying to nickel and dime you, the “whales” might be moving on. But something interesting is happening, particularly in the world of iOS.
Apple happens to be the market leader when it comes to power. The iPhone 9 and X are both ludicrous machines, with multi-quad CPUs and GPUs that can run some really impressive software. With the release of iOS 11, for example, Johnathan Blow’s The Witness made its iOS debut. That’s a game that was previously on PC and console, and while an indie game, a visually impressive one. Other console style games continue to pepper the service, and are becoming more and more common.
During the stage show that announced the new iPhones and iOS version, thatgamecompany took the stage to announce and exclusive launch for its latest game, Sky. If you don’t recall, thatgamecompany is the developer behind hit superindies such as Flow, Flower, and of course Journey. All of these games were PlayStation platform exclusives. By partnering up with Apple, somebody is attempting to make a statement. (Hint, it's Apple.) Sky is even being pushed as available on the new 4K Apple TV as well.
The previous iteration of the Apple TV was briefly presented as a gaming device, before not doing so well and only having a small population of games. But it was the first time an Apple device was really pushed as something gamers would be interested in. Apple even started selling MFi controllers when those came out. The idea of the Apple TV being a gaming deal died out pretty quickly and quietly, but the iPhone is going strong, especially starting with the iPhone 6 line.
Even Nintendo is hooking up with mobile and making various kinds of games for iOS and Android. Fire Emblem Heroes ended up being a more traditional mobile game, but the Japanese audience loves the heck out of those gacha titles. And gacha games even feel a bit more legit than many of their counterparts. Sure, you are encouraged to dump money into them, but these games resemble more established and appealing gameplay types such as turn-based RPGs and card games.
Plus, they’re a lot more fair about letting you play as much as you want, giving you freebies and even trying to tell better stories. (See Fate/GO, for example.) But Nintendo is also stressing that Fire Emblem Heroes was an exception, and single-purchase experiences like Mario Run will be the company’s standard. Other Japanese companies, like Square-Enix, have lowkey been a highlight on mobile markets, porting most of its RPGs even without microtransactions.
What I’m trying to say here is that after years of struggling for identity and legitimacy, the mobile market appears to be teetering on the edge of a transformative phase. The free-to-play bubble may not be bursting, but it does appear to be shrinking, with the usual suspects growing unpopular. Meanwhile, more games that actually resemble products more traditional-style “gamers” would appreciate are becoming more common, especially as the Apple platform grows in processing power. Mobile gaming could very well be standing at the entrance of a new renaissance of quality gaming experiences on the go.