When a lot of people think of “casual gamers,” they think of mobile gaming. Likewise, when people think of mobile gaming, they often think of “casual gamers.” The association is strong within our culture, and that’s understandable; mobile games used to be entirely unlike console games and demanded different kinds of engagement. But if we decide to go the route where we believe “casual” and “hardcore” are actually two types of gamers, then, within their commonly used context, the differences between these two types of gamers is becoming less about what platform they play the games on.
Obviously, “casual” games had a presence on handhelds and consoles before now. Peggle, Bejeweled, and Plants vs. Zombies were perfect games for phones that also worked well with a controller. But the “hardcore” games hardly made an appearance on mobile devices. By hardcore game, I am referring in part to action games that require responsive controls. I also extend the term to mean long, narrative RPGs. Over the last couple years, they are becoming more and more of a thing on cell phones. This is without any consideration for emulation or phone-compatible controllers.
Fortnite and PUBG Mobile are both shooters in the battle royale genre. They are hyper competitive, where only one player or squad can come out on top from a pool of 100 players. That kind of competition is undeniably hardcore. What’s more, Fortnite has cross-platform capabilities, meaning mobile players can play in the same games as console players. That’s a pretty obvious bridging of the gap between mobile and console.
Ports of RPGs, which can be some of the most demanding games, are also popular on mobile devices. You would be hard pressed to find a gamer who would suggest that these games, which can easily take up over a hundred hours, don’t qualify as a hardcore experience. This is especially true of the Final Fantasy games, which have always been a prominent force in the video game industry. These ports show that mobile devices are more than capable of handling hardcore experiences. Original mobile RPGs serve to strengthen that point. Nintendo’s decision to bring the Fire Emblem franchise to phones and tablets with an exclusive title has helped blend the casual and hardcore together. Fire Emblem Heroes feels very much like a Fire Emblem game, although the presence of mobile traditions allows for a more casual approach to the title if that’s what players are interested in.
Dragalia Lost, another Nintendo game for mobile, also really shows what mobile games are capable of. This feels like a fully realized game, with a long narrative, amazing music, action-RPG gameplay, and co-op modes. There is also a ton to do, so different kinds of fans have options. To play in an optimal manner though, the title requires you to play daily and check up on multiple facets of the game. You make character upgrades, build up your castle, visit your dragons, play some levels, do some events, collect some free items, and participate in other laundry list items. These aspects of the game are more demanding than they are difficult, but they are undoubtedly something some players will be looking for. I’ve learned to love them just as much as I enjoy the story or raids. Raids, by the way, are fantastic; these are 16 character fights where you team up with other players to defeat boss monsters. These fights would feel right at home in an MMORPG like Final Fantasy XIV
Companies like Square Enix, Nintendo, and Epic are demonstrating the capabilities of the platform. They are proving that the games can feature unique mechanics without sacrificing immersion. Plenty of genres can translate from console to mobile just fine. This is great because I love the ability to play through an amazing story while I sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. I don’t feel any less hardcore than I do when I play Starcraft II or Overwatch. With news that Microsoft plans on streaming games to mobile devices, complete with the option to use mobile controls, it seems even more likely that the hasty conflation of mobile with casual will soon be a thing of the past.