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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

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CNET Editor

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

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Why mobile gaming counts

It used to be Xbox gamers. Or PlayStation gamers. Woe betide the poor Nintendo enthusiasts, while PC gamers sat high and proud, smugly dismissing console gamers in one fell swoop.

Why mobile gaming counts

Still from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
(Credit: Capybara Games)

These days, though, there's a new breed of gamer at the bottom of the pecking order: mobile.

It's too accessible. It's too easy. You don't have to get caught up for at least an hour every time you pick it up. It doesn't count as real gaming.

I beg to differ.

Well, I mean, if casual gamers don't count as gamers, what the hell are they? You are engaging with a user interface to manipulate images that appear on an electronic screen.

Ah, but now I am being disingenuous. Dictionary definitions will only get us so far, given the constant flux of meaning.

Let's start with some facts and figures, then.

Quoting from an article I wrote late last year:

According to data compiled by Geekaphone and Touchstone Research, the mobile gaming industry will make US$8 billion in 2011. The gaming industry as a whole, including mobile, is worth US$74 billion in 2011, according to research conducted by Gartner. If we take these figures as true, they show that mobile gaming now accounts for over 10 per cent of the entire video-game industry worldwide.

You know, that's not an insignificant chunk; and, if you take into account that mobile gaming really only took off in 2007, it's meteoric. Especially if you then take into account that many mobile games cost only 1 to 2 per cent of the cost of a console game; and now think about how many free games are being downloaded across a range of operating systems.

Tiny Wings
(Credit: Andreas Illiger)

Apple has just hit 25 billion app downloads (that's not just games, mind; however, it is by far the most popular category, with 5 million game downloads per day as of a year ago). Android reported in December that it had hit the 10 billion download mark, and RIM has revealed that there are 6 million downloads from BlackBerry App World daily.

That's a lot of games in pockets. And they're reaching a lot of people who have never picked up a controller, who have never walked into their local EB Games store, who regard the whole video games thing with an air of bewilderment.

But there still persists this conviction that playing a game on your iPhone doesn't count as "real" gaming.

This attitude surfaces time and again, whether it's a blatant statement, a need to draw a line between Unreal titles such as Infinity Blade and the rather more simple Tiny Wings, or just a conviction that you can't play a game "properly" while waiting for a bus.

But why?

Well, firstly, there is a perception that unless you have to put an hour or two into a learning curve, what you're doing just isn't difficult enough or intensive enough to be allowed into the same category as learning to play Call of Duty on a console.

(Credit: Frontier Developments)

Secondly, the equipment isn't dedicated gaming hardware; an iPhone is a phone, but it can also work as a GPS or a PDA or an MP3 player — although the application of video-game consoles as media streaming devices, for example, is blurring that boundary somewhat.

Portability is also a factor. The Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita are also seen as "lesser" to home console gaming.

But then there are PC gamers who see console gaming as inferior, and PCs are not dedicated gaming devices, even if you spend thousands of dollars speccing them that way.

It's all very confusing, but the hierarchy basically goes: PC gamers are better than console games are better than portable gamers are better than muggins with a smartphone.

I think it's ridiculous.

I've made this argument before, but if a lot of the games appearing on mobile devices now showed up on consoles a few years back, they'd be lauded. And, in fact, they were. Look at recent ports, for example: LostWinds originally appeared on the Wii; Grand Theft Auto III was on PS2, PC and Xbox; Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions appeared on PSP; Eufloria was a PSN game; highly acclaimed downloadable game Limbo (Xbox, PlayStation, PC) is now looking to port.

Not to mention original titles expanding on existing AAA IP — Mass Effect Infiltrator, out next week, is a good example. Or any of the Sims titles, or Katamari, or Monkey Ball, or Sonic the Hedgehog. Hell, even Pac-Man, Tetris and Space Invaders. And, in fact, the early, early days of gaming is almost where mobile gaming is now: relatively unfettered, tremendously creative and unbelievably rich and fertile.

Which is why it would be doing independent developers a disservice to suggest that only big-studio titles are worthy of notice.

I've spoken to a few local developers now, and one thing the indie guys all seem to say about mobile development is that they love the freedom. Not being answerable to big studios means they are free to be as creative as they like, to make their own original intellectual property, and the results are some unique and fascinating games that you don't see anywhere else in such profusion — or so accessibly low-priced.

And these indie developers can also afford to expend more effort in the name of passion than the bottom line, because the big developer dollars aren't riding on what they're producing.

(Credit: Uppercut Games)

All you have to do is open up iTunes and take a stroll around the game section. You'll see, well, a lot of crap; but you'll also see a lot of amazing games, in greater quantities than you'll find on the shelves of EB Games.

And you know what else? You can play mobile games and no one is going to shame you for your gender, your age, your skin colour, your weight.

So ... what? It's inclusive, it's accessible, it's inexpensive, it's portable, it can be played on multifunction devices, and it can be consumed in bite-sized pieces.

And if it's a game, and you're having fun? Well, you're a gamer.

Actually, I'm going to take it a step further. If it's a game, and you're having fun, well, have that fun, and bollocks to what anyone else thinks. What counts is that you're enjoying something awesome.

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