To the staff writers at Toucharcade.com: I love the site. I really do. I check in daily for all my mobile gaming news, and Shaun Musgrave's RPG Reload column is consistently excellent week after week. I fancy myself a mobile, console, and PC gamer, and I have no hat in the ring in regards to any form of console warfare.
Don't get me wrong, there are some good arguments to be had. In fact, Eli's article is a rather insightful look at what the future of gaming could be like. However, the problem with proclaiming the dominance of mobile is that it's either entirely premature, or it paints a dystopian future for gaming that's straight out of our worst nightmares.
You can't disconnect the mobile platform with the state of mobile gaming.
In his criticism of a satirical/sarcastic/allegedly comedic video put out by IGN, Carter Dotson boldly claims:
"we can certainly look back on this and laugh at how wrong-headed people like him were five to ten years from now when Nintendo's printing money from their mobile games, Sony's pushing streaming games through PS Now on the Apple TV, and Xbox is the new Games for Windows."
When he wrote that, I'm sure he was imagining a future where Super Mario Galaxy 3 can be played on the go, and Final Fantasy XVI is looking better than ever on Android. Except if the studies are to be believed and mobile gaming is asserting its dominance, then this is not the future you're advocating for.
The game industry is a bit weird and anti-consumer these days, but mobile gaming is a mess all on its own. This isn't me with a chip on my shoulder: Toucharcade reports on this regularly. What started as a perfectly ordinary gaming platform quickly became a price race to the bottom, and now free-to-play and cheap console game knock offs are the star of the show. Many gamers may dislike these trends for a multitude of reasons, but the most unsettling part of all this is that it's obviously working. If developers follow the money, and this is where the money lies, then we shouldn't be surprised when companies keep giving us money-grubbing stuff we claim to hate.
Eli Hodapp makes it clear in his article that he's talking strictly about the evolution of mobile devices and not necessarily mobile gaming, and obviously there are many excellent mobile titles that elevate themselves among the filth and cash grabs. Yet just as console gamers don't "specifically [enjoy] gaming on the PS3 because of Sony's cell processor, or prefer gaming on a PC because they specifically like the way their NVIDIA GPU crunches all those 1's and 0's," mobile gamers aren't flocking to Clash of Clans because they can't wait to plug into an Apple TV. It doesn't give me hope that the only paid games on Apple's "Top 100 Grossing" list are Minecraft and PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist, and the results are no different on Android. Yes, the next generation of gamers is growing up with mobile as their platform of choice, but that ostensibly would mean that those games at the top of the list are their equivalents of Mario and Metal Gear Solid.
On a platform where a game costing more than $10 needs a name like Bioshock or Monster Hunter to succeed, it's easy to see why console and PC gamers haven't taken kindly to the rising popularity of mobile. It's not just about the platform: the evidence speaks equally for mobile and the gaming culture it fosters. If a mobile assimilation of gaming does indeed happen, then our favorite $60 release will change to compete with their new ecosystem. Hell, we already see it happening with mainstream console releases. Yes, it's true that devices like Apple TV are on the horizon and could change gaming forever. Yet we need to base our expectations on the reality we live in, not the promises on the horizon.
Everything evolves, and the future is uncertain.
It's weird to think that it's been slightly less than a decade since the Nintendo Wii originally came out.
Back in 2006, motion control seemed like the next big step for gaming. The hype from E3 onward was crazy, and sales for the system would continue to skyrocket years after its release. It was so successful that both Sony and Microsoft got into the motion control market with Move and Kinect respectively. Gaming was experiencing a resurgence of enthusiasm from gamers and non-gamers alike, and by all accounts the future seemed set in stone.
Alas, hindsight is 20/20. Microsoft boosted Xbox One sales by stripping the Kinect from its hardware, and critics say that motion controls were a lie that produced few good games during their run. Sure, Wii Remotes still work with the Wii U, but what was once called the future became just a fad.
Eli claims in his article that mobile will catch up to console gaming, arguing
"Once we get there, what is the purpose of having something like a game console when you already own device [sic], that's in your pocket, that has the hardware capable of providing a similar experience with a few accessories?"
It's a compelling argument, but it doesn't take into account that console and PC gaming will also evolve and become more powerful over time. I'll grant that mobile devices have the advantage of being rereleased every year, but you better bet your bottom dollar that the major players in console gaming will try their damnedest to keep their products competitive.
Besides, can we honestly look at mobile devices and think we're approaching the point of throwing away our consoles? The iPhone 6S may be faster than ever before, but it still costs 200 extra dollars to afford one that could hold more than a single console game on it. How far into the future do we have to look to see a gaming capable mobile device plus accessories being more cost effective than just owning an console? Eli claims that getting hung up over details like poor MFi controller adoption rates seems "incredibly myopic," but these are real considerations that need to be addressed if PCs and consoles are becoming "irrelevant." The trends as they exist aren't pointing to assimilation, but rather diverging industries feeding very specific markets. Discussing how things could change without concrete evidence in the present is myopic in and of itself.
Aside from that… hell, look at all the news about Oculus Rift that pops up every day. Look at the fact that 3DS sales are somehow still climbing when that's the system that makes the least sense to exist in this day and age. I mean I get that's mostly the power of Pokémon and Nintendo's other IPs, but still. It might be cliché to say, but the future is so vast and so uncertain that it's hard to say what will succeed and what will fail. Remember how the Ouya was hyped to revolutionize console gaming? Remember how that turned out? If there's one thing we should assume, it's that we shouldn't assume anything.
In a best case scenario, mobile and consoles will continue to exist as fierce competitors.
To restate what I said at the top, I like mobile games. I review Kemco's RPGs on the regular, and I'm even having a pretty good time with Order and Chaos 2 these days. I am also one of the only people brave or stupid enough to defend All The Bravest, a game so widely hated because it represented a nightmare scenario of Final Fantasy finding its future on mobile devices.
I know no one at Toucharcade was arguing that PC or console gaming would go away completely, but let's be reasonable: we should want both of these industries to succeed. We shouldn't want any gamer's preferred method of gaming to become a niche, as all evidence shows that competition is good for the industry. The more mobile games chase console level visuals and experiences, the more console and PC games should be raising the bar and exceeding our expectations. Let's not settle for achieving assimilation, but rather root for the continued evolution and health of gaming across all platforms.
I'll end with an anecdote: My niece loves videogames. She loves mobile games like Temple Run, but she loves her 3DS too. Just this year, she finally became curious in trying Smash Bros, and now she's finally warming to console gaming as well. This is the future generation: gamers who won't settle for what they're used to, but who are hungry for new experiences on new platforms. For as much cynicism and skepticism exists within the industry today, I have every hope that the next generation of gamers will lead this industry in the right direction.
Even if the current trends of gaming can leave us reeling, it's the unforeseeable innovations of the future that will keep this industry alive.