You’re Not Actually Mad At Mobile Games
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #161. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
Did I ever tell you all that my first paid games writing gig was centered around iPhone games? I may have, I don’t remember, but a very big chunk of my career was very focused on the iOS App Store, and it was always frustrating to see so many people dismiss what I came to realize was an (often unfairly) overlooked gaming platform. What really sucks is that frustration never really went away, because to this day I still see people use “mobile game” as some kind of derisive shorthand. It doesn’t just bug me because it’s mean and, in my experience, unfair – it also bugs me because it’s wrong. Because here’s the thing: What everyone’s mad at isn’t really “mobile games.”
I’m sure it will be easy for folks to hand-wave past what I have to say on the subject because I spent a good six to seven years writing almost exclusively about mobile gaming, and I do understand why there might be expectations of bias. Hell, I can’t even completely deny that because this stuff was a huge part of my life for years, so of course I still feel defensive about it. But wouldn’t someone who actually spent several years in that space (specifically that space) have a bit more insight on it as well? Something to remember about mobile games is that they (I’m generalizing here) started off pretty basic and slowly expanded in scope over time due to a combination of technological advancements and more people starting to take them seriously – or at least play them. It was kind of like a fast-track of videogame history in a way; being dismissed as mere toys or a waste of time, then eventually carving out a niche in the wider public consciousness.
Unfortunately, said fast-tracking also resulted in one of the worst things modern game players have to endure: Monetization and the “games as a service” model.
I will never deny that these types of games have problems. They’re obnoxious at best, or downright vile and predatory at worst. It’s an awful thing that became popular thanks in no small part to mobile games raking in, just, disgusting amounts of money. And I fully agree with anyone who may harbor resentment towards them because of that fact. But even then, mobile games aren’t the real problem here. Corporate greed (and predatory monetization structures that are almost guaranteed to make bank) are what everyone should really be mad at.
It’s so easy to write-off a game being on mobile because, yes, much of the time that translates to “free to download but you have to pay through the nose to get anywhere and it’s a blurry shadow of the franchise it’s based on.” Again, not denying that. However, that’s not always the case with mobile games, and a lot of these issues are just as bad in some console and PC games. Not saying that makes it okay, because it’s absolutely not okay, but it’s not just a mobile games thing.
Also, I want to be clear that I don’t believe anyone is bad or misguided for being disappointed when a beloved series announces a mobile spin-off. Particularly because when it’s a license owned by a big company it’s almost guaranteed to be a “free-to-play” affair crammed with psychological tricks designed to suck money out of your bank account. But just try to keep a more open mind about the platform in general, yeah? There have been, and still are, loads of fantastic games on mobile that don’t use any of those shitty concepts, and I think to ignore them purely because they’re made for your phone is doing them (and yourself) a disservice.
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.