Android handheld gaming: Not quite there yet

This is an unofficial sequel to my previous article, titled “The Future of Dedicated Portable Gaming“. If you haven’t read it, please do!

In that article, I mentioned the attempts that have been made to use a mobile smart-device platform such as Android for dedicated gaming.

A couple of days after writing the article, I decided to revive my old Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone and use it for dedicated gaming. I knew it wouldn’t run all the greatest and latest, but I still wanted to give it a go.

Because I’m not a huge fan of touch interfaces, though, and because I planned on running emulators to play custom ROMs of a certain monster-catching franchise, I invested in the iPega PG-9025, an affordable but well-made (and well-reviewed) Bluetooth controller.

Quickly after it arrived, however, I understood an inherent problem with this: Bluetooth pairing on mobile devices is a pain, specially with controllers (including keyboards). That meant I spent the first few hours trying to pair the controller to the phone. By the time I figured it all out (Chinese software and all), I didn’t really want to play anymore.

Yesterday I picked it up again and after having some connection issues, I was able to play Modern Combat 4. It ran well enough, but the journey that had taken me to that moment niggled my mind, and made me think fondly of the ease of just turning my Vita on and playing.

I believe that part of the problem is that developers are not embracing the unique capabilities of touch-based devices, and are instead focusing on trying to recreate a more “traditional” gaming experience, with platformers, shooters and so on.

However, the success of titles that have embraced touch-based input should be an indication of the direction they might need to focus on.

World of Goo was not only critically acclaimed. The physics-based, charming little puzzler had sold, by 2012, over 1 million copies on iOS alone, and considering it has been ported to 8 platforms since its debut in 2009, we can only assume the total sales numbers are much, much higher.

Another success story is, of course, that of Angry Birds. While Rovio has struggled with the franchise lately, just a couple of years ago they were making $200 million in revenue from it.

“But wait!”, I hear you say. “Free-to-play is all the rage!”.

The industry of mobile gaming has since shifted focus toward free-to-play games, of course, and games such as Candy Crush Saga are making around $850.000. A day. That’s the kind of figure that’s hard to argue with.

However, that also shows that the mobile gaming market is in a constant state of shift. It hasn’t yet found its footing. Even free-to-play MMOs are having issues keeping players interested. Thankfully.

So, the whole industry is trying to land on its feet after the tornado of changes. Nintendo are going to make mobile games (after denying they would). Sony said the Vita is now a “Legacy Device” (and then “amended” it).

What’s my point? I guess it’s the same point I made in my other article: we live in times of uncertainty. Developers don’t really know how to create games for the smartphone market (they usually stumble upon success), and the established leaders of the gaming industry don’t know how to deal with the transition from the traditional “dedicated-at-home, dedicated-portable” model that has been the norm since the early 1990’s introduced us to the SNES + Gameboy dream team.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spend the next 30 minutes of my day trying to connect my controller to my phone so that I can play for 10 minutes.

Until next time.

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About Marcos Codas 384 Articles
Lover of portable gaming and horror cinema. Indie filmmaker and game developer. Multimedia producer. Born in Paraguay, raised in Canada. Huge fan of "The Blair Witch Project", and "Sonic 3D Blast". Deputy head at Vita Player and its parent organization, Infinite Frontiers. Like what I do? Donate a coffee:

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