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Racing Ahead: The Rise Of Triple-A Mobile Games

Racing Ahead: The Rise Of Triple-A Mobile Games

Tue 21 Aug 2012 7:07am GMT / 3:07am EDT / 12:07am PDT
Mobile

CSR Racing's $12m iOS success is a welcome sign and a warning, writes Johnny Minkley

Two figures worthy of a 'Number Crunching' entry in British satirical magazine Private Eye popped up last week: £8.18m - the lowest week's revenue ever recorded in the UK for boxed games sales. $12m - the revenue generated by free-to-play iOS title CSR Racing in its first month.

While excuses were sought for the High Street's miserable performance - from the summer software drought, to the Olympics - that hasn't stopped consumers throwing easier-to-justify sums at Apple hand-over-fist.

And while we're on the subject of uncomfortable parallels for the Old Industry, as tensions between the games media and console games makers run high (from Borderland 2's 'Girlfriend Mode' debacle, to the Assassin's Creed III creative director's ill-considered allegations of "subtle racism"), sales of NaturalMotion's title have soared without the slightest need for in-depth developer interviews or magazine covers.

As the new age of gaming flies, the old era flounders as everyone fights amongst themselves. I'm over-simplifying, clearly, but the contrasts are striking nonetheless.

"As the new age of gaming flies, the old era flounders as everyone fights amongst themselves."

What's interesting about CSR's success is that it backs the point NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil made at last month's Game Horizon conference, where he argued that the way to stand out in the mobile space today is by insisting on console-quality production values.

This was intended as a positive message to veteran games developers: your expertise and investment in technology gives you an edge. And CSR is the proof - developed by Boss Alien, a studio formed from the ashes of cutting-edge console racing game maker Black Rock.

We've all seen what Epic has achieved with Infinity Blade and its sequel, probably the most recognisably 'triple-A' experiences on iOS. As a cosy tech bedfellow of all hardware manufacturers in the games space, Epic generally gets in there early - as evidenced by the huge exposure it received from Apple for Epic Citadel, its Unreal Engine iOS demo.

But with the latest mobile hardware capable of serious graphical performance - iterating ever upwards at a rate alien to the console business - more and more developers with the means are going to town on those tiny screens.

As my learned colleague Rich Leadbetter suggested in his piece on what to expect from iPhone 5, "within the next 12 months mobile graphics technology will finally catch up with the capabilities of the current-gen consoles."

The thing is, to most consumers it already looks like it has. And when the games are starting to look as good as EA's Real Racing 3 on iOS, it's little wonder. So the question then becomes: as mobile games begin to match triple-A console games in performance, will they attract more of the creators of them?

" So the question then becomes: as mobile games begin to match triple-A console games in performance, will they attract more of the creators of them? "

I was among the 1,200-strong crowd in Cologne last week for Sony's Gamescom press conference. And I gasped along with everyone else as Media Molecule's Alex Evans treated us to a superb demo of the enchanting Tearaway, the studio's new, Vita-exclusive IP.

But I might have gasped as well at the revelation that one of Sony's top studios was working on the portable platform. After all, Uncharted was handled not by Naughty Dog, but Bend; Resistance: Burning Skies by Nihilistic, not Insomniac; and still to come: Killzone: Mercenaries by Sony Cambridge, not Guerrilla; and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified by Nihilistic, not Treyarch.

Now, considering PlayStation Vita is the most versatile gaming device ever created, and one of its main USP's was the promise of home console-style gaming without compromise, isn't it funny how many leading creators seem uninterested in making games for it? It's the PSP problem repeating itself, second stick or not.

Well, okay, it's not that funny. There's the resource-sapping lure of the next gen, naturally, but the commercial reality cannot be ignored, either: as strong as Sony's Gamescom content offering was, success remains far from assured for its handheld. And in being reluctant to truly commit to the platform, the creators of gaming's biggest franchises are simultaneously hurting its prospects by effectively making it less likely others will.

No such concerns with smartphones. "But you'll never be able to do proper games on a phone," the hardcore perpetually sneer. To which I say, why does triple-A gaming require a controller, or a mouse and keyboard for that matter? Where's the stone tablet with the words "Thou shalt point thy reticule with the right stick" angrily chiseled into it?

"While I cannot see - nor do I wish to imagine - a near-future in which I can't play deep, complex games using a controller, I can envisage one in which that becomes an increasingly specialised niche."

I was rather taken with an analogy made by Denki's Colin Anderson during a BAFTA panel in Dundee last week. Explaining why he believed consoles wouldn't be a mainstream proposition in a generation or two's time, he highlighted the plight of the arcade business: once home console tech caught up, to survive and thrive coin-ops all became super-specialised, bespoke contraptions.

While I cannot see - nor do I wish to imagine - a near-future in which I can't play deep, complex games using a controller, I can envisage one in which that becomes an increasingly specialised niche.

That's not going to happen tomorrow, and as the calamities befalling the OnLive business over the weekend have shown, we're not ready for all the future has to offer just yet.

PlayStation 4 and Xbox Whatever-It's-Called will be unveiled next year to great fanfare, and the games will look marvelous; but behind the beaming smiles on stage, there'll be serious fears about the road ahead - fears that no-one felt when the leap to HD was made.

"It's going to much more about creativity, much more about visual quality and obviously about gameplay, and we think that we have a head start on this because we started that sometime earlier," NaturalMotion's Reil told this site last week, discussing what he called "wave two of mobile social games".

And as the debate over the future of consoles rages on, high-end mobile titles such as CSR Racing will quietly continue to make a fortune.

51 Comments

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Excellent article.

What amazes me is how few gaming journalists are up to speed about what is happening in mobile. Yet it is the most feverishly creative format that video gaming has ever had. There is more innovation on mobile in a week (1,839 new games on iOS alone so far this month) than you would see on console in a few years.

And mobile phone gaming is still in its infancy. Soon all phones will be smartphones and most people on planet earth will have one. The manufacturers are flat out meeting the demand. A million new Android devices are registered every day. Soon this will be two million and then three million. We are seeing an unprecedented take up of gaming devices that makes consoles look like a grain in the sand.

As the article says, these phones are becoming very powerful at an alarming rate. My wife's Galaxy S2 was amazing a year ago, now my HTC One X is in a whole new league. But very soon this will be old hat. And this trickles down very quickly, today's top end smartphone specification becomes tomorrow's base model specification.

This inevitably means that soon most people on planet earth will be carrying round with them 24/7 a gaming device more powerful than gaming consoles. Because gaming consoles are stuck into long cycles and get left behind with their technology and power. An Xbox 360 or a PS3 looks like a very low specification device these days.

And the public are lapping it up. Watch commuters playing these games on the tube, on busses and even at traffic lights in their cars. Gaming has become totally mainstream and totally global and it is smartphones that have achieved this.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
To which I say, why does triple-A gaming require a controller, or a mouse and keyboard for that matter? Where's the stone tablet with the words "Thou shalt point thy reticule with the right stick" angrily chiseled into it?
Well, I experimented with Dead Trigger on my Nexus 7 yesterday. It lasted about 5 minutes before I had to stop or risk throwing the thing at the wall. Touchscreens are an awful control method for anything other than selecting things on screen, and navigating menus.

Posted:2 years ago

#2
Good and eye opening example of what's happening.

BRUCE: I think that most journalist are equally lost as some game developers, as the speed of change is so fast. They should catch up quickly. As the article stated, CSR did not need nor sought any media coverage to help their initial sales. While PC and console devs/publishers are desperate to get media attention, mobile games often rise to glory through word of mouth.

DAVE: Often the problem lies in that devs design their mobile game to have console controls which are then imitated via virtual thumb sticks or other horrible design choices. You should always design to what ever your platform is. I always say that if your game requires thumb sticks, then it should not be developed for mobile.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
@Kim: I agree. However I've yet to see a game with any depth even close to that of a console game that works well on a touchscreen/gyro, which is the point in the article I was commenting on. If there are any, I'd like to see some examples, because, on Android at least, I can't find any.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
Popular Comment
I think 'us journalists', speaking for myself of course, are pretty up to speed on what's going on in mobile. I myself own more than one iOS device (more than two, actually) and one Android device. I enjoy downloading and playing regularly.

However, I tend to agree with some other posts here. Touch screen as a control mechanism is unspeakably awful beyond tower defence and menu-driven titles. And, even if somebody did staple some fold-out sticks and buttons to their device, you still end up with the same comparisons you have putting a Vita, say, alongside an Xbox 360. Small screen versus big, cinematic and immersive versus, dare I say, twee?

CSR is a great example. I love sim racing. At home I have a Fanatec Wheel – one of the big expensive ones with all the mucky-muck. It’s complex piece of kit. Attached to a racing seat, it has a six-speed manual gearbox with clutch and load-pressured brake pedal and full-unit engine vibration. I use this set-up because I want to feel like I am in the experience, not regarding it through antique field glasses from the next hilltop along, which is, to be frank, how all mobile games that attempt AAA feel to me.

I don't play a sim racer to flick my fingers about a screen. I am beyond the point where touching a screen/button and seeing things happen as a result is an amusement in itself. I play to be inside, to have a simulated experience. We have five senses, and mobile games, at most, can barely occupy a fraction of two of them. Big screen, big sound, big characters, big guns. A decent set-up sucks me in. It is transformative.

When talking about mobile versus console or PC gaming, this, it seems to me, is the part of the argument that always seems to be skirted around. That the term ‘game’ has far too broad a definition for us ever to assume that, when discussing it, both parties are talking about the same thing. A game can be a puzzle involving falling blocks as much as it can be a galaxy-spanning space opera. But I don't consider them even to occupy opposite ends of the same pole. To do so would be to state as fact that mobile gamers consider sit-down console or PC gaming as an alternative when mooching about the app store, and vice versa, that core gamers agonise over whether to buy Gears Of War or Angry Birds. It's nonsense.

AAA console blockbusters are more than games. No matter how powerful a handheld device becomes, they will never be comparable to the immersion available on the big screen, with a widget in your hand designed with the express purpose of controlling games. The power of what these games have over Tetris, say, cannot be underestimated.

People buy apps, but if I could, I’d draw you a venn diagram showing how many of those ‘squillion’ people who do so would buy a games magazine. There is almost no crossover. To say that journalists are behind the times is as ignorant of what ‘gamers’ want to read about as it is an overestimation of the interest in gaming as a whole in the minds of those who download the odd app here and there.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 21st August 2012 1:32pm

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Brian Smith Artist

197 88 0.4
@ Dan - Excellent balanced opinion.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd

330 780 2.4
That's $12m worldwide, right? Still, an amazing success.

A bit of a stretch to describe CSR or Infinity Blade as 'AAA' though.

'AAA' to me brings to mind a long form project involving significant amounts of crafted content and original research, that can justify mainstream marketing and expect a nine-figure return. Not just a basic game build around an upgrade shop mechanic, with excessively rich production values pasted on top.

(There's also the question of whether consumers care about these OTT production values - they certainly help sell a game in to a platform holder, but the charts are still full of games with modest but charming - and perhaps less intimidating and more battery-friendly - 2D presentation.)

The issue isn't one of technology, it's one of a lack of a model that allows big bets to be made on content and R&D upfront. You can't make a game like Bioshock Infinity, Portal 2 or Resident Evil 6 in a piecemeal fashion. These are kinds of games that a huge number of people still want to play.

The fact there are so few mobile games which push the boat out shows that we are still a long way from reaching a model that fully unlocks the potential of these devices. But I've no doubt that we will get there eventually.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Martin Klima Executive Producer, Warhorse Studios

26 50 1.9
Popular Comment
@Bruce: 1,839 new games on iOS alone so far this month
What an absolutely horrendous idea. Life is too short to sift through 1,839 new games every month. The platform holders on consoles may stifle creativity, but they also keep out crap -- this is the single best aspect of the present console business model.

Posted:2 years ago

#8

James Prendergast Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
I disagree with the idea that console holders/makers are gatekeepers that "keep out the crap" because I've played and bought quite a few stinkers over the years. However, trying to draw a connection between quantity and quality (i.e. 1839 games/0.5*month) is a complete and utter fallacy as well.

I've seen zero mobile apps that I'm interested in paying or playing - even when my 12 year old cousin is desperately trying to get me interested in the latest "cool" thing that's essentially evolved from an interactive ringtone. Yes, there are good apps out there and there are good mobile games but it's nowhere near that 1839 figure trotted out above as if the lower number of console releases means less quality and evolution.

If anything, I'd say that cost is a bigger driver of evolution - cost to produce, specifically. Since we appear to be stifled in the top end by risk-averse publishers and investors and further stifled on the mobile platforms (and even XBLA/PSN) that regulate the types of apps that are published then I'd say that surely, by these metrics that myself and Bruce regard as the holy grail, flash games are the most revolutionary and evolutionary medium for games making EVER!!

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
I agree with Dan. I love sitting down in front of a big TV with surround sound to lose myself for hours. I also like to have something to occupy my time for a few minutes when I'm doing something inane in real life that doesn't need my full attention. There shouldn't be a competition between big experiences and little ones. I hope the whole spectrum of games can grow and thrive.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

David Howard Editor-in-Chief and Founder, One Hit Pixel

12 19 1.6
Why use £8.18million and $12million when it clearly makes one look larger than the other? Either do both figures in pounds or both in dollars.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

David Howard Editor-in-Chief and Founder, One Hit Pixel

12 19 1.6
I'd be interested in seeing a proportion of quality games per platform in regards to install base over sheer quantity. The argument is constantly made that there are now hundreds of millions of mobile devices out there now and so many games being created for them, but how many truly superb games have there been? Less than 50 I'd say. For a userbase that is so large I'd expect five or six incredible titles to download every few weeks and I'm barely buying one a month that I'd put in that class.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Tim Swan Technical Director, Boss Alien Ltd

10 9 0.9
It's easy to see from these comments that there are many different people out there who enjoy a multitude of experiences. I love console and PC games just as much as I enjoy a 5 minute diversion on my iPad. There is room in the market for mobile and console, games can benefit from lessons learned from both environments and gamers get more cool things to play as a result. There really is no need to keep couching these numbers like it's some competition between the two.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Hugo Sieiro Technical Producer, Things With Wings

2 2 1.0
Excellent article.

Developers go where the money is so more and more titles will be coming to these platforms, increasing the chances of discovering new raw talent that will create amazing new experiences (like when the mouse came out and the whole point & click genre started)

Regarding the whole touch screen issue. I don't think anyone is saying that it will eventually substitue a controller but, games will get better on them. I do remember during the 90s how PC gamers used to say that a First Person Shooter would never work on a console for the lack of keyboard and mouse, how it was an inferior experience, how it was impossible to play multiplayer because it was too slow...

As I said, it won't replace them, but I think that mobiles (as they can now push content to TVs) will become really serious platforms. Maybe in the not so distant future we will use mobiles as our main platform, playing 80% of all our games on tablets and any other crazy touchscreen interfaces that they build (coffee-table anyone) and we will still have time for some niche* games that will require a controller to play games that we 'push' to our TVs.

*The same way you could say MMOs are 'niche' these days

Just my two cents

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Will Wilson Web & Community Manager, NaturalMotion

7 3 0.4
@Dan I did have a longer, more elaborate reply to your comment, but I decided to keep it to bullet points

- CSR doesn't involve flicking, nor is it a sim racer.
- Are you suggesting we should start snobbishly deciding what a game is and isnt, purely on the genre/screen size? You do realise most people play on tablets at home, right? It /is/ eating into time on their TVs, even if it isn't for you personally.
- 'AAA' is a buzzword invented by marketing. It can mean about a dozen things depending on what context it's used in: Big production team, expensive to make, good graphics, long playtime, published by a big publisher, created by a well established team, lots of marketing spend, lots of pre-existing fans etc. It is, in a nutshell, meaningless.
- Personally, I find Tetris a lot more exciting than Gears of War, which left me bored and empty. But that's personal preference (it would have been better to have /not/ used one of the best puzzle games of all time for your mobile example, mind ;-))

Just as a side note, I do want to point out that - in response to the touchscreen moaning - it's up to the developers to produce games that use the platform's controls well. Sometimes you can force a genre from another platform in with a bit of work (as with PC -- Console FPS), but other times it just isn't possible (like trying to make a motion controlled genre work with a Snes controller). Claiming touchscreens are awful based entirely on the fact people have tried to force genres unsuitable to the interface is a bit...off.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Will Wilson on 21st August 2012 5:24pm

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
I think you've overdone your various definitions. From what I've gotten used to reading, "AAA" just means "another". As in "We just released a AAA blockbuster game" = "we just released another game".

What the console snobs aren't getting is that most of the ahem AAA games available on tablets and phones cost on average about 3 bucks. This has the console devs crapping themselves. They will belittle and downplay the iOS market all day long, but top grossing mobile games out earn all but the biggest console blockbusters, whilst costing a tenth the price. This makes the risk averse go purple, whereas everyone else in the world is quite happy playing smaller but stil fairly deep games.

Whenever I hear large developers moaning about games like temple run, all my head sees is a petulant child stamping a foot and shouting "You will buy my $60 games, they're just better". And they're not, they just look better. And that won't last much longer either.

The end.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd

330 780 2.4
Or maybe people just have different tastes. A world where Temple Run represented the high watermark of gaming sophistication would be an impoverished one, but not one that is ever likely to come to pass.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

Manoel Balbino Programmer, Playlore

15 3 0.2
The biggest problem nobody addresses is that, while you can indeed shower a mobile games with AAA textures, models and music, you cannot easily do so with actual content. Most tablets and mobiles being sold have only 16~32GB of storage.

Just for reference, Resident Evil Revelations, a Nintendo 3DS game that would qualify as AAA, uses 3.8GBs worth of data with lower resolution textures and FMV than what can be achieved in the latest Apple devices. It's clear that the GPU and CPU has vastly outpaced the available storage, and that's the current bottleneck.

It's also a bit disingenuous to compare a month of CSR's worldwide revenue with a week of one country's revenue.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Manoel Balbino on 21st August 2012 8:56pm

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
@ Bruce and of those 1,800+ games, 50-100 will break even, and 10 will make money. Yep, that's a healthy market right there.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
But you're all missing the point. What's driving this need to have 16 squigabytes of hdr textures in the first place?

Console games seem to be striving to provide realistic environments with meaningful stories for some time. Why? There are movies and books for that kind of thing and both are usually better. The last time I played a AAA game was modern warfare. I preferred quake 3 tbh, it was more honest and with a better frame rate and no crap cutscenes and fluff getting in the way.

Why not try putting a game similar to temple run out, only with 50 million polygon, correctly shaded trees alongside the route. You can call it a AAA game then and people would play it.

btw, I hate temple run myself, it's just an example of a game with thirty trillion players and no dev team. And almost no cost. And yet the "real" devs(sic) think the mobile market is some kind of poor relation. If you took the income generated from the top 200 grossing and divided it by the man years required, it is this so called AAA world that would look silly.

I'm only speaking out because mobile never gets anything but disparagment. But that's really fine, you guys stick to your model of one less than stellar title putting 200 people out of work, and we'll just plod along earning more money than we've ever seen from the past 25 years in the business as developers...

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
@ Paul And you guys make the right kinds of games, and have enough mainstream popularity that people pay attention when you release a new one (I'm really enjoying GBWG btw). The problem is for every Rubicon there are two dozen small studios that are losing money constantly. You are part of the top 10%, and that's the only group that's currently pulling in sustainable income on mobile.

Don't take this the wrong way. I don't think it's a bad market or a market that's going to collapse in any way, but it's certainly not the healthiest market at the moment (neither are consoles). It's grossly over-developed and there are serious profitability problems for the vast majority of developers. The report last year was that only 30% of app store developers have earned more than $30,000 in their ENTIRE library on the app store. Obviously even if that were annually it would be nowhere near enough to sustain a business, and while I'm sure things have improved over the last year, people need to stop treating mobile like the final frontier of gaming.

It's a different frontier, with different experiences and strengths, which deserves to and should continue to find success in some areas. That does not preclude the end of all gaming everywhere else. That's silly, and not how the real world works.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ

202 72 0.4
Good article, fantastic commentary below. Delighted to be able to read so many enlightening observations about console vs mobile. Best thoughts on where the industry is heading that I've read in ages. Thanks everyone!

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
At Kwalee we are part of the "Games we like" movement.
This means we actively promote on our website good mobile games from other publishers.
So, for the sake of adding to this discussion, I thought I would list the games that our staff have just "liked" in the latest such article on our website. These games are possibly the AAA of the smartphone gaming world.
Agent Dash
Battle Nations
CSR Racing
New Star Soccer
Rolando
Monster Life
Subway Surfers
Candy Shoot

Maybe if the people on the old burning platforms had a look at these they would see why so many more people are playing smartphone games than console games.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
Popular Comment
@Bruce

Come on. Seriously?
they would see why so many more people are playing smartphone games than console games.
You're implying that more poeple are playing mobile games because of their quality? I love your commentary, Bruce, always, but that does fly a little in the face of bare fact. People play mobile in such huge numbers because they are available for a device that everybody needs and that everybody has. Nobody bought their phone because they wanted to play videogames. If BT made the Breville Sandwich Toaster a standard feature in all of their home phones, would you be jumping in to suggest that 'the oven is dead' because of the 'exponential increase in the uptake of toasted cheese sandwiches'?

These are largely not the same people who buy a device specifically for games and devote significant amounts of their disposable income in pursuit of their hobby. I cannot fathom why anyone would continue to perpetuate that these two groups are the same simply because both mobile apps and AAA boxed console titles both come under the umbrella term of 'games'. Lady GaGa and Beethoven are both 'musicians' but we accept their audiences are separate without giving it a second thought.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 22nd August 2012 8:01am

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Dan Howdle

People play mobile games because they are fun. They provide entertainment. End of.

Also every day in the world vastly more hours are spent by vastly more people playing smartphone games than console games. Fact.

Most "core" gamers now spend a significant percentage of their gaming time on mobile. Fact.

Meanwhile this is what the customers think of consoles:

July 12: NPD Group reports that U.S. retail sales of video game hardware, software and accessories fell 29 percent in June to $700 million. It's the seventh consecutive month of decline. Sales of console and portable software — the video games themselves — fell 29 percent from a year earlier, while sales of hardware fell 45 percent.

July 19: Microsoft Corp. says it sold 1.1 million Xbox 360 consoles, down from 1.7 million a year earlier, in what it calls a soft console market. Membership in its Xbox Live service increased more than 15 percent.

July 25: Nintendo Co. says it sold 710,000 Wii units in the April-June quarter, down from 1.56 million a year ago.

July 31: Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. reports a wider net loss and lower revenue in its latest quarter.

Take-Two Interactive Software Inc says its loss in the latest quarter was much bigger than expected, because sales of "Spec Ops: The Line" and "Max Payne 3" were not as high as the company hoped.

Aug. 2: Sony Corp. says sales fell about 15 percent, largely because of lower sales of the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Portable devices and the games that go with them.

Video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. says net income dropped because of lower revenue from games.

Aug. 6: Video game publisher THQ Inc. says revenue fell in the latest quarter,

Aug. 7: The Walt Disney Co.'s interactive games division saw revenue fall 22 percent to $196 million

Aug. 9: NPD says retail sales of new video game hardware, software and accessories fell for the eighth straight month in July. Overall sales fell 20 percent to $548.4 million. Sales of consoles and portable software — the video games themselves — fell 23 percent, while sales of hardware fell 32 percent.

Aug. 16: GameStop Corp., the world's biggest video game retailer, reports a 32 percent decline in its quarterly income as sales slowed. Revenue fell 11 percent to $1.55 billion, short of Wall Street's $1.61 billion estimate.

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
@Bruce

I'm well aware of the figures.

I'm not saying that people are playing mobile games because they have to. I know they're fun. I just dispute that it's the either/or scenario you're creating. That one has an awful lot to do with the other. Console games are struggling because of a lack of new hardware. People are buying less because there is only so long it's reasonable to ask the average man on the street to shell out yet again for the same experience reconfigured to a slightly different arrangement. In austere times, for the first time I can remember, gamers are asking themselves why they need a new Gears Of War when they're still playing the old one. The instabuy mentaility has been damaged by the weariness of sequels birthed in fear of new IP so late into a generation.

I mean, I love games, or why would I be doing the job I do? But even I find it difficult to get excited about another COD, another Gears Of War, another Assassin's Creed. I've done them. I've played those games, enjoyed those experiences, and like most console and PC gamers out there, I want something new now please.

New technology is needed both to expand the possibilities for developers and to revinvigorate interest. The market for AAA console titles is still there, waiting with ready monies, but the console market is suffering most of all from the drawn-out terminal illness this console cycle has become, the impingement on our time provided by the latest version of Zuma is mere pins and needles by comparison.

Enjoying the debate a lot, though, Bruce.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@Dan Howdle

Did you see the research done by Information Solutions, commissioned by PopCap, that was published in July?
Very interesting: http://www.infosolutionsgroup.com/2012_PopCap_Where_People_Play_Mobile_Games.pdf

It is very clear that the upcoming consoles are make or break and that they will need some pretty epic innovation to succeed. If they don't adopt the app store model they have no chance. If they do adopt the app store model then we could possibly have a new golden age. Personally I think that Nintendo have the greatest chance of not failing, because of their first party franchises.

We live in interesting times.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

John Bye Senior Game Designer, Future Games of London

484 455 0.9
"£8.18m - the lowest week's revenue ever recorded in the UK for boxed games sales. $12m - the revenue generated by free-to-play iOS title CSR Racing in its first month"
This is rather misleading. You're comparing one week's retail sales of boxed games in one country, to one month's revenues from a mobile game across the entire world. And using different currencies, so the UK figure (which translates to about $13m) looks even smaller by comparison.

Also, although CSR Racing looks great, the gameplay consists of tapping the screen a few times when a bar fills up, while watching your shiny high poly beautifully lit car drive very quickly in a straight line down a street that looks the same as every other street in the city. The metagame of collecting and upgrading cars is obviously very compelling, and the aggressive monetisation of that aspect seems to have paid off for them in the short term. But I don't really see it taking huge amounts of sales away from Need For Speed on console, as they offer a completely different experience, despite the cosmetic similarities.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Bye on 22nd August 2012 10:12am

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Justin Biddle Software Developer

163 492 3.0
As someone who is a core gamer I can say I play nothing on my android phone nor have a desire too. If console/pc gaming died off I'd probably happily sit back and just play my old games as mobile games don't interest me. Pretty much every other core gamer I can think of play on both mobile and console with the mobile used to pass the time while away from home but the console first choice for gaming. I know several people who aren't what people would class as core gamers that don't play smart phone games. I know of no-one (in my circle of acquaintances) who play mobile games for anything but a brief periods.

Point of the above. My personal experience tells me that the market exists for both and is not mutually exclusive of each other. Sure console gaming faces risks but then so does mobile gaming as we've already seen some cracks form. Of all my friends who do play mobile gaming, none of them have paid for any extras. They play free games until they hit whatever pay wall is in place and then move on. Even those that are essentially free they move on from quite quickly. I'm guessing that ironically that's because so many free games are released each month. It costs nothing to move onto the new thing.

This is just my personal observation mind. Others may well have a completely different experience. Both views are valid.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 22nd August 2012 11:02am

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
@Nicholas, thanks for the encouraging words, glad you like our current offering. :)

This isn't really about "drop everything and go mobile". What sets me off is that mobile is seen as some kinda secondary market and is frowned upon by the big players like we're not entitled to come to the party. And that's just wrong and it does my head when you see these posts about "Games won't fly unless they photorealistic" and "We need more content" etc. It's just wrong.

Games channels fall into about four main channels:
Console and PC installable,
Portable (3DS, Vita, etc)
Mobile (Cell phones and their tablet siblings)
Browser (Facebook, miniclip, et al)

Now I don't have figures here as I've never needed them, but anyone spending more than a minute thinking dispassionately about this will come to the conclusion that all the gaming hours are accruing in mobile and browser games.

That's not to say that this means everyone should jump on, and that's not really the point I'm trying to make. But it does mean that mobile and browser games are legitimate markets to be taken seriously. And the fact that these games can be considered light on content when compared with AAA console games is absolutely moot. If fat amounts of content and hyper-realistic trees were a *requirement* for gaming, these markets wouldn't exist.

So rather than trying to one-up each other with how accurate their skin shaders are, maybe AAA devs should instead focus on making fun games. Like the best mobile has to offer, just with more of it. How photo-realistic is Peggle. How in-depth is the story in Anrgy Birds. Etc.

IMO console devs are spending too much time trying to justify themselves for sticking with accurate lighting and deep stories and need to get back to making fun shit that people can just pick up and play. And maybe then they wouldn't need $100M budgets to risk in the first place. The top selling console being the Wii should really end that conversation tbh.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Just one more thing. Interested to see who can discount this well.

"Based on hours played, console is no longer mainstream. Mobile is mainstream"

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Andy Bastable Lead Programmer, Microsoft / Rare

12 22 1.8
@Paul

But aren't you falling in to the opposite trap? You get annoyed that AAA console devs assume mobile games need AAA visuals, but then say that console devs should create experiences around the fun snack gameplay you find on mobile. Surely mobile gaming is suited to one kind of gameplay, and console gaming another?

That said -- it seems fairly apparent that as mobile devices grow in power, more and more devs will try and stick out in a crowded market place by using their visuals as a differential. As the bar for visual fidelity is raised, is it not the case than some (many?) consumers will start demanding more from all titles? See the console/PC market circa 1997 for a similar landscape.

But until the mobile ecosystem finds a way to crack the living room, there will always be gamers and developers who are more interested in the kind of deeper, long-form narrative or immersive games you find there.

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,481 1.1
Popular Comment
You mobile guys are a pretentious bunch, aren't you?

Something against coexistence?

Why the desire to cause infighting in the same industry?

You remind me of the Sega/Nintendo arguments on the playground only now you get paid for it, are grown up and professionals. Shame on you for actually making those playground arguments seem more mature.

Posted:2 years ago

#33

William Stoye senior principal engineer, Broadcom

1 0 0.0
As others have pointed out this article has only one numerical comparison, and it's not very useful.
What is the market size of gaming on phones/tablets v dedicated portable game devices?
If you had $xxM to invest in a game startup focused on one or the other, which would it be? :-)

Posted:2 years ago

#34

Nuttachai Tipprasert Programmer

79 60 0.8
@Paul but there still always be demands for high profile games. That's why I don't see any reason for them to stop investing on accurate lighting simulation or complex story. As much as I enjoy GLWG, I also need to have games like Mass Effect or Deus Ex in my catalogue. I think we have enough space for different games for different people that has different tastes. I agrees that developer should focus more on the core gameplay mechanic than polygon count. But that's doesn't mean we must stick with NES level of graphics forever.

Come on Bruce, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii sell declining because now they are reaching the end of their life cycle. Do you know how many iPhone 3GS and the first iPad selling right now? I bets they also declining. At the same time, 3DS sold more than its predecessor - the DS, in the first 18 month. How will you interpret that figure? I don't know where did you get your fact about core gamer stop playing console and spend more time on mobile, because in my case it's other way around. Now I spend less time on my Galaxy S and spend most of my time on my PSP. Maybe I'm an exceptional case?

Posted:2 years ago

#35
To those arguing that mobile gaming is dodgy/unhealthy because mobile studios are mostly unprofitable : there's crazy success and innovation on mobile - those unprofitable studios just aren't good enough. If its a fact that 70% of studios lose money, that's because the market is far bigger than the amount of GENUINELY good developers there are.

Anyone in the industry long enough will agree -most games companies are a bit rubbish, most people who work at game companies are mediocre at best. Let's not forget what 'average' means. Making a great game is a mysterious process but it's parts must all be excellent and hardly any teams consistenty deliver on all fronts. You have to knock it out of the park to win. And that's been the rule for console games too for many years - only really good stuff will mark you for success and deservedly so. Like any space, Mobile gaming is as good/bad as its developers.

Posted:2 years ago

#36

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
I like Barry. Barry makes sense.

Posted:2 years ago

#37
In addition, one forgets that a gamer can be all type of gamers

Waking up in the morning, having found a seat on public transport with 1 single stop - one grabs the tablet to read the news, and halfway through decides - lets try a tower defense game. Clock in to work and come lunchtime, have to travel to meet a client. Once emails are checked, perhaps some sort of quick mobile based game can be had, whilst standing enroute to the client.

Client meeting finished, another whip out of the mobile to whilst the time whilst enroute back to the studio.
Work commences till the end of the day, and perhaps everyone wants to have a team based 30 minute multiplyer co op experience.

Left for dead or Team Fortress 2 whips up and everyone has a bit of fun to let off steam.
The day ends, and one travels home. Family time and a nice dinner, and packing the kids to sleep. Ther eis a hour till midnight before we all tuck in to rest. A pile of untouched console games beckons. Hmm uncharted 3 - lets check this out for content tourism and great gameplay..etc etc

The fact is, a person can have interactive entertainment depending on location, battery and availability during the weekeday and weekend. Its perhaps easier to pigeon hole a gamer as one type or another but the fact is, we are all types of gamers...

Posted:2 years ago

#38

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
>> You mobile guys are a pretentious bunch, aren't you? Something against coexistence?

I've been on both sides of the fence for a long time and I have nothing against coexistence at all, but it seems to me that it's those on the other side of the fence that think mobile is second class. I'm just making a stand for equal rights. Gonna burn my bra in a minute... :)

@Andy Bastaple, don't be fooled - most "mobile" gaming happens on the sofa. There are plenty of mobile games out there designed for more than snack gaming, I like to think we wrote one of them. Our visuals don't match starcraft 2 by any stretch, but you know how many complaints we get about that? None.

Posted:2 years ago

#39

Andy Bastable Lead Programmer, Microsoft / Rare

12 22 1.8
@Paul
I'm sure you don't get any complaints! I'm not familiar with your studio's work, but I'm sure the visuals are nicely polished and attractive. But my floating question is... what happens if (when?) mobile gaming becomes known for glossy 3D spec-mapped visuals on the majority of the standout games? Will savvy customers still be happy with retro 8-bit visuals or chunky /delightful/ cartoon visuals on every game? Maybe some will -- but I'm betting a sizeable chunk might not.

And the equal rights thing goes both ways. Not every console dev is some luddite blind to the way the wind is blowing, sitting on our hands because we really enjoy the £40 boxed product and the /old way/. The quicker the next cycle (and hopefully more open publishing models) comes the better. If many of us can create the kind of experiences that we are passionate about in the mobile space, we'll gladly embrace "the future". But right now, the only way to create those experiences is via the PC/Console route.

Posted:2 years ago

#40

John Bye Senior Game Designer, Future Games of London

484 455 0.9
Personally I suspect a lot of mobile gaming on the couch is done while watching TV (or while someone else is hogging the TV). Certainly that's the case in my household. That doesn't stop me from playing console games when I have the TV to myself for a couple of hours though. There's plenty of room for gaming on all platforms.

Posted:2 years ago

#41

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,481 1.1
Paul, the ratio of Mobile calling console dead against console calling mobile second class is very wide.

Just take a look at the media headlines on any given day. Attend a few key notes. Or listen to Bruce. Either way, the mobile sector easily out berates the criticisms lobbed from the console side.

Posted:2 years ago

#42

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend

268 609 2.3
As my old teacher used to tell me "Empty vessels make most noise". ;)

Posted:2 years ago

#43

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
@ John Sounds like the Wii U is being made for you heh.

Posted:2 years ago

#44

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
>> Just take a look at the media headlines on any given day. Attend a few key notes...

I think you'll find that this is probably down to that brain filtering that makes every other driver on the road suddenly own the same car you just bought.

In any case I'm not saying console is dead, though I do believe it's dying. What I'm saying is, that for the last several years they've lost the plot. And they have. Ninendo saw the future and their current console is even worse hardware than my new phone. No skin shaders there either and they somehow fluke a bit of money at the till too.

But the point I was actually trying to make is not some childish "my market is bigger than yours", but the fact that millions (billions?) of people are happy enough with games without a story, without any skin shaders, that all this talk of photo-realism and the push for depth is bogus and I'm calling it out. CSR looks good which helps it stand out, but it aint photorealism.

My mistake is posting this in the wrong thread. I was hoping to use the success of CSR, which is by no means the biggest succes on mobile by any stretch, as an example of the mobile market being valid and thriving. But I should've posted this under the several other posts recently, by industry names, claiming that photo-realism and story depth is the next nirvana. Colour me bored. I voted with my wallet a long time ago.

What's next up, a 77 metacritic because game x doesn't have enough eyelashes in the main character? :)

Posted:2 years ago

#45

Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd

330 780 2.4
@Jim Webb

I've been making mobile games for over a decade now and I've never understood this mentality of pitting developers working on one platform against another. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Make the best things you can, put them in front of as many people as are interested. Anything else succeeding or failing should be inconsequential to this.

@Paul Johnson

If you think mobile games get treated as inferior now, you would have hated it five years ago. There was no chance of a mobile game getting mainstream recognition or seeing them regularly reviewed in Edge or most of the rest of the specialist press back then.

Edit: Also, because it's bugging me slightly, your repeated assertion that the only thing separating AAA console games from mobile games is visual fidelity is massively inaccurate. Perhaps you should play some games from the last decade, other than just Modern Warfare?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robin Clarke on 22nd August 2012 6:22pm

Posted:2 years ago

#46

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
@John
>>Will savvy customers still be happy with retro 8-bit visuals or chunky /delightful/ cartoon visuals on every game? Maybe some will -- but I'm betting a sizeable chunk might not.

I think it depends on what the game is. Stuff like racers ought to look good because part of the allure is racing around in ace looking sports cars. But some of the biggest selling titles are stuff like fruit ninja and cut the rope, which look like flash games from many years ago imo. There's no need to look to the future, there are already games that are a long way behind the cutting edge right now that still rack up pornographic sales figures.

Posted:2 years ago

#47

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
>> Edit: Also, because it's bugging me slightly, your repeated assertion that the only thing separating AAA console games from mobile games is visual fidelity is massively inaccurate. Perhaps you should play some games from the last decade, other than just Modern Warfare?

Hmmm, can you point that out for me as I thought I was making the opposite case. AAA is concentrating on visuals, when visuals are already fantastic, whereas mobile concentrates on fun in whatever environment that requires. I'm certainly not advocating making games that deliberately look worse than they can be if done more professionally, but I'm definitely asserting that all a mobile game needs to do is look good enough to not draw away from the gameplay.

In some genres there is a graphical arms race kicking off, but they're in the usual suspects. Racing games, shooters and etc. The key difference here is that you do not need to join it. Cut the rope would not and could not exist as a console title, yet millons of people probably wish it could.

I'll break out some violins here. Our own latest title got a 91% metacritic at one point (dropped to 88 now since someone bombed a 70 on us recently) and is the only 3D game I can think of in its genre. There are (imo) inferior looking 2D games competing against us and a few of them, with longer histories and/or publisher assistance, are outselling ours. If graphics were that important we'd be owning that genre because we have cook-torrance shading on the little tanks!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 22nd August 2012 6:54pm

Posted:2 years ago

#48

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
Hmmm, can you point that out for me as I thought I was making the opposite case.
What's next up, a 77 metacritic because game x doesn't have enough eyelashes in the main character? :)
I don't think it could get much more plainly obvious, to be honest. As a hardcore gamer who occasionally tries out mobile games, is my criticism with something like Cut The Rope as you mentioned anything to do with the quality of it's graphics? No, it's the fact that it's a shallow, boring puzzle game with overly simplistic gameplay that got old within about 5 minutes of starting it. Like pretty much the majority of mobile games I've played. The satisfaction I get from mobile games is like eating half a bag of crisps when I was ready for a three course meal. They serve different appetites and both have their purpose, just one of them isn't for me, but that doesn't make it any less legitimate a product.

Posted:2 years ago

#49

Phil Williams freelance artist, Gobo Games

6 1 0.2
Hopefully the business model will change too so that the very tiny teams needed to make these games are rewarded in full. Now there's no need for big publishers to get in the way there should be some very good salaries, royalties and bonuses flying around....just like the old days.

well, at least until these devices get so powerful you need a team of 200 ;)

Posted:2 years ago

#50

Keith Andrew Editor, PocketGamer.biz, Pocket Gamer

31 28 0.9
Ack.

The comments about how 'awful' touchscreens are for game control have made me very angry. They're not. They're just a new control method. Design games specifically for such devices, and they shine.

It's like suggesting it's very hard to perform brain surgery with an Xbox 360 controller. Fit the tools to the job, and they're top notch.

Thankfully, mobile it a hotbed of creativity, where more and more developers don't rely on using virtual d-pads and so forth to control their games. Mobile games should be just that - mobile games. That doesn't mean they're in any way worse or not as valid as their console equivalents - they're just different.

(It's also worth pointing out that merely owning a mobile does not give you a 'pretty good handle on the mobile market'. This is not some mini-industry that you can master in a spare half hour. The mobile industry is far more dynamic, far more complex and far more progressive than the console industry has been for some time.)

Posted:2 years ago

#51

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