When Will Mobile Game Design Grow Up?

iphone-gamingIt’s time for smartphones and tablets to realize their potential

There’s nothing wrong with casual gaming; everyone can get behind throwing fowl at a building full of smirking pigs. But with the leaps and bounds in mobile technology, there’s a vast frontier available to mobile designers, that has remained largely untouched. Will mobile games ever get the respect, funding, and depth of traditional games? And what will that look like?

The power is already here

While tablets will never match the sheer muscle of a top-of-the-line gaming desktop, it’s incredible what tablet manufacturers have been able to accomplish with such limited space. The Galaxy S3 has 2 GB of RAM and a quad-core processor that can handle far more than Angry Birds; but so far, we’ve seen only halting attempts to take advantage of that power.

Tablets are even more impressive—the highest-quality tablets are running games that put early-generation Xbox 360 titles to shame—and the portability of a tablet is a powerful selling point. One of the challenges is that tablets have marketed themselves so effectively as a “serious business tool” that some users may shy away from playing a high-end game on one in public, or buying a tablet for their teens to game on.

Taking advantage of a new interface

For most game designers, the peculiarities of a mobile interface have been seen as an obstacle rather than an opportunity. Designers have tried using “virtual joysticks” to create a clunky approximation of a console controller for first-person shooters and RPGs; but sooner or later, they’ll have to see the advantages of a touch interface.

A fingertip isn’t as delicate or exact as a mouse pointer, but it can be more fluid; and instead of having just one point of interface with the device, a tablet can have ten. One of the easiest ways to envision the future of mobile gaming is in real-time strategy—hardcore Starcraft players already invest hundreds of dollars in mouses with dozens of buttons, trying to achieve what tablet users already have.

Will the cloud do the heavy lifting?

Again, the best tablet on the market will never match the raw power of laptops and desktops tailor-made for gaming—but with innovations like Google Fiber and national 4G coming down the pipe, it’s conceivable that they might not have to. Imagine playing a game where your tablet or smartphone is just a terminal, streaming video and accepting your input, while a cloud server does all the heavy lifting. It would be even simpler to connect your smartphone to your desktop via Steam, and let your desktop process the graphics while you lounge on the living room couch and play from your tablet.

The window may be closing

It’s hard to believe, but the last generation of gaming consoles came out eight years ago—so the fact that they’re still running brand new games is a rather impressive feat of engineering. It’s been easy for PCs and mobile devices to look hot compared to a 2005 line of consoles, but those days are numbered. Xbox and Playstation are set to inaugurate their eighth-gen lines late this year, and if they’re anything like their predecessors, they’ll wildly outperform anything else on the market for years to come.

We may have to wait a while for “serious” gaming to come to mobile devices in earnest, especially with buzz focused on other areas of the industry—it will require developers who are willing to innovate, rather than simply “work around” the uniqueness of mobile design; but when it comes, look for a whole new genre tree of games that take full advantage of the fluidity and simplicity of touch.

 Guest article written by: Tara Wagner is a staff writer for TechBreach. She has worked from home for over a decade, and loves sharing news and advice with fellow telecommuting moms and dads. She’s fascinated by new tech and new ideas; and when she finds time to unplug, she enjoys long hikes in the mountains near her home. She lives in Denver.

2 thoughts on “When Will Mobile Game Design Grow Up?”

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