Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown’s App Store game search is coming up empty
The day before a long flight, I go through a certain pointless ritual. I load up every game-playing device I own with new games, ensure each is fully charged, and mentally plan out the entire flight time. This time I’ll finally finish Persona 4 Golden. I’ll finally get into Monster Hunter 4. And I’ll check out all those flavour-of-the-month iOS games I’ve never played because none of them are called Puzzle & Dragons (which I’d happily play all the way to Australia, if only it had an offline mode). Then I get on the plane, drink too much, and spend half an hour fluffing combos in the Vita version of Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 before slowly passing out in front of a terrible film. I was on a long-haul flight last month, and after a few little bottles of wine and a quick faff about with my appalling Wolverine team, I watched Taken 3. I think I enjoyed it very much, and am eagerly looking forward to the follow-up, Taken Tag Tournament.
It was the first time I’d got on a plane for a few months, and I deliberately skipped one item on my pointless pre-flight checklist: looking at the App Store. I’ve moaned about app discovery on this page before, I realise, and in any case things have improved of late. There’s a greater sense of curation now, with Apple’s editorial team doing their best to highlight worthy games. Front-page slots are given to less obvious fare than you’d expect, and each is accompanied by a little blurb from Apple staff, the 2015 equivalent of those Post-It scrawls you’d find in record shops back in the day. The era of scrolling disconsolately through the Top Grossing chart may be over, but greater curation has created an even more troubling concern. Apple is going out of its way to show me the best its platform has to offer – and I’m not interested in any of it.
There are several factors at play here, and I’d be kidding myself if I refused to acknowledge that Puzzle & Dragons, which I’ve now played every day for almost two years, wasn’t one of them. I adore it but, more pertinently, I know how it works – so any other free-to-play, loot-based RPG-and-something-else hybrid is off the table, as I only have enough spare time and cash for one of these obsessions. At the other end of the pricing scale, I’m proof positive that the race-to-zero doom-mongering that was all the rage early in the App Store explosion has become reality. With rampant competition making it harder than ever to make money on mobile, devs are – quite sensibly – putting their prices up. But I’m not about to spend eight quid on something I’m probably only going to play for a couple of hours.
This leads to what I think is the greatest problem on mobile: I feel like I’ve seen it all before. Most games I find on the App Store can be compared to something I’ve already played but not taken to. That’s a matter of taste, admittedly, but it’s not so long ago that this was the most creative space in game development. Today, the lack of forward thinking on display is shocking. When something truly different comes along, I’ll give it a go, but so much of the modern landscape is either reskinned versions of past successes or combinations of them. And while cloning has long been a problem, it’s not the thirdparty knockoffs that worry me. It’s the companies ripping off themselves.
I can see the logic in it, to an extent. A company like King, which spent years making casual gambling games before it hit the big time with Candy Crush Saga, has only ever known one route to success. No one had heard of Supercell before Clash Of Clans became the biggest game in the world. And Rovio made 50-odd games before Angry Birds. So it’s little wonder each keeps respectively pumping out match-three social games, F2P base-builders and physics puzzlers (though Rovio has bravely branched out into, um, homages to Mario Kart and Puzzle Bobble). Mobile’s early winners made piles of money at a remarkable rate from their breakout hits and expanded accordingly. They may excel at marketing, at user acquisition and metrics – the things that thrill investors and help new releases clog up the charts – but market leaders are meant to inspire, not simply to copy and paste. The explosion in smartphone gaming was a thrilling time; every week there’d be some cool new twist on established convention in a space of rampant creativity. Looking at the App Store today, that feels like a lifetime ago. Having one fewer thing to do when I’m getting ready to go overseas is scant consolation for all that wasted potential.
Apple is going out of its way to show me the best its platform has to offer – and I’m not interested in any of it