Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy ed­i­tor. He is writ­ing a film in which Liam Nee­son opens a noo­dle bar called Taken Bowl

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

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