The Carter Crater: Why is Mobile Gaming Treated Like a Shameful Secret?

E3 and WWDC came and went this week with practically nothing special shown about mobile gaming. Mobile games were invisible from E3 press conferences after only getting cursory mentions last year. E3 press conferences are all flash and spectacle, and I’ll admit many mobile games don’t do well with flash and spectacle. And the reaction to Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ (Free) before Kingdom Hearts 3 was…not great. But at least Apple, where games are by far the largest category on the App Store, would have some kind of showcase for mobile games? Nope! Games were an afterthought, with the only interesting tidbit about games being a mention of ReplayKit streaming, which it took Mobcrush to explain more about after the keynote. The Platforms State of the Union, which is like the keynote but a hundred times nerdier, had some information on games, but nothing that enterprising developers poring over new release notes hadn’t already leaked out about tvOS game controller requirements, ReplayKit, and new Metal graphics features.

That’s it? Maybe we should have known how little Apple cares about gaming when they scheduled WWDC to be during E3. I know that Apple had a bunch of new features in iOS 10 to introduce – they have to pull back up even with Android and other messaging services, after all – but you’d think they’d show it a bit more love for the category of app that dominates revenue? Other apps might be more about post-App-Store revenue for their developers, but it seems like even a bit of love for the developers making a living on an underappreciated gaming platform would go a long way. Because nobody else seems to care about making a big deal about them!

The company that probably talked the most about mobile gaming at E3 was Nintendo, of all companies? Nintendo at least had something to say about Pokemon Go. Square Enix Montreal at least treats mobile gaming seriously with the GO franchise, and Deus Ex GO looks really neat. But nobody else besides EA even pretended mobile existed at all. Nobody cry for the mobile gaming journalist – but if you could toss a few pennies into the Patreon jar I’d appreciate it – but it was frustrating watching most every single second of press conferences on Sunday and Monday hoping for a scrap of mobile gaming, and getting nothing. E3 is about image, but it feels like a vicious cycle where people keep treating mobile games as second-class citizens because everybody else does.

Even Apple barely treating mobile gaming like it’s serious is a problem. Because it sure seems like the future of gaming systems is going to transcend toward all-in-one boxes. The leap from generation to generation is shrinking, and even Sony and Microsoft are going towards smaller, intra-generational upgrades. We’re going to hit a singularity soon where all-in-one boxes can contend with gaming consoles for powerful experiences. And a company like Apple, who makes one of these aforementioned all-in-one boxes, can’t manage to sell them at least to a point where it’s worth it for developers to make Apple TV apps, it’s troubling. I’m not optimistic about the future of the live TV service that would help sell more Apple TVs after they made a big deal about Sling showing up on Apple TV. Maybe someday, but my confidence is rather wounded right now.

It’s just frustrating, because I love mobile gaming. And it’s not hard to see with the likelihood of the convergence of platforms that mobile-based platforms, particularly with the infrastructure to take games anywhere. Theoretically, mobile should be ready for that future. And I’m not that optimistic that console players want to jump into the PC-style iterative update future, either.

And for that matter, I think everyone’s going a bit hard into VR well before its value as a consumer product has been proven. PlayStation VR will be the real test, but it’s not like expensive console add-ons have a bright history to them. Maybe in a few years, but I think the 2D viewing effect of VR, where it’s not great for convincing people as to the quality of VR, is a problem that needs to be addressed by people experiencing it. And again, this is where mobile VR is going to come into play – and where Google might actually be smart with Project Daydream. And Apple is being slow to the playing field again. I think mobile VR will be the thing that sinks or swims VR – the ease of access will be what convinces people that they need bigger VR experiences. But it almost seems like these big companies are way too focused on trying to not upset fanboys who will scoff at anything mobile to actually create a competent mobile VR experience.

Or perhaps because Apple has been slow to the punch with VR, and iOS is still the dominant mobile gaming platform in many ways, publishers don’t want to risk mobile VR until they see an established market there. In which case, Apple’s lackadaisical attitude toward mobile gaming is a vicious cycle.

Regardless, I am dismayed at the status quo has become that mobile gaming has become the industry’s dirty little secret. I’d expect the “don’t tell anyone mobile gaming exists" attitude from the major gaming companies, at an event which is pretty much just about peacocking to their established audience. But for Apple to basically pretend like gaming isn’t the majority of what brings in revenue on their store, in front of an audience of their developers, is baffling. And it speaks wonders about why the App Store perhaps hasn’t reached its full potential yet, if not even Apple will take pride in the platform.