Last week, Dr Disrespect (a prominent Twitch streamer, known mainly for Battle Royale games and his rather caustic internet personality) Tweeted that “Mobile gamers aren’t real gamers”. I want to discuss this viewpoint, not just in relation to the Good Doctor (this Tweet is the inspiration, not the crux), but as an overall address to the state of opinion on mobile gaming. There’s a lot to cover here, so I’m going to jump straight in.
Before we begin, I am immediately dismissing all claims that the tweet is meant as a joke, and is just part of Disrespect’s character. His intent is irrelevant, the outcome is what matters.
We mobile gamers are used to being considered inferior in the gaming community at large, and it’s not uncommon for people to hold this viewpoint. To understand, just look at when a franchise is announced as “coming to mobile”.
When Command & Conquer Rivals was announced, the collective Command & Conquer fanbase reacted in the way that any reader here will automatically know. There were boycotts; #NotMyC&C was trending on Twitter. Diablo Immortal was met with booing, and the question “Is this an April Fools?”, followed with the infamous “Don’t you have phones?” line. The list goes on with The Elder Scrolls Blades, EVE Online Echoes, Call of Duty Mobile…
Why is this?
There’s a misconception that mobile games are cheap to produce, simplistic, stripped down games that you win by opening your wallet. Certainly, there are plenty of examples of just this on mobile, but tellingly, these types of games also exist on platforms like Steam. Gamers are used to seeing endless adverts for the latest Candy Crush ripoff, of reading articles about how the latest offering was ruined by payment models. In short, gamers hear all of the bad news – it’s what gets clicks. Gamers have a strong misconception that mobile gaming is all about low quality, pay to win games. They don’t see the good stuff in mobile gaming.
As an example, Vainglory, Armajet, and PUBG Mobile are all games that are free to download and play, and any purchases you make have no impact on winning the game. You can buy a weapon skin in Armajet, but the gun does the same damage. Purchasing a new character skin in Vainglory may look awesome, but your heroes abilities are unchanged. In PUBG Mobile, you get both options. If I spend $10 or $10,000 on any of these games, I have no advantage over any other player. If they are more skilled, they will beat me. Tellingly, this system is also used in many PC and console games, including PUBG, League of Legends, Apex Legends and even Fortnite.
Even games like C&C Rivals or Brawl Stars where you can spend real money to increase the power of your heroes tend to have limiters. Matchmaking can be tweaked to ensure that you get matched with people who have spent a similar amount to you, or you have caps on how much of the power you’ve purchased can apply in certain leagues. Tournament play is capped and equalized for all players to ensure a fair competition.
Now, the question is why do these monetization systems have to exist in mobile gaming?
Well, that ultimately comes down to us as consumers. Look at your phone. Look at the apps. How many of these did you pay for? If I showed you a mobile app that cost $20, would you grab it?
Be honest, and no, you wouldn’t. Nobody does. We’ll gladly drop $80+ on a new PC/console game, but won’t even entertain the notion of doing that for mobile. Even $5 is off-putting. You can argue this is due to the market being saturated with cheap clones due to lack of regulation. You can argue that this is due to mobile games having this negative stigma around them. Whatever the actual case is, again, irrelevant to this discussion. The point is, almost nobody will pay up front for a mobile app.
I think we can all agree that developers should be paid for their hard work, and if we, as consumers, are unwilling to pay up front for a product, well, the money has to come from somewhere, right?
What about adverts? Putting aside that adverts are universally hated, and many people will uninstall apps that use them, they also generate next to nothing in way of income without a huge audience – which you will never get because ads are universally hated, and many people will uninstall apps that use them.
What about demos, where you get a free section of the game followed by a payment to unlock the rest of the game? I love this idea – it reminds me of the days when demo discs used to be attached to the front of gaming magazines. Unfortunately, it has again been shown not to work. Players reach the end of the demo section and just uninstall. Speaking anecdotally, maybe this is due to a fear that “What if all the crap stuff is hidden after the demo”? I don’t know the reasons, we just know that it doesn’t work.
So, back to cosmetic only, then! Yes, this is a great system and I adore it when games do this. Sadly, it’s not always possible. Cosmetics are something that only appeal to a certain group of players – and very few people buy many of them. If you work out that you want the average player to spend, say, $20 on your game, and factor in that only a small percentage of players will find something they want (many will be happy without cosmetics) then these ultimately end up becoming a luxury item. In many of these games, a single skin can set you back anywhere between $8 and $30. They’re expensive because they’re niche, and being niche means it can be hard to cut a profit with it.
Ergo, we come back to the idea that games are “pay to win”. I’m mostly familiar with C&C Rivals, so I’ll base this discussion on the setup there. In Rivals, every unit can be trained to a maximum level of 15, and to do this you need a certain amount of cards and credits. You can earn all of this just by playing the game, but if you want your units to be stronger, faster, you can spend real money to do so. If my entire army is level 12 units, and yours is only level 9, yes, I have an advantage.
The trick here is making both routes viable. At the end of every season, we all get reset and slide down the Leagues. Most of the time, I start in Diamond League, which has a cap of 11. This means any level 12 or higher units I have, are capped at level 11, reducing my advantage. The lower leagues have caps as low as 6, so anyone who spends all the way to level 12 won’t actually get the full benefit of that until they reach Masters League, where the cap is 13.
On top of this, the game is designed so that a difference of 1 level is not sufficient to break the game. Level 9 Missile Squads still beat Level 11 tanks, for example. Finally, even after all of this, if you’re matched against an opponent who has significantly higher levels than you, or units you haven’t got access to yet, the game calls this a Challenge Match and you suffer nothing on defeat, but gain a bonus if you win.
In Brawl Stars, another game that has the ability to pay for levels, the amount you have spent gets factored into the matchmaking, meaning payers are more likely to encounter other payers.
The idea is that the game offers you the choice of playing frequently, and grinding to advance, or you can drop a little money here and there to speed up the process.
In both cases, Tournament Play puts all competitors on completely equal levels.
The point I’m making, ultimately, is that, as consumers, our unwillingness to part with money has created a marketplace where we are offered the experience for free, but are teased to spend as we go. Arguably, these systems are actually more consumer friendly than pay up front. If I want a new PC game, and it costs $80, I need to spend $80 or I don’t have the game at all. I can’t offer to spend only $60, nor can I experience the game whilst I save my money, neither can I pay more than $80 if I believe the developers deserve it. This last point sounds insane, but at $20, I feel like I robbed Team Cherry for Hollow Knight…
With the Freemium Model, I can play the game for free. I then get to decide what the game is worth to me personally. I can enjoy a game and decide that I’m happy to spend $50 on it. I might get a few hours here and there in another, and feel it’s only worth $10 to me. The point is that the choice ultimately is my own. If I feel that a game is asking me for too much money, and is punishing me too hard for not paying, I can just uninstall it. In this instance, I did not value the game at all. That’s a powerful position as a consumer. I get to set the value of the game, and pay what I feel is right.
Mobile gaming is, therefore, not quite the minefield of “pay to win” that it may at first be perceived to be. But what about quality?
Here, again, I direct your attention to both Vainglory and Armajet. Both of these are PC/mobile crossovers, they’re available on both platforms, and look amazing on both. Vainglory still amazes me at how stunning it looks as a mobile game, it actually looks better to me than League of Legends does. The gameplay is deep and skill based, arguably as good as LoL, and can run up to 120fps if your device supports it. Quality is definitely not a concern with mobile anymore. My Razer Phone 2 is more powerful than many lower-end gaming PCs – to the point that all of my content is recorded and edited on it, as even my work laptop can’t do that – and is easily on par with the PlayStation 3 or XBox 360.
This is why I am so excited for games like EVE Echoes and Diablo Immortal. These games can be just as high in quality as their PC and console counterparts, but portable. I can play them whilst I travel. I can play them for free and then decide how much I want to pay for them. And yes, we all have phones.
The thing is, mobile gaming is just as good as PC/console, and it’s on a major rise at the moment.
As of 2018, mobile gaming makes more money than PC and every console combined, and it’s rate of growth is massive. As you can see from the chart below, console and PC gaming are still growing markets, but that growth has slowed right down. Mobile gaming is increasing rapidly.
Why? To answer a certain Blizzcon question – yes, we all have phones. We all carry a little teensy computer with us everywhere, and that computer is catching up in power to the ones that sit on our desks at home. Mobile is here, and it’s here to stay.
This brings us back around to Dr Disrespect and his tweet.
Why? Why are they not “real gamers”? They’re playing games of the same quality. Their market is now actually outperforming the supposed “real gamer” market. What metric are we measuring “gamers” by?
Stupidly, this just smacks of that same attitude that gamers collectively used to grimmace under. As an entire collective group, gamers have been told numerous times throughout history that we’re niche and irrelevant:
“Games development isn’t a real job”
“Esports aren’t real sports”
“Mobile gamers aren’t real gamers”
This seems absurd coming from Dr Disrespect. This man was a games developer, famous for working on the Call of Duty series. He was actually a multiplayer map designer, so not only was he employed as a games developer, he was arguably involved in esports then. Now, he’s a streamer, playing games like Fortnite that are esports.
It seems rather hypocritical to grow up in a world where you’re told that games development isn’t a real job, that esports aren’t real sports, and end up working and supporting both of these, only to turn around and apply that same negativity to a different group. You’d think someone who struggled under this kind of negativity might be a bit more positive about the latest rising trend in gaming? Well, apparently negativity sells. In case the name “Dr Disrespect” wasn’t already a clear giveaway, this is how he makes his money, and frankly, it’s something I’m done with in gaming. I cannot wait for the day that positivity becomes cool, and toxic negativity finally becomes unpopular, but that’s a different topic for a different post.
Why am I so upset about this post? Putting aside the callous irony of fighting against the naysayers only to become one himself to the next generation, because mobile gaming has this stigma. Many of us fight daily to overcome this stigma, to push forward how awesome mobile gaming can be, only for some faux-controversial bathroom filming streamer to ignite his entire community against it. Whether or not the doctor himself was joking (and my personal opinion is that this and the E3 bathroom stunt were both misguided attempts at gathering attention to a streamer facing less and less relevancy), the fact remains that his comments are harmful to a community already struggling to shrug off the cloak of misconceptions draped upon it.
Fortunately, the tweet itself very swiftly became a list of “who to follow” for those with an interest in mobile gaming, with organisations like FNATIC and Hotjukes, along with many voices from the community stepping up to call him out and to educate gamers the world over. It’s also a great thread if you’re looking for new mobile games to play as there are so many fantastic recommendations there.
Whatever your opinions are, it’s clear that mobile gaming is here to stay and pushing to be the future of gaming. There are hundreds of quality games rising, with some of the largest esports in the world now being mobile games. If you’re interested in this, check out the numbers that Honour of Kings pulls. Clash Royale is about to go into its most incredible season ever, PUBG Mobile is offering over $2 million in prize pools with more and more popping up daily, and these are just the ones off the top of my head.
In short, you can either try it yourself and ride the wave to glory, or you can languish in the irrelevance of the past.
Of course, I do value your opinions. What are your thoughts here? What are your favourite mobile games? What was the first game you played on mobile that opened your eyes to the possibilities and blew you away? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @CptBenzie