There was a big hoo-ha last week when Xiaomi officially unveiled its Black Shark 3 gaming phones. The bulky black handset has physical shoulder buttons for you to mash and the higher-end model comes with a mighty 7.1-inch screen.
After its grand unveiling, a bunch of internet nerds immediately drew comparisons between the new model and the tenaciously popular Nintendo Switch. We spoke with some game studios to see what they thought…
“People already spend more time on games on their phones, than they do on consoles and PC combined, so I understand where [that argument] is coming from,” says Rune K. Drewsen, from Copenhagen-based studio Triband.
“If you look at the newest iPhones, then spec-wise, they are already far more powerful than the Nintendo Switch, so that alone is a good argument to buy a phone instead of the Switch, which over time will lead to the growth of new players only playing games on their phones.”
Drewsen was part of the team that developed What the Golf? a slightly nuts, highly-enjoyable game that’s pokes fun at the golf game genre. That game was specifically built for mobile – “The design and the game mechanics were designed to work on a small screen,” says Rune – and has been nominated for EE Mobile Game of the Year.
Although the game is now available on other platforms, it’s really the clever mobile design that netted it the BAFTA/ EE mobile nomination.
Part of the problem with the whole Switch versus smartphone argument is that it shoves aside the idea of mobile games as an independent genre, but there are a bunch of innovative games worth shouting about – like Dead Man’s Phone from Electric Noir studios.
“We don’t consider what we’re doing as a mobile game, we’re working in a new, emerging space of interactive story telling entertainment,” says Nihal Tharoor, CEO and co-founder of the studio.
“For a real interactive medium to take off and become a globally accessible you need it to have interactivity in its DNA, and there really is only one medium that we all interact with every minute of every hour – which is our phones.”
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Despite his gentle rebuttal of the label, Tharoor’s not-game Dead Man’s Phone has also been nominated for the EE Mobile Game of the Year. And he doesn’t think this interactive storytelling fad is a flash-in-the-pan trend. “There are certain kinds of games, and certain kinds of stories, which really lend themselves to the phone, and I think we’re going to see a real proliferation of those,” he says.
Skirting around the is-it-a-game-or-not debate, it’s clear that there are experiences (like Dead Man’s Phone and, I would argue, What the Golf) which feel best suited to mobile. It feels like a category distinct from anything else.
“Most mobile games are s**t, so mobile games are definitely a category, and not an attractive one if you are a small team on a tight budget,” confirms Drewsen. “If you look at the widespread to approach mobile, where the big companies strive to make a free-to-play money machine…those games are mostly garbage and are only made to make moolah.”
Alright, so its true that the platform is in bad shape, but its also clear that there’s a lot of innovation going on. And even if you think smartphones will one day be powerful enough to match-up with the Switch, we won’t necessarily want to play those kind of games on the same gadgets.
“Just like we don’t think were going to replace cinema, I don’t think mobile games will replace AAA productions. There are certain kinds of games, and certain kinds of stories, which really lend themselves to the phone, and I think we’re going to see a real proliferation of those,” says Tharoor.