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Published on July 20th, 2013 | by Joshua Poole


In Defense of: Mobile Platforms

Recently, at San Diego Comic-Con, an announcement was made that excited and delighted a particular group of fans. Many games are announced or otherwise shown off at SDCC every year. Many exciting announcements are made. But to this particular group of fans, people who are fiercely loyal to a television show that barely lasted a single season, nothing could be more exciting.


Yes, they’re making a Firefly game.


This is big news to the show’s fans. Firefly premiered on Fox September 20th, 2002, described as a “space western drama.” The show lasted thirteen episodes before it was cancelled. Firefly has received a major cult following that’s been kept alive via comics, a table top RPG book, and a full length film in 2005, Serenity. It helped expand the following, and in some cases created the followings, of its director and creator Joss Whedon and show runners Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, and Summer Glau.


Now, after years of waiting, Firefly is getting a video game. However, the comments left by viewers of the teaser trailer on Youtube show that what was initially an exciting announcement quickly turned sour. You see, the game is called Firefly Online, and it’s going to be released exclusively on tablets and smartphones. Cue the nerdrage outcries.


Comments ranging from the logical and thought out – “The reason fans love the show is because of the characters, the writing, the humor.” – to the standard fare of Youtube comments – “Epic fail.” – based on the fact that the game is both online, and only on mobile platforms. Various commenters spoke about the supposed inherent weakness of tablets and smartphones, about the cheaply made casual games that are constantly produced that all use the same formula to make money.


That last point made me laugh, as I immediately thought of the popular “Call of Duty” franchise. Today’s average gamer has become like any other entertainment consumer, in that they don’t so much care about the similarities between projects and releases, they just want the most recent title regardless of if it’s just new skins on old content. However, I did have to stop and consider mobile devices as viable gaming platforms.


Mobile gaming is nothing new. Everyone owned a Gameboy, or at least a Tamagotchi pet, at some point. New handheld platforms are being released all the time. But often, those are stand alone platforms. Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones aren’t made exclusively for gaming. But does that mean they aren’t viable options for producing new games, good games that a self-identified “real” gamer can care about and enjoy?


It’s an easy yes. consider some of the most loved games from ten years ago. The Sims (2000), Psychonauts (2005), Grand Theft Auto III (2001), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) just to name a few. These games are beloved by many to this day. An interesting fact about them? Your phone or tablet could probably run them. In fact, several of these games, and others released in the last decade or so, have been successfully ported to Android and Apple mobile devices. How is this possible?


Consider that a passable gaming desktop today, at minimum, is going to have a multi-core processor with a minimum speed around 2 GHz, at the very least it will need 2 GB of RAM, and a video card around the 1 GB mark will do for most things.


My Google Nexus 7 has 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 1 GB of Ram, and a twelve-core Nvidia GeForce video card. It couldn’t run Skyrim by any means. But it could handle all four of the games listed above (though for full disclosure, some would be on minimum settings).


The Google Play store, and Apple’s app store, are full of cheaply made, cookie-cutter, casual games. But more and more often, games with excellent writing, gameplay, and visuals are being released. With games like Knights of the Old Republic, a classic to many, being made available on iPad, and various Grand Theft Auto games available on Android devices, this is a trend that’s likely to continue. Classic games, beloved games, being made available on mobile platforms presents endless possibilities for even the most hard-core of gamers.


Quickly disappearing are the days when a game can be scoffed at simply because you can download them on your phone and play them on the toilet. The increase in technical capabilities on mobile devices means that for the first time in many years, gaming has a new frontier to conquer.


(For my fellow Browncoats, the trailer can be found here.)

About the Author

is the name of me. Gamer born with a controller in one hand and a keyboard in the other. Odds are, if it's a console, I've played it. At least since the mid-90s. Gaming and writing are my passions. These are my thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment!

6 Responses to In Defense of: Mobile Platforms

  1. Axe99 says:

    “It’s an easy yes. consider some of the most loved games from ten years ago. The Sims (2000), Psychonauts (2005), Grand Theft Auto III (2001), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) just to name a few. These games are beloved by many to this day. An interesting fact about them? Your phone or tablet could probably run them. In fact, several of these games, and others released in the last decade or so, have been successfully ported to Android and Apple mobile devices. How is this possible?”

    Yes, but in every case given, they control less well than the originals because of the limitations of touch-only controls – and that’s the biggest knock against mobile as a platform. For most genres, touchscreen control is a compromise at best, and an abomination at worst. Not all – turn-based tactics, strategy and RPG translate well, and tower defence isn’t a complete disaster – but I’ve yet to find a mobile game that plays better than its equivalents on dedicated handhelds or PC/consoles.

    Another knock against mobile gaming is that many, many games are designed around their business model, rather than having their business model designed around the game. Even gameplay ideas that could be fun are often destroyed by immersion-breaking and often outright exploitative pay-to-win content.

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t give Firefly or other mobile games a look, but _every_ mobile game I’ve played so far has left me underwhelmed, so given the platform’s record, it’s hard to be too optimistic ;) .

    • Joshua Poole says:

      A very valid series of points that I didn’t touch on. It makes me think of the “Controller vs. Mouse and Keyboard” debate, though touch screen only controls would be the guy sitting back and watching, hoping no one notices he’s there. That said, there are certain genres that a touch screen interface can work very well for, in addition to the ones you mentioned. It’s something I intend to cover in a future article.

      Business vs. Gameplay models is something that can be seen in other gaming arenas, too. F2P models for MMOs come to mind. Some are obviously intended to make people actually want to play they game, whereas other are intended to make the company more money. The problem is much more prolific in the mobile arena, however.

      The gaming *power* is present. The games themselves need much more refinement. But, then, that’s been true of most every console generation, and is another reason I think of mobile gaming as one of the frontiers left to be conquered.

      • Axe99 says:

        Agree that F2P is starting to disrupt game design in the PC arena as well, but at least there we have plentiful, usually better, options that put gameplay first. Also agree there are some decent F2P games out there, and even a couple on mobile ;) .

        However, one of mobile’s biggest issues is that there’s no evidence yet that it has the market to support big-budget, AAA development. Sure, it gets (often watered-down) ports of games whose development was covered by gamers on PC or console (you included examples in your article), but the games that start on mobile are much smaller in scope, and those teams that have experimented with larger budgets, with a few small and unique exceptions (primarily Angry Birds titles) have had difficulties making money.

        Another issue is that until battery technology improves substantially, mobile will never be able to match the total power draw of consoles or PC. The new, ‘low-power’ consoles are still expected to be sucking down 150 watts, and a gaming PC can be upwards of 600 watts, compared with the generally single-digit wattages available to mobile devices. It’s like putting a 10bhp car up against a 150bhp car – clearly the lower bhp car will be at a substantial disadvantage.

        That’s not to say mobile can’t be a nice distraction while away from other devices – it’s better than staring at the waiting room wall at the doctors – but I don’t think the evidence is there yet that it’s the kind of platform that can provide a comparable alternative to console, PC or dedicated handled.

  2. Tom R says:

    Jeez, most mobile and tablet games are utter garbage, horrible touch controls, rubbish graphics and boring gameplay, they don’t compare to current gen console games, let alone the next gen PS4 and Xbox1 games. The only ppl that play mobile games are little kids and adult casuals, or ppl with low IQs who are ‘entertained’ by simple things. I play mobile and tablets games and get bored in minutes! The core gamers, who want an AAA experience and a competitive online community for multiplayer, will stick with consoles and PC. A lot of the little kids with high IQs who play mobile games will grow up and soon get very, very, bored of crappy mobile games and will graduate to play proper next gen games on the PS4 or XboxOne which will have mind blowing graphics on large screen TV, with immersive AI and gameplay with a proper controller.

    • Leon Strife says:

      I take it you play primarily online shooters, yes? Talk about small things entertaining the small minded. Sadly, though, you are correct that a far too large majority of video game consumers are children that like calling people fags while making their parents pay for $60 map packs every year. Or sad adults that act the same.

      I don’t think anything I read in this article talked about tablets comparing to modern or next gen consoles, and it certainly didn’t talk about first person shooters. The games it mentioned are classics from the last ten years.

      Of course, your average “competitive online multiplayer” and “cutting edge graphics” focused players aren’t old enough to remember that far back.

      • Tom R says:

        Yes, like many millions of console gamers I play shooters like COD and Battlefield, but I do play other types of games like sports games, racing games, action adventures, etc… on both my PS3 and PC. The point that I’m trying to make is that the whole game experience (graphics, story, gameplay, controls, etc…) of a good game on console is thousands of times better than any mobile or tablet game, and when the PS4 and XboxOne come out, it will be millions of time better. It like comparing driving a Lada to driving a Ferrari.

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