Mobile gaming myths debunked

DICE 2011: EA Mobile VP Travis Boatman talks about the five most common misconceptions around gaming on phones and tablets.

Who was there: The session was a one-man show held by Travis Boatman, EA Mobile’s VP of Worldwide Studios. Boatman has been in the mobile games business for over a decade, going back to his time with Jamdat Mobile, a company EA acquired in 2006.

What he talked about: The popularity of mobile gaming has exploded over the past few years, with devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and myriad Android handsets playing host to a new era of touch-screen gaming. But just as with any new and rapidly growing market, people don’t always get the story right on what’s driving this growth. At least, that’s the argument Boatman made in his “Myths of the App Store” discussion today.

Travis Boatman.

According to Boatman, there are five dominant myths looming over the growth of mobile gaming. The first myth he addressed was the notion of “mobile gaming” being something of a misnomer. While the ability to slide an iPhone into one’s pocket and play on the bus or train naturally lends itself to gaming on the go, Boatman insists that the majority of gamers are in fact playing these games at home. He showed a pie chart from the NPD, which stated that 47 percent of mobile gaming is done at home, compared to 12 percent during commuting hours.

As a result, Boatman said, not all mobile games need to be “bite-sized” experiences such as Fruit Ninja to make a splash on the App Store. There’s room out there for “rich, engrossing experiences” similar to what players have traditionally found on consoles because with nearly half of mobile gaming time spent at home, people have the attention and time to devote to deeper games.

The next myth Boatman took on was the makeup of mobile gamers. The general consensus about the growing number of smartphone owners, according to Boatman, is that these are all casual players new to gaming. Boatman argued that while there are indeed plenty of casual gamers getting their feet wet with iPhone games, core gamers make up a substantial portion of the market as well.

He cited the recent success of EA’s Dead Space and Epic’s Infinity Blade as two iOS games that have reached the top of the charts despite offering a more traditional gaming experience than the likes of Angry Birds. What this myth ultimately means, according to Boatman, is that “core gamers are underserved in the market.”

Myth three was the notion of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to game development, an idea that came about with the introduction of the iPhone. The idea is that the Apple’s flagship phone is such a dominant platform in the mobile-gaming space that all a developer has to do is design one version of its game and call it a day.

But Boatman argues this has since become an extremely outdated idea, citing the subsequent iterations of Apple’s hardware and operating system, as well as the introduction of the iPad. And that’s before you get into the various Android devices on the market. Now, for a developer to maximize its profits, it really has to build at least a handful of versions across, and optimized for, multiple hardware types.

As an example of this approach, Boatman talked about EA Mobile’s recent financial success with bringing Scrabble to the iPhone and iPad. Looking toward other devices to continue this success, one that didn’t immediately seem like a good fit was Amazon’s Kindle, an e-reader with a black-and-white screen that lacks a touch screen. But the system offered numerous strengths, including its tremendous sales figures and a screen visible in bright sunlight. So EA Mobile developed a Kindle version of Scrabble, and it went on to become the top-selling item on the Kindle store.

The fourth myth Boatman addressed was the idea that brands don’t matter in mobile gaming. This myth ties into the second myth about casual players dominating these platforms, with the understanding that because they’re new to games, they won’t really care much about existing brands. Boatman went on to show a number of screenshots from the iPhone App Store from this past year, where brands such as Rock Band, Call of Duty, and Grand Theft Auto were all placed atop the list of highest grossing games.

According to Boatman, existing brands absolutely do matter, but at the same time, publishers should never underestimate the power of “native IP,” which are games designed purely for mobile gaming. This includes big players such as Angry Birds, games built on the strengths of modern touch-screen mobile gaming.

Now that's one delicious pie (chart).

The fifth and final myth Boatman argued against was the idea that “this is as good as it gets”; that mobile gaming has grown so rapidly over the past few years that it’s essentially peaked. For this point, Boatman spoke more from his gut than with charts and graphs.

Having witnessed the steady upward growth in mobile gaming over the past decade, he feels that mobile phones simply have a knack for taking people by surprise. Boatman brought up the fact that, at one point, many experts felt that text messaging would never be brought over to the United States; that it was a uniquely European and Asian phenomenon. Sure enough, texting has become hugely popular stateside despite those initial predictions.

Quote: “In three years, you won’t recognize mobile gaming,” said Boatman continuing his discussion on myth five.

Takeaway: In the grand scheme of technology, mobile gaming is still a relatively new phenomenon. As such, it will take a while for people to truly understand how it works and the factors behind it all. In the meantime, Boatman feels that developers and publishers need to keep an eye out for what he feels are the most glaring misconceptions.

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Discussion

26 comments
Freethinker101
Freethinker101

To be honest I think developers have to start putting their money where their mouth is, especialy with Android. It will be interesting to see if the new PSP phone changes that. I have a desire HD and it is great, but Android has nothing like the support IPhone had in terms of games.

MichaeltheCM
MichaeltheCM

sounds about right. i have a lot of friends with smart phones that dont really play console or PC games, but play games on the smart phones like no other. funny that they dont realize they're gamers :P

CyberKlown28
CyberKlown28

@ stjimmy15 A7X foREVer! as for the topic, I'm gonna rock a 3DS for this generation, and that is more than enough time for smart phones to step their game up. If Angry Birds is still the best mobile game in 5 years then I'll stick with nintendo and play it in 3D instead.

StJimmy15
StJimmy15

@FacesMan ah, of course, the one time I don't look at the visual... lmao

calvinsora
calvinsora

Interesting points by Boatman, and it makes sense. People like to lash out at mobile devices as game platforms, but they have some interesting options.

FacesMan
FacesMan

@StJimmy15 Take a look at the pie chart they mention in the article. 47% Play at Home 14% At Work 12% During Commute 10% In Line 7% Restroom 4% Other 3% School 1% Airport Edit: The last 2% incase most are wondering, is likely due to these percentages having been rounded.

MJ12-Conspiracy
MJ12-Conspiracy

Very interesting, A friend showed me a couple of the more unique games on Android [can't remember names of games] and I admit that I was surprised at what was on offer however I'm not someone who likes playing games on small screens, I had a 20 inch TV for 15 years before I bought a new 32 inch HDTV, my point....I like console and PC games but maybe in the past I've judged Smartphone games too harshly.

Little_Socrates
Little_Socrates

I still think that "mobile" gaming is preferable to "portable" gaming devices such as the 3DS and the NGP.

mtron32
mtron32

Maybe it's because after 15 years, I'm pretty tired of shooting games.

mtron32
mtron32

I play more games on my Ipad than I do on regular consoles. The games that come out are just not that compelling to me.

StJimmy15
StJimmy15

Wait, so if 47% of people play while at home... and 12% play during commutes.. where the hell are the other 41% playing?!

mrzero1982pt2
mrzero1982pt2

its not thast, but mobile gaming is expensive. think about it. an unlocked phone is 500 bucks. a 3dsw is 270. portable gaming, if the system has to be nearly half a grand, the games should be a manageable price. i own an ipod touch and i told myself id never buy angry birds and i got it for the fact that it is a dollar.

Linkari
Linkari

I take public transportation to school and I'm always on my DS.

vega13mv
vega13mv

meh, some games are fun for a lil while, but im mostly on my DS/PSP

lowkey254
lowkey254

That's kind of true, when it comes to where mobile gamers game. I usually game at work or at home on my phone. Rarely ever do I game when I'm out and about.

slammann
slammann

Idk if i fully agree woth the pie chart I play alot of my iphone games at school i think its reallt what classes u have and who can be more sneaky with it but when im at home I feel like playing things like fallout halo and deadspace things you cant fully enjoy on the go and save my mobile games for when im els where

TheBest88
TheBest88

@SauhlGood perfect example is that new dmc game for iphone

TheBest88
TheBest88

who cares about the mythss of mobile gaming?? as developers why not focus on just making the games and releaseing them. GI had this article yesterday, Gamespot do you guys steal your info from their site or what, would make sense on why you guys are horrible journalists when your late at delivering news. and i'm being nice callin you journalists. just saying.

megakick
megakick

almost 50 percent play at home this is why im not buying a psp2 3ds psphone

tyco_ex
tyco_ex

@RadicalToenail : I'm with you Toenail. While porting flash games to my phone is nice, there's nothing revolutionary about it.

samuraikill
samuraikill

I always play games on my android at work.

SauhlGood
SauhlGood

"-NPD which stated that 47 percent of mobile gaming is done at home" yay so if most mobile gaming is done at home, why do we need mobile gaming... i mean i liked mobile gaming cuz, well, it was mobile, i could play my GameGear/Gameboy anywhere. there doesnt seem to be anything innovative bout mobile gaming, they just take current hits and miniturize the gfx/game/sound/gameplay and repackage/brand it into a smaller device, then call it "revolutionary" for the most part pissing off fans, and newcomers alike...

RadicalToenail
RadicalToenail

Just as long as I don't have to hear more crap about Angry Birds and similar mobile games being "new" "creative" and "innovative". I've been playing Flash games exactly like it for the past decade. Nothing new. Nothing seriously creative. Far from innovative.