Mobile gaming myths debunked

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


Dead Space
Angry Birds
Infinity Blade

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.
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).
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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