2016 will soon walk out the door, and with it, a year’s worth of video gaming memories and milestones. There’s the release of Overwatch, which gave Blizzard Entertainment yet another tent pole franchise where gamers can waste hundreds of hours in. As if StarCraft II, Diablo III, and World of Warcraft weren’t enough. There’s also Dark Souls III, which proved that Capcom wasn’t done punishing players yet. And who can forget the disappointment that is No Man’s Sky? The game held a lot of promise, only to trip over face-first right from the start. The Hello Games product will be forever remembered in history as the most refunded game of all time.
On the mobile gaming department, we had several noteworthy titles like Crashlands and the enhanced port of the classic PlayStation game Final Fantasy IX. And there’s also this little game called Pokemon Go, which became an overnight sensation. You might have heard of it. Nintendo also squeezed in Super Mario Run two weeks ago to further announce to everyone that they’re serious about joining the mobile games market.
But enough counting down the best of the best in the video games world in 2016. That would require a separate and much longer article. As 2016 draws to a close, check out some of the mobile gaming trends that, we think, may garner some spotlight in 2017. Take note this is a purely speculative list based on the current state of the mobile gaming industry.
- More augmented reality and geo-location-based games
Although augmented reality and geo-location technology already existed prior to Pokemon Go, the massively popular game brought their potential into the spotlight. Actually, the game’s developer, Google-backed Niantic, already had a game under their belt that similarly makes use of the two technologies: Ingress.
It’s doubtful anyone can replicate the success of Pokemon Go, which had the huge advantage of featuring already popular characters. But that won’t stop developers from creating games that require players to go out and walk around in the real world. There are a few popular video game franchises which are best suited for augmented reality and/or geo-location. One of them is Digimon, the “other” monster catching franchise.
We don’t know yet how these two technologies can be further exploited for gaming, aside from requiring players to visit specific locations. But game developers have always been a creative bunch, as demonstrated in the game Lost in Harmony, a game that can easily summon goosebumps. So you can expect more games as early as next year to make full use of augmented reality and geo-location. We’d include virtual reality technology here, too. But the virtual reality headsets aren’t actually meant for on-the-move gaming (read: car accidents galore).
- More big-name companies will join the fray
There are already several well-known game developers and publishers who have dipped their toes in the mobile gaming world. Perhaps the two most notable are Square Enix and Nintendo – two primarily Japan-based companies. The former has brought its most recognizable property, Final Fantasy, to the small screen. While the latter…well, there’s Pokemon Go and the recently released Super Mario Run. There’s also Bethesda, more known for their PC games, who launched the hit game Fallout Shelter. Expect more similarly well-known companies to try their hand as well.
It would be foolish for such companies to ignore the burgeoning mobile games market. With more people attached to smartphones than pricier consoles and computers, the smaller platform, size-wise, has the better chance to reach out to more people. And that translates to more money for the already rich developers and publishers, especially considering they already own recognizable properties. It makes it easier to market their games than indie and neophyte developers.
- Games will offer more content
Back then, mobile games were just novelty pastimes designed to keep you company during the long commute back home. They were simply meant to be played for short bursts, providing an hour or two of entertainment. They also provided you with an excuse to hold your smartphone to head level while you shamelessly stare at your crush. Well, actually, these still hold true in today’s mobile games.
However, as more people seriously consider mobiles as a legit gaming platform, the pressure will be up for game developers to put out fully developed games with lots of content for players to sift through. And we’re not talking about an additional three or four hours of gameplay. We’re talking about content that will reel players to boot the game on a regular basis. The more time players spend in a game, the higher the chances of in-game purchases.
Developers usually offer new content via updates or patches, which will likely continue to be the medium in the coming years. Soon, mobile games will rival console and computer games in terms of content. And the best thing about them is that they’re cheaper to get your hands on, thanks to the freemium model of business. Speaking of which…
- “Free-to-play” will get a new look
A lot of mobile games follow the freemium model. Meaning, games can be downloaded and played for free. But to unlock the rest of the content and fully enjoy the game, you need to fork over some cash. As in real-world cash, not in-game coins or whatever. From another perspective, games that follow the freemium model – or “free-to-play” or “F2P” games – can be considered as simply trial versions similar to software and other digital products. Once you get a taste of them, you can opt to purchase the real thing.
But as the mobile games market becomes more lucrative, developers will likely get stingy about the free stuff, especially if they’re confident their product will take off really well. Less and less content will be available during the free-to-play phase, requiring you to decide whether to purchase the game or not much earlier than the norm.
Again, let’s take Super Mario Run as an example (seriously, we’re not nitpicking). From the get-go, the game only has a grand total of three levels for you to play. The rest can be had for $9.99, which is quite pricey for a mobile game. Obviously, Super Mario Run has the advantage of being based on a popular property so Nintendo can get away with the very restrictive trial version. When big-name companies join the mobile games market (see number 2), they might do the same thing.
- Graphics will be prettier than ever
Some people perceive mobile games as nothing more than shallow entertainment for kids or younger audiences, mainly because they usually come with 2D graphics. Not everyone can appreciate 2D graphics, no matter how beautifully done. Those people probably never strayed beyond simple match-three puzzle games. Mobile devices are perfectly capable of running 3D graphics, although not yet on par with consoles (PC graphics, considered as the undisputed king, are out of the picture).
The great thing about mobile devices is that they’re rapidly evolving. Today’s models can easily become obsolete in a year or two in terms of hardware power. More hardware power means developers can further experiment with beautifully rendered 3D graphics. Perfect for fantasy-based or story-based games. Yes, graphics don’t make the game. But they do make the game more immersive. If you want to see the potential of mobile games, graphics-wise, you can check out the mobile port of Final Fantasy XIII. That’s a game originally released for the heavy-duty PlayStation 3, by the way. It’s only available in Japanese, though.
- More classic and retro games will become available
The best example to this would be Square Enix, which has its full slate of classic Final Fantasy games from I to IX available on mobiles. Well, almost all of them – poor Final Fantasy VIII is curiously missing from the lineup, with Final Fantasy IX jumping over it earlier this year. Mobile ports of classic games are a great way to “educate” younger generations on how video games started out. Because, really, hunting down and buying hard-to-find classic consoles in pristine condition can be very expensive. Even second-hand ones can be a hassle to find. And they unnecessarily take up living room space, too.
Due to the processing power of mobile devices, it’s very easy to run 16-bit or 32-bit era games. If you started out late in the video games world and missed out on classic games for the NES, SNES, and other prehistoric consoles, your mobile device will be your gateway to old school entertainment. It will be a big plus for established companies, too. It will allow them to further milk their games that are way past their twilight, so to speak. Translation: more money.
- Games will integrate wearables more
During the time of the dinosaurs, humans exclusively used wristwatches to check the time. Now, the little contraptions are used to check heart rates, measure the distance walked, check the weather, and even make calls. And yes, you can play games in them now, too. These modern day touch-controlled watches – called “smartwatches” – are like mini smartphones, which opens up possibilities.
For example, in a role-playing game, smartwatches can be used to play mini-games that reward players with cool items. Or in a strategy game with social features like Clash of Clans, smartwatches can be used to respond to attacks. A lot of games offer freebies during set intervals, like handing out free lives every five hours or so. Smartwatches can be used to access them without needing to take out your phone. The only downside to this is that smartwatches are a bit on the expensive side, which is probably the reason why developers are hesitant on fully tapping their potential yet.
- Mobile games on TV will be a thing
This prediction might hinge on how the Nintendo Switch is received when it finally releases. In case you don’t really follow non-mobile gaming news, the Switch is a home-handheld console. It can dock to a TV at home, the same way as a typical home console, and it can be taken off its dock and function as on-the-go entertainment similar to a handheld console. Android devices can also function the same way, but obviously without a “base” console.
As mobile games get more immersive, a much bigger screen would be needed to fully appreciate them. A smartphone can serve as controllers, although it can be tricky to play with touchscreen controls. Of course, you can remedy this with a separate gamepad. It is doubtful mobile games will be a threat to console and computer games this way, though. Still, it provides casual gamers another angle to enjoy their games in case the smaller screen is straining their eyesight.
- Indie games will continue to be prevalent
It’s safe to say mobile devices will never run out of games, what with the ever-growing number of aspiring indie developers popping up left and right. The costs of developing a mobile game are significantly lower than console and computer games, too. This gives developers more creativity to try out different stuff, which is necessary in order to stand out in the huge market.
It’s actually the opposite in the console and computer gaming scene where big-name companies usually rake in all the profit. But it can be argued that indie games, regardless of gaming platform, keep the video game industry fresh. Meaning, they’re not going away anytime soon.
Depending on how the first few months of 2017 goes, newer trends or trends from previous years that never quite caught on may pop up. So be sure to be on the lookout for those, too. Compared to console and computer gaming, the mobile gaming industry is still in its infancy. There’s definitely a lot more room for growth. Who knows, there might be a technology out there lurking in the dark, waiting to be tapped which could seriously threaten traditional gaming.
These nine predictions aren’t sure things, of course. Some of these may hold true, while others may not. Anything can happen within the next 12 months. If you want to keep tabs, you can use this article as a checklist and see which ones prove to be prophetic or something, although you could probably already check number 9. Really, there won’t be any shortage of indie games in the mobile gaming scene.