Soma Games wrote our first line of game code at the tail end of 2008, just as the iPhone was really blowing up and as it happened, we were in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t on purpose, it was partly opportunistic, but it worked out. We rode that mobile wave for years and were part of the Indie Game Renaissance it helped generate. (See: Polygon, GDC, Wired)
What made mobile so attractive was, of course, the low barrier to entry but that was only what got us interested. What kept us interested was the demonstrated market for indie games. Hardware constraints initially leveled the playing field so big studios had a much less pronounced quality and scope advantage over small shops so nimble little shops like Soma Games could compete and still land a feature from Apple or get covered by Kotaku.
Now it’s 2014 and as far as I can tell, the mobile space is no longer interesting for indies. I’m not the only one either. (See: Gamasutra, and this…for a start.) In fact, just about everybody I got to know as other indie mobile developers in the last several years is coming to the same conclusion. Mobile is over, let’s do PC games.
There are good reasons for this shift and we’re part of it but that’s not what I wanted to go into here. What catches my attention is what this is likely to do for PC hardware…again. As mentioned above, when mobile started the iPhone was a less-than-awesome game machine, in fact I suspect the mobile game phenomenon took Apple totally by surprise. But as models churned, hardware rapidly got better and current gen smart phones outperform last gen consoles…wow. So gaming drove rapid hardware improvement on phones just like it drove PC tower hardware in the previous decade. Gamers always want better rigs and devs are generally happy to push the limits (but maybe not this go around – more on that a little later).
If I’m right and there is a significant shift with shops like Soma, who learned a thing or two in mobile so we’re not total noobs, shifting their development efforts on PCs and newly Indie-friendly consoles then expect a following hardware race…again.
While mobile was exploding we saw PCs slowly developing into partly-mobile rigs. So laptops became Netbooks which became Ultrabooks which became Touch 2-in-1 rigs and tablets invented a whole new space. Most of the change happening in that sector was addressing the perceived value of mobility. But I suspect most OEMs failed to really grasp how much the market was being driven by the developers as opposed to the consumers. Devs were making more stuff, we were innovating and iterating rapidly and while I couldn’t prove it, the anecdotal suggestion is that various platforms crashed or soared based primarily on their ability to attract developers to their fold.
So I think a new wave of Ultra-Gaming rigs is coming and I suspect the big studios will cater to that audience with bigger, faster, bloatier games. BUt I’m not convinced the Indie dev crowd will follow suit in that regard…we’ll see how the tool chain develops. Generally speaking, I’m less able or inclined to produce 4k graphics and 32 channel sound with our smaller team. And so long as the market for smaller, quirky indie games continues, the competitive advantage such envelope-pushing games confer is not likely to be worth the cost. But if low-cost development tools (think Unity3D) continue to rapidly improve then I could be, and would like to be, wrong on that point.
Regardless…they’ll be sweet rigs)
Like this little bit of awesome…