by Chris Skaggs

I’ve been going to the annual GDC in San Francisco every year since Soma Games launched the first title in 2009 while the world of mobile gaming exploded into existence virtually overnight. Every year those of us who make mobile games have seen ourselves (and have been treated) as the younger upstart brothers to console game makers. We saw ourselves as inferiors and we were treated as tag-alongs. But this year I’m seeing something very different : mobile game shops are suddenly disinterested in “growing up” to become console/PC shops – and the large, older-brother game studios seem confused as to why they aren’t getting the love they’ve always enjoyed.

When we made our first mobile game, G:Into The Rain there was a very conscious notion that this was a stepping-stone. It was a way to dip our toes in the water, learn a few key skills, and all part of our deliberate plan to make a future epic XBox title. We were also perfectly normal in that regard. Every mobile game developer we talked too, both at GDC and elsewhere basically had the same plan. After all that was where the “real” game developers were. That’s where blockbuster hits like Call of Duty or BioShock were posting such inspiring headlines. Mobile gaming was to console or PC gaming what the Memphis Redbirds are to the St. Louis Cardinals. We were rookies and we all longed to make it to the big league.

This relationship was dysfunctional from both ends though. We may have looked up to our console counterparts with an unhealthy degree of hero worship but they also looked down on us with a kind of aristocratic patronization. “Thats cute kid. Come back when you can afford a real game engine.” By last year’s conference, the disdain had turned into something more like contempt as several sessions sought to address the “problem” of mobile gaming – specifically that we were sucking up all the attention and resources from real games.

Now in 2012, I’m suddenly aware of some rather obvious facts as I hob-nob quite comfortably with a half dozen very normal, unassuming, sudden mobile millionaires at the TouchArcade party:

  • Lightning keeps on striking with hit after hit after hit –
  • I can make a very, very profitable game in just a few months…
  • I can do the above with a budget that is literally 1/1,000th of what a AAA title is likely to cost…
  • The newer hardware like the iPad 4G has as much pixel power as an XBox…

What’s the motivation to move into console gaming at all?
Who needs the risk, the headache, the multi-year commitment? Maybe this mobile thing isn’t a stepping stone after all. Maybe its a quite sufficient and complete segment all on its own – a segment with far more generous numbers. Perhaps this is why I’m hearing stories of VCs looking to invest in mobile but hearing “No thanks – we don’t need your money.”

In 2011 GDC felt as though big studios still had the lion’s share of the attention – but this year it seems very different. The difference is easiest seen by glancing around any lounge, any party, or any hang out in town. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is passing around iPads and Androids and Kindles to show off whatever mobile project they’re excited about. They are handing their own personal devices around instead of queuing up at the gorgeous branded game kiosks. Even sitting in the Microsoft lounge with a dozen XBox and Kinnect games waiting to be played I keep watching the staff trying to entice people to dance or shoot or jump…but instead we’re all sitting in their rather stylish chairs doing something else – working our touch screens, totally content to play Mega Jump or Wind Up Knight while the Halo station sits there, alone, silently asking if its 15minutes is up. We truly are no longer pining for console love.

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