Mobile Games Coverage: Room For Improvement
As the smartphone industry continues to grow, the media must give this popular niche the respect it deserves.
Millions of people download mobile games across different iOS and Android based devices. Angry Birds receives the most attention, but users have plenty of high profile titles to enjoy, including Infinity Blade 2, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Soul Calibur.
Over a short time, graphics have improved, budgets have increased and big time franchises like Call of Duty and Need for Speed have appeared on the iPhone. And yet, journalists continue to focus primarily on console and PC games.
Granted, titles like Mass Effect 3 and Grand Theft Auto 5 receive more attention from readers than Run Roo Run, but there's no denying the popularity of smartphone games.
Even the biggest media outlets acknowledge this, yet they rarely speak to developers or devote top story space to their games.
"There are a couple high up there sites that cover news and business," said Shannon Drake, account coordinator for Evolve PR. "A lot of sites are only interested in doing reviews, so long as you give them a link and a promo code, and then maybe they review it."
"A lot of places," Drake continued, "don't do what we think of as features: interviews, more in-depth articles, previews, etc. We've done some game announcements and the response tends to be 'Great, come back when you have something to show us.' Doesn't matter who it is or what games they've put out before. They're glad to get the announcement, but all they care about is the game once it's out."
"The traditional gaming media tends to not cover mobile games as well as I'd like," said Corey Redlien, studio head at Wandake Games. "The biggest issue we're seeing now is that it's becoming more and more difficult for indie groups and 'small games' to get good coverage now that the bigger, established players have started focusing on the mobile market."
Redlien also feels that the process of reviewing smartphone games needs to be rethought.
"It's obvious that graphics sell a game, and more pop and sizzle makes a game more enticing and interesting to the user," he said. "Too often, I'll read a review of a game that describes just how amazing the graphics look, or how well the physics are, but doesn't speak much to the gameplay."
"At the end of the day, I think most people are interested in knowing whether or not a game will give them their money's worth and provide the entertainment they're looking for. After a few seconds of being wowed by graphics and seeing physics-based collisions, the gameplay is what's most important, and if that's not there, the game's not worth it. I would like to see reviewers go through the gameplay in more detail."
"Mobile games," Redlien said, "especially those that are played by a different demographic and with different control methods than traditional gaming, require a different evaluation method than console or PC-based games. A game that would be absolutely awful on a console can play right to a mobile audience's strength and should be appreciated in that light."
Then there's the money issue, where cash starved websites will attempt to make deals with developers, for a price.
"A lot of the review-focused mobile sites have no problem hitting you up for cash for an expedited review or just an ad buy," said Drake. "And not as a throw-in, either. I've had some of them outright say 'We'll review your app if you buy some ads.'"
Taking this into account, everyone we spoke to agreed on one thing: they want to hear from the developers behind these games.
"There seem to be a ton of sites that post news and reviews, but something you don't see a whole lot of are interviews and insight directly from the people making these games," said Justin Korthof, Director of Marketing at Robot Entertainment.
"[We need] more coverage of smaller, independent games and studios with innovative or interesting products," added Redlien. "This has become a larger problem as the industry matures and the larger, established publishers and studios get into the mobile mix. Although it's good for the industry that there's more competition and higher quality products, it's important that 'no-name' studios that come out with great games still get some decent coverage."
"From a gamer's perspective," Redlien continued, "I'd rather know more about the indie game with so-so graphics but awesome gameplay than the latest iteration of a game franchise pushed out by a major publisher with amazing graphics and so-so gameplay."
While there's definitely room for improvement, the media has gotten a lot right, and the smartphone industry is grateful.
"While things still feel a bit segregated, there's no denying that the media has picked up really well on phone-based gaming in the last couple years," said Korthof. "From a perspective of a developer just stepping into this area, it's heartening to see many of the biggest gaming sites around doing things like regular features about phone-based games. In some cases, if you have a break-out hit like Angry Birds or Words With Friends, it feels like mainstream media is even more likely to pick up on phone-based games."
"I've found mobile sites are really good about getting back to me and much more willing to work through technical problems or bugs in the game to get the experience."
"It wasn't that long ago that hardcore gamers were very dismissive of games on phones and social platforms," said Korthof. "It's great to see so many sites taking phone gaming seriously and offering coverage and reviews of these games with the same tone that they use to cover games on more traditional platforms."
That said, there appear to be only a handful of websites that get mobile gaming.
"I tend to focus on TouchArcade, SlideToPlay and PocketGamer," said Redlien. "These three sites cover mobile from a very mobile-specific viewpoint, and have a vibrant user base that will give you a good read on what's good or bad."
Korthof chimed in.
"We have several folks in the studio who frequent sites like 148apps and TouchArcade," he said. "One thing that I really like about Modojo is how phones are treated as what they have really become, a mobile gaming platform. Instead of segregating the coverage into 'phone' or 'not phone' like so many iOS-specific sites, Modojo puts iOS game news right in the mix with other major mobile platforms like PSP and DS."
For now, it's clear the media are on the right track to giving mobile gaming its due, yet journalists still have a long way to go.
"I've been saying," finished Drake, "that the person who comes up with a Gamasutra or Rock Paper Shotgun for mobile is going to make a mint."
This article originally appeared on IndustryGamers, written by yours truly.