In the week before E3, Microsoft and Square Enix announced sequels to two of the biggest games of this generation – but they weren’t for Xbox One or PS4.
They were for tablets. And they were met with apathy from consumers and journalists alike.
Action RPG Deus Ex: The Fall and top-down shooter Halo: Spartan Assault are being positioned as the next major instalment in their respective franchises. Both were shown to the press behind closed doors and embargoed – an unusual practice for mobile titles.
Within minutes of each title’s announcement, the reasons for this became apparent: publishers expected a less than enthusiastic response.
Twitter was alight with calls for next generation sequels rather than mobile cash-ins. Sites covered each title’s debut as a by-the-numbers announcement, burying them under stories about the upcoming consoles. I myself offered to write a hands-on preview for several major games sites, only to be ignored or turned down, with two leading sites saying they “don’t cover iOS games”.
It’s a stark contrast to the changing attitude of publishers starting to take.
Just going by numbers, it’s easy to see why publishers want to conquer the mobile market. Xbox 360 and PS3’s 70m-plus sales can’t match the 100m iPads that have been sold globally. And games dominate both the Paid and Free charts every week. So why is this sizeable audience not interested?
“I don’t think many people understand what
you can do with these platforms,” says Square
Enix marketing boss Jon Brooke. “People have
been fed too many watered down and light
versions of games. We could have ported
Human Revolution, but that just says people
are stupid enough to just accept ports. We
believe there’s a space for new unique
Jon Brooke – marketing manager, Square Enix
“I don’t think many people understand what you can do with these platforms,” says Square Enix marketing boss Jon Brooke. “People have been fed too many watered down and light versions of games. We could have ported Human Revolution, but that just says people are stupid enough to just accept ports. We believe there’s a space for new unique console-like experiences.”
Certainly there has been success for such titles in the past. Epic Games’ Infinity Blade shook up the market back in 2010, while Gameloft thrives on console-style titles like N.O.V.A.
Even traditional publishers have dramatically improved the quality of thier mobile games. Football Manager Handheld, developed specifically for smart devices, sold over half a million units last year.
Spartan Assault is one of many Halo spin-offs. If webseries Forward Unto Dawn was so well-received, why shouldn’t a triple-A mobile game please the same fans?
And The Fall has been developed with the help of Eidos Montreal, the studio that put Deus Ex back on the map. It has the same writers, composer, gameplay and style of Human Revolution – the only difference is touch control. Why shouldn’t Square Enix offer the Deus Ex experience to mobile users?
Perhaps it is because few triple-A mobile games are made that are not connected to a retail release, creating the stigma that such titles are nothing more than merchandise. Perhaps it’s the fear that publishers will abandon next gen in favour of mobile should this market prove to be more profitable.
If so, this fear is unfounded.
“We’re as serious about tablet gaming as we are about next gen,” assures Brooke. “We’re just trying to show what these platforms can do.”