About six months ago I said that we were on the brink of an exciting new wave, where console traditions and paid and free-to-play models meet with social. It’s the next step of video games’ evolution, moving back from me-too isometric games to focus on new innovations and quality.
These – predominantly mobile – games are taking what we’ve learnt in the past 30 years with the revolution on mobile and social platforms which is merging them with great success in the likes of Infinity Blade, CSR Racing and Rage of Bahamut.
The future is here and led by some of the smartest people in games. You should not ignore it.
‘Mid-core’ is the gamification of 2012 – a bullshit buzzword. Superficially, the new wave is looking like the middle between traditional core looks, but with casual retention mechanics, leading to the term mid-core. I’ve said before that this is a red herring – forget how we traditionally defined our audiences.
People, self-identifying gamers or otherwise, are consuming a wide range of content now, from cars to horses via goblins. Give them an experience that works for the platform, with consideration to controls, ability and session length. Dress it how you want, but don’t narrow it with assumptions on specific gameplay to fit themes.
What is important is to hit with a show and then suck in with high-retention gameplay.
The UK studio start-up scene is littered with ex-console teams. Many fail at trying to make console games for mobile, because they design like they always have: with long sessions and multiple control configurations, prolonged development cycles and a view to shrinking gameplay to handheld devices. Their real advantage is actually in visuals.
Moore’s law applies to mobile GPUs and the average power available to consumers is leaping. Titles that push the capabilities are doing great numbers as platform holders – both Apple and Google – are showcasing them in their stores.
Stunning-looking real-time or pre-rendered 3D is real, working viral marketing. People are compelled to show off the capability of their new tech or the beauty of their discovery to their friends.
DEEPER THAN SKIN
Although the visuals are important marketing, what free-to-play and the lean start-up revolution has taught is how to do monetisation, retention and analytics. If you’re inclined to deride FarmVille as junk, first understand why tens of millions love it.
At the heart of the new wave is short core loops – repeatable sections of gameplay that last somewhere between ten-to-30 seconds, but are attached to deeper strategy or upgrade options. Yet unlike first generation titles, these core loops may be skill-based.
These loops consider first the time a player can likely play – a median mobile session is between two and three minutes – with the retention of long-term goals.
These goals are piecemealed by continuous small upgrades, often facilitated by virtual economies or variable reinforcement IAPs, such as gacha. It makes the game accessible in short sessions, but still has fantastic longevity.
Overall, quality is marching upwards with consumer expectations, so the need for innovation is ever higher. We’ve reached a point where, as an industry, we understand the rules, motivations and economics of social and mobile games, and so we can be creative with the form, structure and presentation of our products.
Although I may have defined some likely traits above, titles like New Star Soccer feel fresh while not fitting these criteria. Others, like My Horse, fit but are far outside tradition core theming.
Now is the time for designers to truly flourish and, with the tools they’ve gained, push gaming forward, not just in mobile, but all forms, from console to social.