The world of mobile gaming is a curious one. It’s roots date back well over decade but it’s only really come into its own in the past few years as smartphones became capable enough and there were platforms available to support it. The industry blossomed on the backs of the small and independent developers who took advantage of the low barriers to entry to be able to release their games on the platform and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. As a traditional gamer I was a bit sceptical that it would amount to anything more than just another time waster platform, my opinion only changing after buying Infinity Blade which I thoroughly enjoyed. Still I’m a firm believer that the mobile platform, whilst definitely a successful industry, is not killing other platforms as you just can’t recreate the same experience on a tablet or handheld as you can with a PC or a console.
Of course the large game developers and publishers are concerned about how what the future of their business will look like. With mobile gaming carving out a good chunk of the games industry in such a small amount of time (about 6.4% of all games industry revenue) and social networking games grabbing about the same it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they might be worried about it. Recently Mike Capps, president of Epic who create the Unreal engine, went on record saying that the flood of 99 cent games was killing them:
“We have not been this uncertain about what’s coming next in the games industry since Epic’s been around for 20 years. We’re at such an inflection point. Will there be physical distribution in 10 years or even five? Will anyone care about the next console generation? What’s going on in PC? Can you make money on PC if it’s not a connected game? What’s going on in mobile?
“If there’s anything that’s killing us [in the traditional games business] it’s dollar apps,” he lamented. “How do you sell someone a $60 game that’s really worth it … They’re used to 99 cents. As I said, it’s an uncertain time in the industry. But it’s an exciting time for whoever picks the right path and wins.”
If you take into consideration the vast majority of people who play games on their phones don’t play games on other platforms¹ then it makes sense that you can’t sell them a $60 game because the platform just isn’t suited to that kind of title. Sure people may spend a good chunk of time playing games on their mobiles (rivalling the amount of time spent on more traditional titles) but it’s in no way comparable. Most of the time spent on mobile games is done in fits and bursts as the platform is aptly tuned to, rather than the long continuous sessions that PC and console gamers are more accustomed to. In essence if you’re a traditional game developer or publisher looking to push your wares onto the mobile market you’re not going to be building the same kind of products, nor are you going to be charging the same price.
Additionally the mobile gaming industry is in no way killing any of the other platforms. Consoles are by far the kings of the industry bringing in over 40% of the total revenue with PCs still making up a good 20% (and is even growing despite the heavy competition). Sure mobile games have brought some disruption to the industry and have given pause to many developers and publishers who are trying to gauge where the industry is heading. Frankly though if you think that there’s no future left in the classic $60 titles then you deserve to go out of business, since the industry figures just don’t support that view.
I do agree with Capps’ claim that we’re at an inflection point where the games industry is facing quite a few fundamental changes. Just like the music and film industries before them though they will need to adapt to these market changes or face dying a slow death as they attempt to shoe horn their business models into the new world. I do believe that the games industry is far better poised to adapt and innovate with these market disruptions than their more traditional media outlets were and that was proven by just how fast mobile gaming caught on as a mainstream phenomenon. Still mobile gaming is a long, long way from killing off the traditional gaming sector and realistically it has a lot of growing up to do before it would ever have a chance at doing so.
¹I tried my darnedest to find some solid numbers on this and couldn’t find anything substantial. I stand by the sentiment though as from my personal viewpoint the vast majority of people who are mobile gamers are solely dedicated to that platform and don’t play games anything else.
I’m pretty indiscriminate when it comes to my gaming platforms. I’ve got every current generation console in my house including one of each of the hand helds. So when I want to play a game that’s got a cross platform release I’ll usually take a look at how each of them are reviewing and choose the highest rated platform. Dragon Age: Origins was a great example of this as the reviews of the console versions were a lot worse than its PC counter part and I can only imagine how the problems I encountered on the PC would be magnified by running it on a console. Still there’s one platform that I’ve always considered second rate when compare to any of the other consoles I have; my iPhone. I’ve still got quite a collection of games on there but apart from Plants vs Zombies none of them could be classed above a simple time waster. That is until I bought Infinity Blade.
Infinity Blade has garnered quite a lot of press since its initial release 3 months ago as it’s the first game ever on iOS to make use of the Unreal 3 engine. The teaser screenshots released by EPIC and Chair showed that the Unreal engine had the potential to deliver much better graphics to the iOS platform, bringing the iPhone’s capabilities up to the level of dedicated gaming systems. Since all the 3D games I had tried thus far on my iPhone had been rather poor I was keen to see how Infinity Blade faired, and I wasn’t disappointed.
You play as the son of an unnamed warrior who has been killed by one of the Deathless, an immortal race of beings that appear to hold control over parts of the mortal world. Your mission is to fight your way through the various enemies that guard the Deathless’ castle so you can avenge your father. Of course you’ll probably not succeed the first time through and you will fall to the Deathless again, leaving your son to avenge you and starting the cycle anew. Over the course of the game you’ll find gold, items and health potions that will help your character along the way and these will be passed down the bloodline to successive characters.
The game doesn’t fail to impress from the get go with the gorgeous graphics filling the screen. The voice acting of the characters is done in much the same way as the Sims, being some incomprehensible gibberish that allows them to just put sub-titles on everything to make regionalization easy, but that doesn’t stop them from being adequately emotive. In-between bouts of combat you’re allowed to look around for items, chests and bags of gold that have been left lying around. You’re not able to walk freely around in Infinity Blade with travel being done by clicking on a pulsing circle to progress to the next area.
Combat in Infinity Blade is probably the most satisfying aspect of the game. Upon encountering an enemy you’re left standing in front of them until you hit the pulsing blue circle to engage with them. Upon doing so you’ll be greeted with a short cut-scene where the enemy shows off how tough they are. You’re then playing a game of dodging, parrying or blocking their incoming swings whilst attempting to hit back with swings of your own. As combat progresses you’ll move around the area you’re in, ensuring that no fight is completely static. You’re also equipped with 2 special abilities, a “super move” which will stun your enemy temporarily and a magic move which can be one of a number of spells which are granted to you through rings.
Like any good RPG the game also has a basic stat system along with a good variety of loot to augment your character with. Initially I thought it was going to be your typical dungeon crawler with all loot gathered from mobs and chests however there’s an in-game store where you can buy new weapons and armor using gold. You’ll want to do this often because as you defeat enemies you gain experience points which are attributed to your weapons and eventually you’ll master them after which they won’t grant you any more experience points. Still I found myself sticking with a few core items well after I had mastered them simply because they made the game so easy, but its quite obvious that the game would prefer you gradually upgrade rather than jump the gun like I did.
After a while however the limited variety in game play does tend to drag a bit, especially when the only challenging enemy is the Deathless and the next upgrade costs half a million gold to buy. You can get around this drag by buying a sack of gold in the store for real money, but that will only stave off the boredom until the shininess wears off your new gear. That’s not to say the game isn’t worth playing at all however as I was truly captivated for the first 5 bloodlines as I attempted to slay the Deathless that had killed my great-great-great grandfather. After that however it’s just an elaborate game of digital Barbie, looking for new items to dress up my character with.
Infinity Blade is pretty good with its execution too with the only problems I encountered being things they could not fix. Initially I couldn’t get the game past the first few loading screens but after rebooting my iPhone it went along without a hitch. Additionally I found the game’s recognition of touches and gestures to be a bit wonky at times, however this is probably more due to my notorious sweaty hands than any fault of the game developers. The iPhone can get extremely warm after a 10 minute bout in Infinity Blade so I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing this, but there’s little any developer could do to alleviate it.
Overall I was very satisfied with Infinity Blade and the experience it created. Whilst it’s still a far cry from the games I’ve been enamored with on other mobile platforms Infinity Blade demonstrates that smart phones and tablets are quite capable of being used as a portable gaming console, something which I didn’t quite believe it was capable of. Whilst I don’t believe we’ll see any titles that can hold a candle to the releases on a fully fledged console or PC there’s still a ton of potential to be unlocked in this space and Infinity Blade has shown it can be quite profitable even for more traditional game development studios.
Infinity Blade is available on most iOS devices right now at the special price of $2.99 for the Deathless Kings upade. Game was played on an iPhone 3GS with approximately 7 hours played.