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Creativity Fatigue Sets In: iOS and Android Games are Losing Their Edge

There’s been a lot of talk recently about mobile gaming via iOS and Android devices taking over the market, which has been previously dominated by Sony and Nintendo.  Your usual points of evidence include cheaper prices ($.99 vs. $39), ease of installation (install in seconds vs. purchase at store and carry with you), and dual/tri-functionality (phone/app/game vs. game).  Nintendo has stated for the past two years that they not only don’t fear this new trend, but don’t even see it as a competition.  I originally thought this was preposterous posturing, but even as an avid iOS gamer, I’m starting to agree with the Big N.

I’ve owned an iPhone for over three years, and an iPad for over a year, now.  My wife also has an iPad, and my son an iPod Touch.  Needless to say, we have a pretty good exposure rate to iOS games.  Initially, the gaming genre for the iOS devices was fresh and new.  They offered quick, yet deep experiences that truly did make me question whether or not I still needed my DS.

I always rationalized keeping my DS (and now 3DS) around, because no one makes a game like Nintendo does.  It was the quality that kept me coming back to the Mario and Luigi RPG games, Zelda’s portable incarnations, Animal Crossing, Professor Layton, and more.  I couldn’t quite explain it, but no matter how many games I bought and downloaded for my iPhone/Pad, I still kept going back to my DS.

What’s Changed in iOS Gaming?

Today, after noticing a commonality between all the new gaming apps released in the past week, I finally realized what is wrong with the current crop of mobile games (meaning iOS and Android).  It’s repetition.  Or, as I like to call it, “Creativity Fatigue.”

It started with Doodle Jump.  The game costs $.99, and made millions.  It was a great rags-to-riches story, and everyone loved to comment on it.  As we were all playing it, and discussing it very publicly, an innumerable amount of programmers, ranging from hobbyists to independent developers took note of the success of Doodle Jump, and within 1 month, the App market was flooded (and I mean by the 100’s) with knock-offs.  Some of them built upon the genre (and even forced Doodle Jump to update with things like power-ups, progression, and themes, which is good), while others simply aped it.

Then, Angry Birds hit.  Different genre (launching physics), same story.  This time, Angry Birds hit new milestones that Doodle Jump could only ever dream of, so the imposters were even more wide-spread and varied in quality.  While chronologically Cannabalt and MiniGore hit at different times than Angry Birds and Doodle Jump, they also had a creativity fatigue effect on their respective genres (endless distance runner and dual-stick shooter).

So, What’s the Problem?

First of all, it’s happening in much more frequent occurrences than the same effect does on Sony and Nintendo’s handhelds.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the large amount of Pokemon and Ratchet and Clank rip-off’s.  However, it doesn’t happen nearly as often on those devices.  Why?  The main reason is costs.  It costs far more to become an approved developer for Nintendo and Sony.  Additionally, it costs considerable more to find a distributor willing to produce, package, and distribute these titles.

Most have seen this as a positive for the industry.  If games are downloadable, then the little guy gets his game out there for the world to see, who normally wouldn’t have ever been heard from.  That’s good, right?  Yes, and no.  Yes, it’s good, because it takes the power away from money-minded companies who are looking to cash-in on a quick rip-off, and lets the creativity flow.

But, that would only be a good argument if independent and hobbyist developers hadn’t already shown in the past three years that they are JUST as money-minded and prone to rip-offs themselves.  Sure, it’s prudent to claim that Disney was looking for a quick Pokemon-style cash-in on the “gotta catch ’em all” fever with their Spectrobes games.  Yet, when 100’s of other indie developers do the same with Angry Birds clones, it’s somehow the glorious transformation of the gaming community.

Where Does That Leave Us?

It leaves us in a pretty precarious position.  I would never state that iOS/Android gaming has no more good ideas.  Nor would I say that handheld gaming has all the best, Grade A titles.  For every MiniGore clone out there on the iOS/Android devices, there’s a great Groove Rollercoaster (my currently favorite iOS app) or Infinity Blade.  Likewise, for every Professor Layton out there on the 3/DS/Vita, there’s a cheap Cooking Mamma cash-in.

We as consumers need to be critical.  Yes, Angry Birds is a great game.  But, what is it that makes it so great?  Is it the game’s mechanics/rules or the game as an entire entity?  Many developers mistakenly thought that deep inside every iOS gamer out there was a need to launch animals from a slingshot, so they went ahead and made a multitude of games that filled that perceived need; when, in reality, all we wanted was a good game.

Because of the quick and cheap turnaround on iOS/Android games, you are more prone to see this creativity fatigue in alarming numbers.  Don’t write-off iOS/Android gaming, but beware those who herald the end of dedicated handheld gaming just because Angry Birds made millions.

What Needs to Change?

Here’s my challenge to all iOS and Android developers…Don’t make any more games of these following genres:

  • Endless Distance Runner
  • Dual-Stick Shooter
  • Launching Physics
  • Endless Jumpers
  • Tower Defense
  • Anything With Zombies

Now, of course when the next hit genre comes out, they’ll be likely to stumble over to that buffet and start gorging, but at least we can retire a few of the more saturated areas of gaming.

Here’s my challenge to Nintendo and Sony 1st/2nd/3rd Party developers…Start doing these things:

  • Embrace $.99 downloadable games
  • Make Legacy versions of your old games (why are you still charging $5 for the first Super Mario NES game?  Make it $.99!)
  • Meet with the big iOS/Android developers such as Gameloft/Chillingo/Pop Cap and give them reasons to come to your handhelds

Both industries need to change.  However, I would posit that the iOS/Android developers need to first start varying their game designs.  I will no longer be buying any more games that fall into the genres above, and I can’t imagine most other users will either, after very long.

One Response

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