The Palm of My Hand Pt. 3

This is part three of a short series looking back over some of the mobile games Shaun played in 2014. The first and second parts were published earlier this week. This is the final installment. We strongly recommend reading the earlier posts first.

 

Advertise Me

Some games are free but don’t offer in-app purchases. These games are usually supported by advertising. The income from the game is thus directly linked to its number of players, and developers don’t need to worry about having insanely-refined market systems in place. Of course, the game will earn you next to nothing if it’s not popular. One way around that problem is to clone existing popular games, much as various developers did with Asher Vollmer’s Threes (most famously including 2048, resulting in the odd situation whereby the clone was cloned more than the original). And you thought the free to play category was cynical!

Swing Copters

So. Elephant in the room: this was made by the chap who made Flappy Bird. I never played that, partly because it was withdrawn from app stores before I got round to it, but I did choose Flappy Doge as my clone of choice and tried that out. I thought it was shit. I was, in fairness, also shit at it. But in any case the infamous compulsive just-one-more-go gameplay of Flappy Thing flapped gracelessly past me, straight out the window and drowned ignominiously in the guttering.

I also think Swing Copters is shit. It’s appears to be Flappy Bird but running vertically, and rather than your taps working against gravity you’re working against inertial forces in two directions. It’s a mechanical evolution, but not one I thought was entertaining.

HardDismount

Remember Truck Dismount? This is a similar deal except there’s loads of levels. It’s a daft wee thing to muck about with, just seeing how much damage you can cause to your crash test dummy. It’s a toy box with only a few toys in it, but it’s also free, occasionally funny and probably better for stress relief than, oh, say, the very frustrating Plants vs Zombies 2. If you’re ever feeling the urge to throw your toys out of your pram, rein in that rage and fire up some Dismount.

UKIK

I don’t think this actually has any advertising in it but I wasn’t sure where else to put it. This is a goofy student game that involves kicking UKIP’s Nigel “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Dog-whistling Bollocks” Farage out over the Channel. All there is to it is timing your tap and then watching.

The only reason anyone has heard of UKIK is because Farage did and got a bit butthurt about it. Great promotion for a small team of student game-makers. They claim they want to make political games, and I wish them the best of luck with that. That said, this game features (presumably ‘illegal’) migrants in dinghies floating across the Channel toward Britain, which surely is playing directly into the anti-immigration rhetoric of Farage and his party?

Who knows. I ain’t the Satire Police.

I think Dropkick The Faint (holy crap, it’s still online) may have been the first game of this type that I ever saw and that looked better and had a better soundtrack. Still, this is the next best thing to kicking the real deal up the arse.

 

Concluding Thoughts

This was a much shorter category than the others. In fairness most of the free to play games I mentioned are also ad supported (so in a sense, I am actually already paying for those, just via a microeconomy that some computers direct). But this category contains those with no in-app purchases.

The games in this category are also not very good, in my opinion. That’s probably neither here nor there. What’s more interesting is that this category contains games made by individuals or small, independent teams, who often aren’t looking to make any money (directly) from them. That the category isn’t bigger may suggest that developers either don’t think it worthwhile as a promotional tool (limited supply), or that it’s difficult to find such games via app storefronts (artificially limited demand). I could believe either scenario.

All this also suggests that larger companies don’t regard ad revenue alone as sufficient to support mobile games. This is hardly a revelation: I think various studies as well as quoted references to in-house research conducted by the big mobile players have indicated as much over the years. Where this model can still prove a money-spinner is where a game is a sudden surprise hit. Even if this only lasts for a few weeks or months it can bring in a lot of money, as the developer of Flappy Bird discovered despite not actually wanting all that money (a motivation many of my friends find utterly incomprehensible).

This is probably why so many cloned games are ad-supported: it costs far, far less than integrating an ecommerce solution to handle in-app purchases, freeing you up to focus on pumping out more and more clones, increasing the odds that one of them will get enough eyeballs to bring in a nice ads-served pay cheque. Inspiring, eh?

(Try to avoid looking at development project listings on sites like Freelancer.com. It will depress you. Alternatively, do it right after the next 2048, Flappy Bird or Desert Golfing comes along, and you will achieve great insight into the workings of a large swathe of the app economy.)

 

Any last words?

I set out writing about some of the mobile games I played in 2014 in the hopes that I would be able to pick out some patterns in my playing and spending habits and thereby gain a little insight into mobile gaming. I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished that objective: instead I feel that I’ve hammered down a few pegs and staked out a rough space in which mobile games I like exist, and boasted proudly of my excursions into the wilds where I have shot and killed games I don’t like so much.

I’ve heard arguments that mobile gaming is in the doldrums at the moment, drowned beneath a tidal wave of clones and corporate shit. I’m not sure that I buy that – or at least, I’m not sure I accept that this argument is any more applicable now than in the past. Besides, some of that corporate shit has actually proven to be quite good (I’ve heard fine things about the mobile Hitman game, for example).

There is certainly still a curational problem with mobile games: it’s very difficult to find stuff via the stores that you might be interested in, and such is the volume of mobile games released that following the mobile games press closely can overwhelm you with choice. So you are either lost or paralysed. Word of mouth, as always, proves useful in these situations, but it does mean that situations arise whereby hundreds of thousands of people have played Flappy Bird whereas probably only a few thousand have even heard of Wicked Lair. This is as it always was, of course, and not even professional marketing companies exert real control over popularity, virality or success.

So I don’t really have a conclusion beyond that I played some games that I rather enjoyed last year and I tried out some that I didn’t get on with. This is much the story of every other gaming platform I spent time with in 2014… thought I suppose the mobile space did at least offer me a lot more try before I buy. On the other hand, I did much try and relatively little buy – even as a person who has, in the past, agitated for the ‘premium app’ model over the ‘free to play’ model. Perhaps the real conclusion is that, just like most people, I don’t really know what I want, and nor does the mobile marketplace.