Mobile Gaming & The Future

There's an article on how Konami is making the transition from their long history of console games (Metal Gear, Castlevania, Beatmania/DDR, Winning Eleven (Pro Evolution Soccer), Contra, Double Dribble (one of my best memories of couch multiplayer as a kid), etc.) aggressively to mobile. It's almost certainly why over the last few months they've had a fairly public meltdown among "core" gamers, as Koji Igarashi (Castlevania), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear, Silent Hills) and more have publicly had some sort of falling out or conflict with their former employer.

As folks have explored why things appear to be disintegrating at Konami, the simple answer that appears to be emerging is that Konami just doesn't care about console gaming anymore, because mobile's such a more potentially lucrative future. It explains a lot about why die-hard console traditionalists would be having a lot of problems at the company. But if and only if their approach to mobile is rooted in the present, which is genuinely disturbing.

Here's the thing that may be super obvious - I don't know how much folks follow mobile gaming as a whole: Right now, mobile games make an absolute ton of money. Clash of Clans? $5-10 million dollars. Per day. This is almost an inconceivable amount of money, and on a per-person or per-time development investment, it's impossible to compare something like the highest-earning mobile games with anything that's developed on console.

So I get it. I get why a company like Konami would want to make that shift.

But at the same time, the advantage that Konami had was a stable of extraordinarily experienced and talented developers. People like Iga or Kojima who could bring decades of experience and millions of loyal fans to a platform that people have generally considered really cynically when it comes to games. And for the most part, those fans are correct to view the platform with that cynicism.

Look at games these days. It's not "Time To Crate" anymore - how long it takes in a game before a player sees a wooden crate, which is probably the most cliché prop in level design - but instead now it's "Time to Timer". How long does it take before it's obvious that the game is going to have ever-extending timers that you have to pay to mitigate? How long before you hit a paywall that beats you over the head with either a need to spam your friends, pay money, or encounter mindbending levels of frustration and difficulty?

That's modern mobile gaming. That's what's currently making buckets and buckets of money. That's what Konami's pursuing, and you can tell because their best content creators are fighting against it. This isn't how it has to be.

Mobile is a brilliant platform. Never before in history has so much computing power been so available so much of the time. There are so many potential advances in mobile gaming that have yet to be made. Better controls. Games that fit into the way you play on mobile (which is hugely, hugely different than anything else). Games that utilize all the technology that mobile brings to bear - gyroscopes, pedometers, a huge, beautiful screen, touch controls, notifications, integration with other apps, always-present networking, cameras, blah blah blah - the list goes on and on, and most games barely scratch the surface of what is available except to figure out how to harangue you for more money more of the time.

The fact that Konami's big guns aren't on board is either a failure of management to communicate their goals in a way that makes sense, or a very strong indicator that Konami isn't interested in pursuing a better vision of mobile, but instead intent on pursuing the current state of the art, which is a pretty grim picture. Contra, where you pay $0.99 for extra lives, or Castlevania where your whip eventually breaks and requires 3 hrs to repair. Metal Gear Solid where Snake is frequently radioed and solicited for money. Without payment, the person calling starts shouting, attracting guards to your position.

I hope I'm wrong about this. I hope somehow Konami finds a way to create great content for mobile, and that the games of my childhood aren't just turned into mercenary cash-grabs in a shortsighted, vision-less way. But Contra Slots doesn't give me a lot of reason to hope for a good future, and the departure of all of Konami's top-tier creative talent doesn't, either.