Now that everyone has at least some kind of gadget attached to their arm pretty much 24/7, we’re seeing a massive increase in the number of people playing mobile games. What used to be the sole domain of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP has now been invaded by Android and iOS app developers, who now have a horde of smartphone-wielding mobile gamers to whom they may market their wares.
As usual, commentators have started making offhand predictions about the demise of PC gaming, overwhelmed by the flood of mobile gaming. However, those predictions have been around as long as gaming, and it’s clear that there are major differences between mobile and PC that not only make it unfeasible for mobile platforms to replace PC, they make it clear that the platforms are catering to different types of gamers entirely.
Mobile Games Still Lag Behind in Graphics:
When you’re playing Battlefield 3 on 1680x1050 resolution screen, you need a powerful graphics card to push all of those pixels. Most tablets don’t even dream of running games at 1080p. PC gaming systems bring the heat and don't let up. Gaming rigs are riding a wave of several decades of graphics development that hasn’t yet (and may never) make its way into mobile devices. The other logistics of mobile gaming may ensure that PC games remain the top outlet for serious players of graphics-heavy titles.
There are a few mobile gaming concepts out there targeted toward the hardcore set. Razer unveiled its Fiona gaming tablet at CES 2012, which will supposedly run Windows 8 and has similar controls to a gamepad. I still think it’s unlikely to be much more than a niche gadget, and not even that if it doesn’t have the processing power to handle high-end games.
Touchscreens are a Barrier to Hardcore Gaming:
Touchscreens are currently the dominant interface for smartphone and tablet users, and that’s perfect for what you do on mobile devices. But touchscreens lack tactile feedback, which is why touchscreen controls haven’t found favor with hardcore gamers. (You don’t want to have to look at your tablet screen to make sure you’re hitting the right hotkey.) Plus, a lot of games are reluctant to let go of the keyboard; they’ve simply gotten used to it.
Sure, gamers could pack along pluggable keyboards and gamepads, but then there’s the ergonomic issue of holding up the screen, and who wants to pack along all of that gear just to play on a smaller screen?
There are also issues for game developers trying to use touchscreen controls for complex games. Can you imagine playing StarCraft with all the commands and options onscreen? It would be a visually cluttered nightmare. It’ll take some really elegant UI design on the developer’s side, along with high adoption rates by gamers to change the current WASD-control paradigm.
Casual vs. Hardcore Gaming:
This may be the best, if not well-defined, argument that PC gaming has nothing to fear from mobile upstarts: The big difference between mobile gaming and PC gaming really is the gamers. Sure, PC gamers are also likely to slip in some Angry Birds while they’re on the bus, but a huge number of mobile gamers have never and will never log on to World of WarCraft nor dive into Portal 2.
True hardcore gamers — the ones settling in for a 4-hour raid in WoW or taking a few days off to play their new copy of Skyrim — just aren’t going to get the immersive experience they want from a mobile platform. They’re going to continue to get their fix on a powerful gaming rig.
The fact is that the mobile gaming wave is driven in large part by players who were never going to buy a PC or console platform anyway. They’re not hardcore gamers; they’re the type who just wants to waste time on their phones during their commute or play Words with Friends while sitting on the tarmac. Now, mobile gaming may be the gateway drug that future hardcore players use on their way down a more enlightened path, but it’s not going to replace PC gaming anytime soon.