Why Doesn’t E3 Highlight Mobile Games?

E3 just wrapped up earlier this month, with publishers treating console gaming fans to a plethora of new game trailers. I was already pumped about Super Mario Odyssey before the show even started. Imagine my excitement when I found out we will be controlling Goombas and Bullet Bills! What a time to be alive!

Now, I enjoy both console and mobile titles, but if you prefer the mobile side of the game industry, you may have felt underwhelmed with E3 this year. Despite mobile gaming revenue eclipsing that of the traditional gaming industry, E3 continues to focus on consoles. Whether mobile gamers and developers want to admit it, there’s still a stigma against mobile games in traditional gaming circles. We’ve all heard the usual complaints. The freemium model isn’t as “fair” as the upfront $60 fee. The gameplay isn’t as deep due to the limited controls available on the touch screen and the weaker processor capabilities. It seems mobile games are for filthy casuals, not sophisticated gamers. Why should they be highlighted at E3?

I’m probably a little biased since I develop for mobile, but I think this divide is getting a little blurry. As far as in-app purchases go, most AAA titles feature some sort of downloadable content (DLC) these days. It gives companies a financial incentive to keep supporting a game after release and give players more content. It’s a nice arrangement for both parties, so long as companies still provide players the proper amount of entertainment for the upfront $60 cost. With so many console titles opting for in-app purchases, even while charging an upfront cost, the mobile freemium model doesn’t look quite so different anymore.

The audience gap isn’t quite so distinct either. Yes, there is a significant difference between the older female Candy Crush demographic and the younger male Call of Duty user base. That didn’t stop Activision from buying King and their portfolio of match 3 titles, presumably thinking there might be some synergies with their own core gaming portfolio. Clash of Clans and other games in the strategy genre actually do have audiences that look more similar to those of the traditional console world. Newzoo cites Clash of Clans’ user base as 77% male with over half of players between age 21 and 35, and fewer than a quarter of users above age 35. Even console gamers need something to play on the go!

Of course the obvious counter is that just because the traditional console demographic plays mobile games, they don’t necessarily play them with the same passion and commitment. I don’t think that’s true, though. Even the most serious console gamers usually don’t average more than a few hours per day of game play. Obviously there are exceptions, but let’s consider three hours a good benchmark for serious gameplay. Although console purists may not know it, that number is on the low end of what it takes to play top mobile strategy games at the highest level. When Jorge Yao rose to prominence in Clash of Clans, he talked about playing 48 hours straight on weekends. I played a good deal of ZeptoLabs’ King of Thieves, and know from the community that it takes several hours per day of grinding for gold gems to hang with the elite. Everyday players spend hours grinding for skill-ups in Puzzle and Dragons, not unlike the grind associated with traditional JRPGs.

The only thing that’s not blurry, however, are the technical capabilities. Consoles are more powerful than mobile devices. If you’re focused primarily on graphics, which are a big part of a trailer driven event like E3, mobile isn’t going to impress by comparison.

But do you know who traditionally isn’t focused on graphics? Nintendo.

Nintendo’s consoles have lagged the technical specs of their peers in recent console cycles. They’re simply more interested in innovative games. They also have a history of success with their own mobile devices, along with a recent blockbuster on iOS and Android in Pokemon Go.

It seems Nintendo is the publisher sitting at the E3 table with the means to move mobile into the spotlight. If they keep delivering innovative ideas to phones and tablets, they’re going to talk about it at trade shows. They have just as much financial incentive to hype mobile as they do everything else. Ultimately, the stigma will fade for other publishers, and mobile will have its day at E3.

The reality, though, is that mobile is already very much in the public mainstream, and inclusion at console trade shows is a lagging indicator of its success. I’d recommend you go ahead and continue to enjoy mobile games, rather than wait for validation from the old guard of the industry!