Mobile Gaming Shits On You Again

This was something I talked about a few months back on my science and tech podcast–Sovryn Tech–and I’ve certainly highlighted issues with mobile gaming on this site multiple times, but this specific issue has to do with the availability of games. When I had talked about it on Sovryn Tech, I was referencing the fact that earlier in 2015, Sega had removed a multitude of their games from the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store. These were mostly games that you had to pay for–and some even had in-app purchases (IAP)–and they weren’t just “removed from the store”. Unless you had them already downloaded on your respective device (or somehow acquired an .apk file for them), you were completely unable to access them and ever play them again.

AndroidPooping_50You paid money for them? Too bad. You are shit of luck, Jack. Sega, in their infinite wisdom (you know, as displayed in their dead console business), said that games that were a part of some of their biggest franchises just weren’t to be sold or even played anymore. By anyone.

What do you mean you should be able to do what you want with things that pay for? Who told you that you could do that? What do you think this is? A free market? Oh, no, no…let me guess…you thought that DRM was just there to stop so-called pirates (I’d call them data liberators)? Boy, didn’t you have a rude awakening when you went and tried to download the incredible Jet Set Radio on your Android device!

Well, now other companies are jumping in on the act. Disney–that bastion of consumer confidence (sarcasm)–has removed a lot of games themselves from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, including a popular Toy Story title, and even a couple of (shocker of shockers) Star Wars games! How any Star Wars game could be performing poorly is beyond me, particularly Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, which has been an IAP boon since its release. At least with Disney’s removal of these games, as long as you still have them in your apps list, you can still download them (but, boy, don’t hit that “x” on the top right on the game’s app listing). That’s a little bit better than what Sega pulled, but not by much.

Another company that is doing something a little different, but potentially just as insulting to your hard-earned money spent on these games as Sega and Disney, is Electronic Arts. Not that bringing up EA should stun anyone, as they have long been rated as the single worst company in the gaming industry, if not the whole world (though Comcast probably takes that title). EA is presently having a sale where they are offering a few of their games in the Google Play Store for only $0.10 a piece. I know, you’re thinking that’s a great deal, especially when some of the games are from the Dead Space and Need for Speed franchises…but what’s the catch? The catch is, some of these games will no longer be supported. The short version: no more updates, and some day in the future those games may not work on the latest version of Android or your latest Android device. This particular problem holds true for Sega and Disney, as well, even if you could download or access the games in some way: eventually they just won’t play on your device of choice either due to a software or hardware upgrade that you’ve made.

And there are so many other problems that could be discussed, that go beyond the fact that you are getting screwed out of games that you put good money down on, or the lack of support and the potential for future compatibility issues (though these could potentially be solved by Android having a compatibility emulator built-in much likes Microsoft puts into the past few versions of Windows). I suppose the question could be asked, why–in the case of Disney–are they removing games like Star Wars: Tiny Death Star that are making bank, instead of letting them run theoretically forever? We don’t have a direct answer for that, so all I can do is guess here, but I think that it has something to do with game player’s concept of “sunk cost”. If you have a new game out that is designed to promote something that isn’t a game (like a Star Wars Episode VII game designed to promote going to see the movie of Star Wars Episode VII), but people are still playing your older game (like Star Wars: Tiny Death Star), and they’ve put a ton of money into IAP for that older game…they’re like to not play your new promotional game, since they player has just spent too much money on the older one and may not wish to leave. That’s “sunk cost”. But I’m guessing here, admittedly.

And that guess leads to the other problem with mobile gaming: IAP itself. “In-app purchases” don’t travel very well with you when it comes to mobile games. You either have to be logged into some other service, or your potentially screwed out of all of that extra money. It’s not like “back in the day” (I’m not that old, relax) when IAP used to equated to an “expansion pack” that you could hold onto forever, just like you did the base game. Nope, there’s a good chance that if something happens to your phone or tablet, you’re going to be shelling out a shit-ton more gelt to back to the point you were at in an IAP heavy game. And that’s called “a scam” in my book. And then, like I said, you don’t even have to lose your device for that IAP money to go down the tubes, Disney or Sega can just take the game away from you for all-time without notice!

All of this does have a solution, however, some of which you can do right now, and some of which has to get nudged into reality. And I’m not saying we need to go back to physical cartridges or anything like that (though it should be pointed out that when companies like Valve and Direct2Download started, gamers were warning that all of this would happen and were called nuts and conspiracy theorists–over a decade ago), we can keep digital downloads. But that’s just it, distributors and game devs need to let people really keep their downloads. Dump the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that keeps people from copying these games and holding onto them, and being able to transfer them independently to other devices, and then give people the actual install files straight. Humble Bundle allows for all of this already. And Alphabet/Google and others know that Humble Bundle’s options are so threatening to what they and various companies control over their games (that you already paid for and should be able to do whatever you want with), that now the Humble Bundle Android app has to be downloaded independently…the app alone isn’t allowed in the Play Store! Why? Because Humble Bundle shines the light on the racket that Alphabet/Google, Disney, Sega, and even EA are pushing on gamers. And ultimately, Humble Bundle–and the DRM-free, download your own install files philosophy behind it–is the solution to all of this. In fact, for gaming at the Dark Android Project, it’s my number one recommendation, and it beautifully highlights one of my calls to action with Dark Android: get away from large app repositories and start giving people independent install files.

But I think it needs even more. Many of the best games on mobile platforms are made by small indie developers. And if the “indie scene” started taking up the charge and following Humble Bundle’s business model (even minus the charity aspects, if you wish), and getting away from the Google Play Store and others (you can’t as easily get away from the Apple App Store), the landscape of how mobile apps are managed–and the degree of control that users have over them–could change dramatically for the better.

Now, I understand, I run a video game company. In fact, my games (HYPERCRONIUS and Ninja Trek) will be coming to Android and iOS in the very near future, and they will likely be in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Putting games in these app stores can be great exposure, and help you get some good sales. But you better believe that if someone emailed me and said, “Hey, I’ll give you some Bitcoin or whatever to pay for your games, if you’ll just send me the Android .apk’s“, that I would jump on that in a heartbeat, and I would actually prefer to do business that way. Granted, I’d be able to do that largely because I don’t have IAP in my games (nor will I ever…why do you think the world “Offline” is in “Zomia Offline Games”?), and independently handling IAP outside of app repositories would be difficult indeed. But then where’s the problem? With the payment processing of IAP, or the existence of IAP itself? I’d venture it’s the latter. IAP is a scam, and any time you read a review for a mobile game on other websites, if the reviewed game doesn’t have IAP, they give it higher marks out of the gate–it doesn’t matter if that game costs $14.99 or not.

Frankly, the whole mobile gaming space is a joke. From IAP, to games getting yanked without your consent, to shitty touchscreen controls (and yes, they are fucking shitty)…it’s an ugly space that most people are only passionate about because of the quality emulators for older consoles on mobile devices–not from these new games, themselves. Exciting developments like NVIDIA’s SHIELD TV might help it grow up a bit, and Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality may make things interesting, but it’s going to be years before things get serious.

For now, if you want to game, stick with a PC (and amazingly, gaming-ready PC’s are cheaper than gaming-ready mobile devices, these days). Don’t buy the hype that desktop and laptop PC’s are dead, because when you do all you’re doing is “buying” more shit from them, whether it cost actual money or not. How the Hell do you think these companies make these games, anyway? With a Samsung Galaxy Shit and a Shit-Pen? Yeah…right.

Carpe lucem!