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Pocket Gamer Round Table - Did E3 2018 show that AAA developers are taking mobile seriously?

The team weighs in
Product: E3 2018 | Publisher:  | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad
E3 2018 Android, thumbnail 1
E3 is winding down, which means it's the perfect time to look back over the week and wonder - where were all the mobile games?

It's never been a particularly major conference for the small screen, but a couple of high-profile titles did manage to slip through the net and get some screen time during the pre-show conferences of each of the major publishers.

But even if they are turning their attention to mobile, are these developers and publishers really taking it seriously? We decided to talk amongst ourselves about it - and you can read our thoughts right here.

Specifically, we asked ourselves:

Did this year's E3 show that AAA developers are taking mobile more seriously?

Dave B (The Big Boss)

Never bet against the games machine that billions of people carry with them every day. That's always been my mantra.

I've been to E3 many times but managed to skip LA this year; watching the keynotes from the comfort of my own sofa more befits my advanced years. It's always been dominated by PC and console games, so that didn't surprise me.

But mobile is now 40% of the global games industry, and in 2018 we saw that energy reflected in the quality of the mobile games, if not the quantity. Elder Scrolls: Blades! Command & Conquer: Rivals! Gears (Of War) Pop! These are important franchises getting the on-the-go treatment. And what we witnessed looked like the kind of polished experiences we expect from the best consoles.

High fidelity mobile gaming was a hot topic at our own recent Pocket Gamer Connects conference in San Francisco, and it's a theme that's only going to become more relevant as AAA publishers realise what's possible with the device in everybody's pocket.

Ric (The Lesser Boss)

To be totally honest, the mobile game showing at E3 was pitiful. Despite several major presentations from some of the biggest developers and platform holders in the world, only three games actually made an appearance.

And those three games? Command & Conquer: Rivals, which upset more people than it intrigued, Gears Pop!, which I don't think anyone is sure what to think of but could well be decent, and Elder Scrolls: Blades, which I personally have no opinion on. Not exactly a great showing (for me, at least).

It all just feels like the major developers are still testing the waters with their franchises on a platform which currently dominates the globe. This is the market where developers can make billions off a handful of games, and the Microsofts and Sonys of the world are still umm-ing and aaa-ing over it.

All that said, there was definitely a trend of companies thinking of mobile not as dedicated gaming hardware, but a second screen for bigger games to be played on. Both EA and Microsoft broke out plans for streaming services that will bring their games to a small screen – and if they can get it to work, and Apple doesn't block it like with Steam Link, it could open up a whole world of possibilities, and possibly the biggest advancement in mobile gaming since the App Store launched.

Dave A (Mr Guides)

Apparently, the large publishers that show up at E3 haven't got the memo. Haven't they heard? Mobile is actually a home for console-quality experiences now, as demonstrated in Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. But still, we're stuck with overhead tactics games and management sims. The Elder Scrolls: Blades is certainly a step in the right direction, but it's been "adjusted" for the mobile experience. Dumbed down, in other words.

We're at that point now where graphically mobile games are vastly outpacing the kinds of visuals seen on consoles like the 3DS, so power is no longer a concern. Instead, the concern is controls. Yet, many other console-like experiences have adapted and done so without recreating the gameplay experience for a single hand - essentially keeping you that much more invested.

Mobile is still obviously important enough to them all that they give it a mention at their conferences, but it feels like lip service - the kind the PS Vita got in its dying days. But mobile's not dying, gaming's biggest publishers are just still hesitant to give the platform any real attention.

Even Nintendo, who has broken their own mould and released several mobile iterations of its biggest franchises, was silent on titles like Mario Kart mobile.

I wonder if the day will ever come that major game publishers treat mobile development in the same way they do console. Until then, we've got Gears Pop. May God help us all.

Jon (Many Featured Man)

I don't know if Command & Conquer: Rivals, Gears Pop! and Elder Scrolls: Blades are going to be any good. I suspect they'll be supremely polished, heavily play-tested affairs that befit the heavyweight studios they're associated with.

I also suspect that they'll have lots of modern freemium mechanics and grindy gameplay hooks. And that's okay. I mean, they probably won't be for me, but that's okay too.

If I had my idealistic fool hat on, I'd wish for major developers to adopt the HAL Labs approach to mobile games. Big devs would use this ubiquitous platform to experiment with new ideas and properties (like Part Time UFO) rather than lazily mobile-fying existing IPs.

Naive grumbling aside, the biggest mistake made at E3 that I can see was one of timing. With Command & Conquer: Rivals and Elder Scrolls: Blades in particular, these are two franchises with a lot of lingering affection from hardcore fanbases. More importantly, they're two properties that haven't received a new mainline entry for years.

Those hardcore fans have had their ears tuned (consciously or otherwise) for any mention of a new entry for a while now. How on Earth did the publishers think that this vocal minority was going to react to news of these mobile spin-offs under such circumstances?

Had Command & Conquer: Rivals been announced after news of a full-blown PC and console reboot, and had there been more to show on Elder Scrolls 6 beyond a "we're working on it, okay?" message, I doubt the feedback would have been quite so negative.

Emily (News Queen)

In all honesty, with phones more capable of supporting high-quality gaming experiences than ever before, I was expecting much more from this year's E3.

Elder Scrolls: Blades is definitely one of the top dogs in the competition (though it depends on how much it differs from previous console-quality RPGs like Infinity Blade), I have no idea what Gears Pop! is going to be like, and Command & Conquer Rivals, despite its pedigree, doesn't exactly have me jumping for joy... or other mobile gamers from the looks of its trailer's YouTube comments.

It feels like big league publishers and developers are either afraid to take the leap or still don't consider mobile gaming to be a worthwhile market compared to console gaming. From this year's E3 big-boy presentations I saw a couple of titles that interested me and a huge majority of games that are basically the same as the next and I couldn't help feeling my enthusiasm waning. Sure, EA and Microsoft have big plans for their streaming services, but I doubt you'll be getting ports of the latest Call of Duty on your phones any time soon.

I'm also surprised that Nintendo seemed to put its all into the Switch this time around, bypassing both mobile and 3DS. Perhaps it was the fact that they took a bit of a blow from Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp or perhaps they really haven't got anything ready in the pipeline, but either way it's a shame we didn't get more information on Mario Kart Tour or Dragalia Lost.

I don't know. I'm still waiting for the year we come away from E3 with things to be genuinely thrilled about, but until then there's always Tokyo Game Show.

Harry (Harry)

The thing is, mobile doesn't need E3. It's doing very well on its own, thank you. Without any of the razzmatazz of LA it's pretty much conquered the world. Why would Supercell care about showing off their wares to a bunch of people who couldn’t care less?

So, if anything, E3 this year has shown that the AAA console and PC developers are starting to understand something pretty fundamental - mobile is where the money is.

It's unlikely we're ever going to see the massive mobile devs and pubs revealing things at E3, but what we're likely to see more of is the likes of Microsoft and Bethesda using their traditional showcases to try and make some waves on mobile.

Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls are massive names in the gaming world, but on mobile they've little traction with the people who actually spend. What the big publishers are trying to do is find a foot hold where their properties exist on mobile and don't just draw in the E3 audience, but also the other mobile players who love hurling money at IAP.

You can expect this to be the first step, if the pubs are doing it right. And you can expect there to be a lot more licensed mobile games announced at E3 next year if 2018's crop does solid business.


Reviewer photo
Ric Cowley 15 June 2018
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