Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best writers and most experienced gamers in the industry and giving them a platform to speak their brains. We started last week with Susan Arendt and Harry Slater, and now here's the first of our Monday columns: games industry veteran journalist Jon Jordan looks at the trends that are shaping your mobile games scene. This week, soft-launched titles and what's going to be big in the next 12 months...Welcome to 2018. What games are you looking forward to?
When it comes to those things called console games, apparently plenty of titles are already being talked about, marketed and generally hyped up.
Red Dead Redemption 2, Far Cry 5, Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, God of War 4...
And despite them not having official release dates, you can already pre-order them.
Given this state of affairs, it’s seems strange to me that with a couple of clicks and a fake address here and there, anyone can already be playing many of the most anticipated mobile games of 2018 as they go through their soft launch testing.
- Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion - yes, I’m loving it.
- Badlands Brawl - it’s reinvented trajectory physics games with PVP
- Brawl Stars - great, although it’s hard to keep track of all the updates.
- The Sims Online - I’m there, two sims working 9-to-5.
- Ridge Racer Draw And Drift - so over it already…
Of course, there is a big difference between console and mobile games. The console games aren’t finished yet and will cost you $60 upfront when they’re released, whereas the mobile games will never actually be finished and will cost you precisely nothing, zilch, nada.
That means it makes financial sense for Take-Two, Ubisoft, Microsoft and Sony to open their advertising wallets early to get people dropping their hard-earned on pre-orders.
The same just doesn’t hold for mobile games, but could it?
Sell me some sizzle
Ten years on from the launch of the App Store, it seems to me the mobile games industry has learned very little about about to make pre-launch marketing work.
Sure there are differences but an exciting new game is an exciting new game, whether it’s on console or mobile, paid or free. What’s important is generating the excitement, the anticipation - whether that’s standing in line for a midnight store opening, impulsively throwing down your credit card on a pre-order, or playing the version of the game undergoing testing on the Canadian App Store.
All of these are about having ‘skin in the game’, about commitment to a new experience, or having an opinion about something most people don’t even know is yet a ‘thing’.
So given our mobile devices are our most personal and accessible bits of technology, and being ahead of the game is an attitude that defines early adopters, fans, hardcore players - however you want to describe them - maybe it’s time for mobile game companies to start getting us excited about what’s to come weeks and months before it arrives.
The tools are in place
To be fair, it’s not like developers are lacking the infrastructure to enable this, either. Both Apple and Google offer the ability to pre-register and pre-order games.
But there’s a big difference between randomly checking out such games when you’re already viewing the App Store or Google Play, and heading to the store having been actively caught up in the excitement of a pre-launch marketing campaign.
A great example of how this sort of thing can work really well was South Korean publisher Netmarble’s marketing for the western launch of Lineage II: Revolution last year, which generated over a million registrations before the mobile MMORPG went live.
Nintendo is another company that’s launched its mobile games well, partly because they’re big titles but also because Nintendo regularly spends time communicating with its fans.
Indeed, there is a cultural angle to this problem with pre-launch campaigns for mobile games being much more successful in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea than in the US and Europe.
But, more generally, I think the issue is one of communication. Too many mobile game developers only think about telling people how exciting their game is after it’s launched not before. And that’s to misunderstand the most important factor in marketing: the power of anticipation for something we want but we can’t yet have.
And that’s why, despite not being a Star Wars fanboy, my most anticipated game of 2018 is EA’s not-yet-in-soft-launch Star Wars: Rise To Power. Come on guys, get a move on. At least into the Canadian App Store.
We'll be sharing more insight into the state of the industry next Monday and every week. Bookmark Jon Jordan's page now!