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Phantomgate and Spellsouls: two of the best mobile games you never played

Columnist Jon Jordan on games that get canned in soft launch
Product: Spellsouls: Duel of Legends | Publisher: Nordeus | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad
Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best games writers in the industry and giving them a platform. Veteran journalist Jon Jordan is here each week examining the trends shaping your mobile games scene.

This week, he considers the demise of Phantomgate and Spellsouls.

Correction: Despite Jon's claims, Netmarble's Phantomgate hasn't been canned at all, and will be launching soon. Good news for everyone, especially Jon!

One of the more interesting aspects of writing about mobile games for a living is that I spend a lot of time playing mobile games that haven't officially been released.

Sometimes these are the private betas journalists are invited to play, but more often it's a case of setting up an App Store account for another country and hopping onto a soft launched version.

These are early versions of mobile games, released to test various features and provide audience feedback before the global launch.

Testing, testing

Typically developers launch their games in territories like the Philippines to bug test them because it's cheaper to run the marketing campaigns required to get sufficient players there.

Once that's complete, other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada are used to test more complex features and see how well games perform in terms of engaging and retaining players.

In this way, playing soft-launched mobile games provides a fascinating insight into the development process. That's not because you're playing games before anyone else, although it’s always nice to be ahead of the curve. Instead, you get to see the changes that are made over weeks and months as developers react to how people are playing their games and try to improve them.

But, of course, sometimes soft launch isn't the runway for a mobile game's successful launch, but its end point.

In its own way that can be a success too, for while companies can spend millions of dollars developing and testing a game, launching a game can quickly see developers spending tens of millions of dollars.

Goodbye Phantomgate and Spellsouls

It's something I was reminded of this week when two games I've sunk dozens of hours into over previous months failed to make it out of soft launch and were pulled from the App Store, presumed canned.

In the case of Netmarble's Phantomgate, this turn of events wasn't a great surprise. The game had been in soft launch for over a year, which given its novel design suggested things weren't going well. The longer a game stays in soft launch, the more likely it is to be canned.

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Nevertheless, it was this attempted innovation - despite having a typical F2P metagame, this squad RPG also featured platformer missions that couldn't be autoplayed (unusual for a Korean game) - which kept me interested.

So interested indeed that I completed walkthrough videos for about half the game: that playlist now acting as Phantomgate's last testament. (Not quite... see top of the article - Ed)

More surprising, however, was the demise of Nordeus' Spellsouls.

Again, it was a game that had been in soft launch for over a year, but unlike Phantomgate, recent updates had significantly improved the experience. You can see before and after videos below.

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And as recently as a couple of months ago, it looked as if Nordeus was gearing up for a global launch.

Of course, from the outside looking in, it's not clear why Spellsouls was canned.

Personally, I'd started playing it fairly regularly in recent weeks. (Full disclosure - Nordeus had also asked me to do a mock review.) But it was always a secondary game to dip into when I'd finished my daily stints on Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes and Marvel Strike Force.

Competing for time

And I think that's one of the biggest problems for mobile game developers. Not only are they trying to make the best game they can, they're also having to compete for gamers' time with the most popular existing mobile games that already have well honed gameplay and millions of committed players. As previously mentioned in the context of Brawl Star's prolonged soft launch, that's something even Supercell is struggling to overcome.

And perhaps that why we're seeing the rise of so-called hyper casual games; games that effectively play themselves and only require seconds of your attention at a time.

Those aren't experiences that appeal to me, however, so it's back to look at the big list of games currently in soft launch and see what new games are available. Badland Brawl looks interesting...

If this column has given you food for thought, share your comments below and bookmark Jon Jordan's page for more of the same next Monday. Remember to also check out words of wisdom and mirth from experienced games journalists Susan Arendt and Harry Slater each week.

Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan 10 September 2018
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