MMObility: The year in mobile

What a year, huh? We gamers have seen a lot of changes, but especially in the mobile market. New devices came and went, technologies spread out even further in the world, and MMO gaming established itself on the smallest screens possible. Of course, the mobile market is not as large as the standard MMO market, but it is definitely growing. As more devices appear, more players come to fill up the games.

Our phones are not what they used to be, even five years ago. They are now truly tiny and powerful computing devices that are always connected. A player can literally live all of his digital life on one small device. If we look at the laptop and netbook market, we see even more growth and power. All of these devices need games to play on them, and MMOs fit perfectly into the mobile lifestyle.

Click past the cut and I'll recap many of the best stories from Massively's mobile coverage!

Yslandia screenshot
Five MMOs that are still not Pocket Legends

Back in February, I talked about five different MMOs that were not Pocket Legends. The intent was to point potential players to some new titles and to show that mobile titles had been around for a while and came from all over the world. Yslandia looks to be still barely hanging in there but does now have a version for PC, Android, and iOS. World of Magic, Empire Online and Seven Swords do not seem to have been updated much at all since that first news post. Graal Online is still chugging along and adding content and is still worth a look!

Pocket Legends screenshot
Pocket Legends and Star Legends spread their wings

This was definitely Spacetime Studios' year! Not only did it continue to see success with its flagship title, Pocket Legends, but it launched a brand-new title called Star Legends. While both games share many design elements, Star Legends can definitely be seen as a step forward. Only a few weeks ago, both games were launched for the Chrome browser, a move that showed just how serious Spacetime Studios is about pushing its games further into the world of "real MMOs." A recent patch introduced a new campaign as well as a Winter Festival.

Order and Chaos Online screenshot
Order and Chaos Online smashes expectations

Gameloft, a publisher that is known for making mobile versions of more popular titles, decided this year to get into the mobile MMO market in a big way. It essentially cloned World of Warcraft, included a cheap monthly subscription price, and made one million dollars on the title within 20 days. Pretty impressive, even to those who might not enjoy the game. Later on, a Facebook version of the game was added, and then an Android app appeared. Unfortunately, the different versions kept players separated on different servers. The game later suffered a hacking but survived to continue to supply players with a mobile MMO that was very well made.

Shadow Cities screenshot
Shadow Cities sneaks its way in

Back in May, Shadow Cities finally launched on the app store. The game asks players to walk around in the game world, literally, while drawing spell icons on the screens of their smartphones to move and fight. The game will warn you if you come across a player from the enemy faction, so it is up to you to "defend" your territory. I found the game confusing but intriguing, and I silently wished that I lived in a major metropolis so that I could play with other players.

Fleck screenshot
Fleck lands on the iPad

Real-world location-based gaming had quite a year in 2011. Not only did more devices become available, but built-in GPS and satellite technology has made a player's real-life location an integral part of many games. Fleck, by Self Aware Games, is a mix between Facebook, Google Maps, FarmVille, and a zombie shooter.

NCsoft logo
NCsoft buys app studio

NCsoft, one of the worlds largest MMO studios, announced back in July that it was purchasing the mobile developer Hotdog Studio. Why this was being done, no one seemed to know. It's possible that the developer is looking to expand functionality within its existing games (for example, Guild Wars 2 plans a mobile app) or that it is developing a brand-new mobile MMO. Either way, players remain eager to find out.

HP Touchpad screenshot
HP TouchPad switcharoo

You might be familiar with HP, especially if you own a PC. The massive tech manufacturer launched its own tablet PC, the TouchPad, but not long after decided to stop supporting and selling the devices. This led to a massive price drop and a quick grab effort on behalf of eBay sellers everywhere. But what good is a device with no support? I looked into the issue back in August.

Glitch screenshot
A giant launch

Glitch popped into existence across browsers this year, prompting players to explore, craft and socialize within the imaginations of several giants. I fell in love with the game and covered it extensively, so I was as shocked as anyone when the developer, Tiny Speck, announced that it was going to be taking the game back to beta for an "unlaunching." I soon interviewed Stewart Butterfield, head honcho over at Tiny Speck; he let me know that it was a situation that came about over concerns for quality, not because of lack of players or interest. Current players would see no real downtime and would even have any points or store credits they paid for doubled once a relaunch happened. The possibility of a character wipe was dismissed as "super unlikely" by the team.

OnLive picture
OnLive turns on

OnLive, the seemingly magical service that streams video games directly to PCs and televisions, launched its app for mobile devices in early December. This meant that smartphone owners could watch saved clips from other players, access account information, and play games without having to worry about processing power. Does it work? It does, but I had to ask whether the service would be good for MMOs.

Conquer Online screenshot
Conquer Online comes to the iPad

Conquer Online is a pretty old MMO, but it is one of the few to actually make the leap from the PC to the iPad. How does it work? Well, I found it a bit boring and bland during a week of play. Still, it played well enough and did shine some light on the iPad's ability to play a "real" MMO. Here's hoping more will make the leap!

What a year! I'm hoping that 2012 will be even bigger for mobile gaming. I'm even more curious as to how developers will tackle many of the design pitfalls that come with making games for tiny screens, and I'm eager to see whether game companies will take more chances than they might in the standard MMO world. Whatever happens, I'll be here to report on it.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on Massively.