Perhaps E3 2012 will be remembered as the year that even Nintendo acknowledged the existence of smartphone gaming -- if only begrudgingly so, dragged kicking and screaming into the early '10s. It's a brave new world here, a strange one in which everyone and their grandmother has become a gamer by default, carrying high powered portable computers in their pockets at all times. But even as all the major players took time out to give a nod to the ever enlarging juggernaut that is mobile gaming, its an element that still feels like a bit of a redheaded stepchild inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, where console gaming is still far and away the dominant force -- it's a presence relegated to brief mentions in larger press events and pushed to the sides of the convention floor.
It comes as no surprise, of course, that Nintendo didn't dwell on the matter during its show opening keynote on Tuesday. The mere fact that company president Satoru Iwata made reference at all to mobile operating systems is something of a sea change for an executive who has thus far stubbornly refused to even "consider" developing for the Androids and iOSes of the world. And the news from Sunday doesn't do much to shake that stance. While mobile operating systems were name checked, it was only in reference to users' ability to access social information from the Wii U on their browser.
Sony and Microsoft, naturally, are a bit more accommodating of the mobile trend -- after all, while Nintendo positions itself as utterly terrified of cannibalizing its own hardware with the availability of its beloved properties on handsets and tablets, both Microsoft and Sony already have dogs in the mobile fight. Microsoft's big push arrived in the form of SmartGlass, a promising media-centric application that promises to help your Xbox play nicely with iOS, Android and, naturally Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
Microsoft's big push arrived in the form of SmartGlass, which promises to help your Xbox play nicely with iOS, Android
Granted, Redmond didn't spend a whole lot of time discussing things like gaming on WP8, but the newly introduced technology offers an interesting opportunity to use mobile devices to enhance the gaming experience, providing supplemental entertainment and, if all goes according to plan, secondary controllers. For reference, the company briefly discussed an upcoming baseball game that will let players use their tablets to bat and pitch. SmartGlass represents a different approach to the concept of "asymmetric gameplay" Nintendo was so keen to discuss in reference to the Wii U GamePad's second screen.
Sony, for its part, briefly touched on PlayStation Mobile, namedropping the newly rebranded version of PlayStation Suite toward the end of its keynote. The news came alongside the announcement that it would be opening PlatStation certification to third-party devices, beginning with HTC (news that was accompanied by the appearance of a few HTC One models on the screen). The whole announcement, which felt like it was tacked on at the end as part of a larger presentation that was much more focused on things like WonderBooks, was more about the new branding than the partnership, which has far more potential to affect Sony's mobile game than any name.
It's fitting though, really. Whatever direction the larger industry might currently be trending, mobile still feels like an afterthought at this convention, as a quick walk around the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center this week quite quickly revealed. Even Electronic Arts, a developer clearly aware of the power of smartphone publishing, opted not to devote too much attention to mobile in its massive floor space or press conference to mobile. Zynga, largely considered mobile's best chance to shine at the show, wound up without floor space to call its own, opting for a small meeting room at the end of a hall -- a meeting room where it wasn't entertaining members of the press.
"I think those companies are thinking about mobile, but whether or not they're ready to put that message out there are the floor of E3 is a different story."
"I think those companies are thinking about mobile, but whether or not they're ready to put that message out there are the floor of E3 is a different story," Gree SVP Eros Resmini answered judiciously, when asked why so many largely companies generally disinterested at the prospect of showing off mobile applications this week. Resmini's own company proved a bright exception to the overwhelming lack of mobile content -- both figuratively and literally, with a giant, white booth in the convention center's south hall, alongside software giants like EA and Ubisoft. With a space jam-packed with playable game demos on iPhones, Droid Razrs and a slew of tablets, the company clearly sees E3 as the place to be to get word out on its titles. "This is gaming's biggest stage," says Resmini, "and what better place to show your content?"
Gree's show offerings were more than simply its own games, however -- the company also offers platform services for smaller developers, many of who were showing off games under the company's brightly light umbrella. That, perhaps brings up a key roadblock here -- there's a not insignificant overhead when it comes to exhibiting at a show like E3. In fact, it's a fairly sizable barrier for entry amongst mobile developers with tiny teams and shoestring budgets -- it's the same reason you don't see all that many independent developers outside of blocks like the IndieCade booth. One company that managed to secure space on the floor was WeMade. Positioned directly across from Gree, The company was showing off mobile MMORPGS, behind some well-dressed receptionists and "the world's largest playable iPhone."
Mobile still feels like a marginalized presence in a convention still dominated by the Nintendos, Microsofts and Sonys of the world.
Interestingly, in a show that was, by most accounts, largely a disappointment from a hardware perspective, mobile actually left its mark in the peripheral space. There's a bit of a land rush, with a slew of companies like SnakeByte and Nyko attempting to provide more console-like gaming experience for Android and iOS gamers. Nyko also happily played up a partnership with NVIDIA, who, along with Qualcomm's Snapdragon were on-hand to discuss their roles in powering the backend experience for tablets and handsets.
But even with big names like those involved, mobile still feels like a marginalized presence in a convention dominated by the Nintendos, Microsofts and Sonys of the world, who aren't particularly interested in cannibalizing their own console sales. As mobile becomes a larger and larger portion of the gaming world, however, that influence will be harder and harder to ignore at Electronic Entertainment Expos to come.