MMObility: is mobile at risk?

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MMObility: is mobile at risk?
It doesn't take much effort to see evolving and emerging trends in today's connected world. Memes, popular fashion, even popular methods of becoming inebriated -- basically if we humans hear, read or talk about it we will probably take it on as our own. It's just how we are, we need to fit in with each other a lot of the time in order to feel connected.

I suppose it should be no surprise that we do this with our video games as well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most of the games I find borrow very heavily from each other, sometimes to the point that I wonder if the developers didn't literally just cover their game with a new title and skin and ship it out to players. This is a time in which the same-old same-old is shrugged off because developers "didn't promise anything revolutionary." That's right, we players have gone on to provide an excuse for shoddy development, so many developers don't even have to.

It happened with "social" gaming...everyone and their Aunt Tilly jumped into making a Farmville ripoff. The few fantastic titles were covered up by a sea of copycats. Now, is it going to happen in the mobile market? Can such a new market already be seeing it?

Click past the cut and let's talk about it.

From what I have seen, a lot of this mobile MMO market has started or became well known with Mafia Wars style gaming. In case you do not know, Mafia Wars design is deceptively simple, yet immensely popular. For a while it drove people to Facebook, way back before your mother-in-law joined. Heck, it might have been the reason she joined. Soon enough, games that followed the Mafia Wars style popped up everywhere.

It reminded me a lot of the time when Magic: The Gathering first started taking over. It was around '94 or '95...I still have decks from that time period. I remember being specifically jealous that I hadn't thought to take one of the oldest style of games around -- card games -- and simply rebranding it to make it attractive to nerds. Magic truly is similar to a lot of card games that those old people at the local community center just features monsters and magic. Think about it.

"Soon, collectible card games sprung up everywhere I went. Entire shops opened, dedicated to the hobby. One just opened across the street from my house, and this weekend I joyfully picked up a few new decks and fell asleep with visions of having a nerd hangout."

Soon, collectible card games sprung up everywhere I went. Entire shops opened, dedicated to the hobby. One just opened across the street from my house, and this weekend I joyfully picked up a few new decks and fell asleep with visions of having a nerd hangout.

This is how gaming goes. Success breeds copycats. The real problem is picking out the good from the bad.

I'm a little worried that, even now, mobile and browser-based gaming is starting this cycle. While there are a lot of good MMORTS' (for example) out there, there are more that are pretty much junk. While Pocket Legends opened up an entire world of "real" MMOs for us mobile fanatics, other "real" MMOs suffer from poor graphics or sub-par gameplay. It's as though some developers (I will not name names right now, I'll save those for my other columns) feel that the toy-ness of a mobile game will outweigh the need for originality and fun gameplay. In many cases, they are right. How many times have you been at the airport and killed some time with a silly game that you might not normally play? The accessibility of the mobile game can temporarily outweigh its need to be original and fun.

That's dangerous, if you ask me. The last thing we want is to have the mobile market turn into a bunch of clones of clones, or to be ruled only by Angry Birds. Players like me demand depth, fun and even good lore...things that are harder to find in mobile MMO gaming than in other places. So how do we ensure that the market does not become awash with poor imitations of larger cousins?

It's as simple as it is in any market: you support quality, and ignore the bad.

Here's the problem, though. If you look at Hollywood movies as an example, you will find the perfect examples of how hard it is to support quality over junk. Just watch as any new sci-fi or fantasy movie comes the reaction from the greater geeky masses. They will Tweet their interest, share trailers on Facebook and basically be ready to hand over their money as soon as they see it has all of the earmarks of "geeky" culture in it. That cruddy movie needs only a certain amount of curious geeks to be rewarded for making a piece of crap.

The same happens with MMOs of any kind. If a little buzz (or a lot) is pushed, players are willing to form guilds, fansites, and to plunk down a lot of money before they have ever even played the game for themselves. The game comes out, makes a large sum of money, then settles down onto a half a dozen servers that are hardly touched by developers again. Geeks are impatient -- they want their geek cred (and virtual goods) and they want it now, even if it means rewarding possibly shoddy design.

Is this happening with the mobile market? Again, it's to early to say for sure, but as someone who is pretty much aware of every single mobile MMO out there (or will find out soon enough,) I have to say that I am a little worried. The better titles are out there, but new ones are sluggishly being released. For every brave new title that tries something new, there is yet another text-based Mob Wars style game that has more players than you'd think possible. Also, customer service or moderation in a lot of these games can be shoddy at best, which leaves nothing but power players left in a lot of the games.

Mobile MMO gaming has to be very careful. Not only are the devices constantly changing, becoming more powerful and cheaper, but we're always just one hot new device away from having to start all over. The smart developers are preparing for this by making games that will run in almost any environment, the less experienced developers are only working with one device or operating system.

In the end, it comes down to us as players. We have to reward that which is good, and ignore the bad. That means that we have to take mobile gaming as seriously as we do when we sit at our PC. Sure, it might be kind of neat to sit in the waiting room and play some version of a mobile MMO, but stop short of plunking your money into the game until you have been honest with yourself: Am I having fun? Will I play this later?

It's very important that we reward those games that are taking the space seriously, and are trying something new. If we don't, we'll end up with more Mob Wars to play. And nobody wants that.

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, Facebook, or Raptr.
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