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MMObility: How mobile devices avoid the PC upgrade curse


In a few weeks, I will drive to the official AT&T store, talk to someone behind the counter for 30 or 40 minutes, pay a small fee of 50 to 100 dollars, and walk out with a newer, shinier, faster smartphone than I came in with. Then I'll wait two years, pay the difference between the brand-new phone in my example and an even newer new phone of the future and go home to repeat the process. If you're a customer of AT&T or another large carrier, you are probably very familiar with the situation I am describing. Is it much different from upgrading a desktop gaming machine every two years?

Well, it is and it is not. I've been thinking a lot about the way we spend money on electronics. In the room where I'm writing this, I have at least nine different devices that allow me to get online, check emails, communicate, and play MMOs. Have I spent too much money, or was I smart in my decisions? What happens to all of these devices after I'm done with them? Is the gaming PC the smarter path?

Beau showing some devices before haircut
Before I decide whether mobile MMO gaming is better or worse than desktop MMO gaming, I have to weigh the pros and cons of both. I do this every week in some way when I write one of my different columns. Free for All is a column that generally covers any MMO topic I want. It started off covering the oncoming world of free-to-play games, but as we have seen, it's harder to find a non-free-to-play MMO than ever before. Massively has columns dedicated to certain heavy-hitting MMOs, so Free for All has slanted to odd, indie, and browser MMOs, a subgenre that continues to need coverage.

Rise and Shiny is a column that forces me to really search for MMOs, but even then I mostly cover client- and browser-based MMOs because of the difficulties of streaming a mobile game live. Rise and Shiny always features a livestream or video of my playtime in the game I am covering that week. So the column you are reading now is reserved for mobile MMO gaming. Sure, it's a much smaller world than most other genres, but it's growing along with mobile devices' ability to perform more like a standard desktop machine.

"It's a bit ironic that I am so in love with mobile gaming but rarely leave the house long enough to take full advantage of gaming while on the go."

While I play the games required for all of these columns, I find myself switching from one spot of the house to another. It's a bit ironic that I am so in love with mobile gaming but rarely leave the house long enough to take full advantage of gaming while on the go. Still, I have found that I prefer to move around during the workday. It's healthier for the at-home body and allows me to game in spots with better lighting or comfier pillows. Nothing beats gaming from bed at night while some fluffy program runs on the television. So mobile has become more of a lifestyle for me even though I do not travel a lot. When I do travel to a convention or to a relative's house, I find that I am too busy interviewing devs or playing with nieces and nephews to concern myself with MMOs. You could definitely say that I am a mobile convert, someone who tries to preach the message to others.

So what is the difference between buying new mobile products every so often and purchasing a new or upgraded desktop every few years? Is there a difference, or am I just on a parallel hamster wheel of neverending purchases?

I think there is a key difference between mobile and desktop: cost. While both mobile technology and desktops are becoming cheaper, MMOs and other client-based games will continually challenge the power of our desktops. There will always be a new client or graphics option that will push our desktops to the brink of meltdown, forcing us to travel once again to the local Fry's or Best Buy. I'm facing this battle right now because my PC is starting to show signs of wear, especially when I stream games for MassivelyTV. Soon I will have to either buy a new PC or spend hundreds on upgrading my current one.

Don't get me wrong; mobile gaming is being challenged with nicer-looking games as well. Thanks to products like the wonderful Google Nexus 7 tablet, though, mobile gaming is becoming more powerful while falling in price. For $200, a mobile fan can get one of the most powerful and portable gaming machines on the market. Forget buying a new 3DS or PlayStation Vita; get a tablet instead and have access to amazing games and MMOs that are a fraction of the cost. The demand for tablets is going up, and so the prices will continue to come down. Gaming PCs were always more of a niche than a standard workstation, so those powerful rigs continue to climb.

"Except when it comes to graphics, mobile MMOs feature the same things you can find on any desktop: persistent worlds, real-time action, and deep strategy."

If we look at my earlier example of a new phone, it's pretty standard practice for any one of the major cellular companies to offer the "two-year upgrade" plan. It's an easy way to buy a new phone for a lower price at the time you would be shopping for a new one anyway. I'll probably go for a newer HTC phone instead of breaking for the biggest and baddest. After all, I can save 100 or so dollars with HTC, still obtain a good quality phone, and have access to the internet -- and my mobile MMOs -- anywhere there is a signal. AT&T now takes my old phone in for trade, saving me more money and eliminating the worry of recycling the old one.

I will not pretend that mobile MMOs can do everything that desktop clients can. But the only difference is in how realistic a desktop client can look, while mobile MMOs are still limited by a phone or tablet's power. Except when it comes to graphics, mobile MMOs feature the same things you can find on any desktop: persistent worlds, real-time action, and deep strategy. On top of that, mobile devices come with browsers that offer basically the same experience (minus Flash) that you can find on a desktop browser. Between the browser and the app market, mobile MMO gaming now offers scores of titles.

I think I can rest easy knowing that my mobile tech obsession is nowhere near as costly as my older desktop upgrade need. Is the hamster wheel of upgrading the same between the two? It is... in practice. The difference is that upgrading a new phone or tablet every two years costs a fraction or maybe half of what it costs to keep up with the latest desktops, and the mobile market is growing faster than any other gaming market we've seen. We're getting much more powerful mobile devices, at a much lower cost, than ever before.

To me that's a huge difference. I think I'll stick to the two-year plan.

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.

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