MMObility: Bridging the gap between mobile and client-based MMOs

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MMObility: Bridging the gap between mobile and client-based MMOs
Grepolis mobile app screenshot
A mobile MMO is a great thing. A mobile app, one that acts as an extension of an existing game, can be an odd thing. Do players really use mobile apps to access information? Speaking for myself, I tend to use mobile apps to do particular things. I like to check up on PlanetSide 2 to see how the battles have gone while I've been away, for example. I can see a time when mobile apps play a much more important role in the world of client-based gaming, but what would those apps look like?

A few developers seem to have the right idea. Instead of releasing apps that concentrate on imitating the core game, these developers have released an app that is a game in itself, one that results in loot or goods that are redeemable in the standard game. Let's take a look at some of those developers and apps, as well as look for an example of some designs that we might see in the future.

Grub Guardian screenshot
Grub Guardian is an adorable tower defense-style app that is available for browser, Android, and iOS. You can log into the game using your Wizard101 account. As you successfully defend your grubs against lines of familiar Wizard101 baddies, the rewards you earn are automatically loaded into your account and can be used just like any other item in the standard game. Players can choose to skip the prizes in order to gain experience for their pet, a choice that is indicated by a check-box in the app. It's a brilliant way to keep players invested in the Wizard101 universe while away from the client-based game; it also introduces mobile gamers to the greater Wizard101 universe.

Grepolis mobile app buttonSome developers are simply releasing mobile versions of their games. Innogames has hosted mobile-friendly games for a while, but most of its browser-based lineup is available across most any browser in the market. Other titles, like The West, currently run on tablets as well. Innogames wants to go one step further by eventually releasing actual mobile apps that are a response to community demand. Browser-based gamers want push notifications of incoming attacks or other timely information. The mobile versions will serve the purpose of alerting current players as well as introducing mobile gamers to the browser-based version. Most importantly, mobile versions will allow gamers to stay connected to their favorite game anywhere. Expect a release sometime in July.

RIFT hosts an app that allows players to earn loot for in-game use, and World of Warcraft's app allows for auction-house functionality and chat! Fallen Earth's app is useful with its included chat and crafting capability. Guild Wars 2 has an app promised for the future, but we've still yet to see one. Perhaps a crafty player will use the game's API to make one for the developers?

Three dimensional, client-based games are much harder to transfer or connect to mobile. As we can see with the Wizard101 app, extending the core experience is a smart way to go. I know how many gamers think, however. If a game like PlanetSide 2 wanted to introduce an extension to the core experience by releasing an app that was a series of minigames that resulted in, say, in-game goodies, many would have a hard time imagining that app fitting in the "serious" universe of the core game. If a developer like SOE did it correctly, the app could be taken very seriously as they are with the previously mentioned apps.

The point is that mobile apps are not defined by bright colors or cute creatures. Minigames, including puzzles and match games, are enjoyed not just by children. The Puzzle Quest series of games were very successful, and they feature a deeper story and combat while also having gameplay that is based around gem-matching gameplay. Puzzle Pirates can be enjoyed on basic hardware (but has officially released a mobile version) and has a community that is made up of very hardcore players. Crafting in some games, like EverQuest II, is often described as a "minigame." It would appear that many players do not depend only on graphics to define a deeper gameplay experience.

PlanetSide 2 app screenshot
Imagine a PlanetSide 2 mobile app that did much more than served up information to players. I can see an app that would allow me to log in to a station on an orbiting platform or ship. I would be playing the role of a scientist or researcher, and my gameplay could result in buffs for players in a certain area of the planet or orbital strikes that could help swing a battle. Not only would that sort of gameplay be taken "seriously" -- even if it were puzzle-based -- but its effects would be taken seriously. The greatest benefit of a mobile app is that if I had no way of getting to my gaming PC, I could still affect the game. If the community seems offended by the affect that mobile players could have on the actual game, then the minigames in the mobile app could take a page from Wizard101 and hand out certs or goodies that can be used only by the individual in the core game.

I would love to see more mobile apps in the future, not only from awesome "younger" games like Free Realms but from more serious titles like Vanguard: Saga of Heroes or Defiance. Of course, mobile development takes resources just like any other project, but I am a dreamer. The mobile market and the client-based market do not need to be separated by lines of technology. Mobile gamers can be just as dedicated as client-based players, so why not introduce the two and bridge the gap?

One day it might be standard to see a mobile app of some kind released alongside client-based, three-dimensional titles. As someone who plays in both worlds, I would love to see such a future.

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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