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Can indies compete in mobile with the likes of Nintendo, Konami and Square Enix?

Indie Mavens talk agility and going cross-platform
Can indies compete in mobile with the likes of Nintendo, Konami and Square Enix?
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The past few weeks have been big ones for news of bigger studios shifting their focus towards making mobile games after years of toying with the medium, clinging on to the precipice of console games. 

Earlier in the year we had the news that Nintendo would finally be embracing mobile as a platform to develop its iconic games on. Following on from that, Sega announced it would be focusing on creating "console quality" games for mobile.

Then, in the past two weeks both Konami and Square Enix said that they would be pursuing mobile as their primary platform.

So find out what other developers made of it, we turned to our Indie Mavens to find out how they perceive the difference between console and mobile by asking them the following question:

Konami, Sega, and Square Enix announced they are shifting their focus towards mobile gaming, with the latter company saying this was due to the console markets in North America and Europe [becoming] increasingly competitive and oligopolistic.

Does that sentiment ring true from your perspective?

And, as indies, which platform do you currently see as having the biggest opportunity for you to gain a sizeable player base?"

Richard Perrin

Richard Perrin

Owner at Locked Door Puzzle

The shift of bigger developers and publishers targeting mobile is one of the reasons I'm leaning away from mobile right now.

There's definitely a big audience and a lot of money in mobile but reaching them on a small budget is feeling increasingly like a dice roll.

“I feel like a lot of indies fall into a trap of trying to out do the big boys on their own turf.”
Richard Perrin

I think the bigger publishers have realised that spending their marketing money on mobile games is likely to get them better bang for their buck than the traditional console market where they've already had decades exhausting every avenue of attack and are now facing increasing competition over the same base of customers.

As I say though for me this doesn't make me feel I should be follow their lead, more that I should be getting out of the way and looking for audiences and markets that aren't being so heavily targets.

That's one of the huge benefits we have as indies that seems to be often forgotten. We can make games for an under-serviced niche and make a reasonable return that wouldn't make sense for bigger company.

I feel like a lot of indies fall into a trap of trying to out do the big boys on their own turf. Sure a few have succeeded but why even try when there's so many options open to us?

Arnold Rauers

Arnold Rauers

Designer at Tiny Touch Tales

I think their statement of "increasing competitiveness" is kind of strange since the mobile market is the most competitve at the moment of all digital markets I believe.

I think that most of the big companies see Supercell or King cash in big times with just a few titles. But the real question for me is can those antique console dev teams adjust to the way mobile games for casual gamers, who don't spend $60 and 100 hours into a game, are made.

In addition to that they will enter a highly saturated and mature market that can only be conquered with either super strong IPs or (that's what one would hope) really fresh and interesting games.

Francois Alliot

Francois Alliot

Designer at Nerial

As an indie, my main aim is to be able to keep making new and strange games, not really take position on a market. At least not in any way that could impede my freedom to do whatever the hell I have in mind.

I certainly don’t have the same sort of pressure as Konami. I’m quite happy with a ridiculous share of any of these markets as long as it let me go forward, build my audience, keep creating the things I want.


It’s really the main aim for me and the one you shouldn’t lost sight of as an indie: build your own catalogue before any strategic aim.

Not just because it’s fashionable or bizarrely romantic to say 'whatever happens I do what I want', but because you have to build an identity to be able to secure your audience, make sure people recognize your games.And that comes before any strategic move.

“Build your own catalogue before any strategic aim.”
Francois Alliot

The best example of that for me is Aliceffekt: what he does is coherent, magnificent, magical... whatever the platform. And people are waiting for his stuff to happen! The truer he is to his strange and special vision, the more coherent and engaged is his audience.

With Arnaud, we published two mobile games and I am releasing a game on Steam next month. The first two are a puzzle and a sport game (well, sort of), the last one is a strategy game.

There’s no connection between the genres and the devices they run on, but despite that my audience is slowly taking shape, taking momentum. It’s very diverse, it probably wouldn’t make sense for a large publisher, but it works for me… just enough to carry on and try new things (apparently it will be a narrative game and a shoot-em-up, because why not.

Leanne Bayley

Leanne Bayley

Developer at We Heart Dragons

I think Arnold is totally right, if Square Enix think they'll have an easier time competing on mobile they're delusional. I also feel if they rely on their legacy the same way they have done in the console market, they will still only be appealing to the same audience they already have.

“If Square Enix think they'll have an easier time competing on mobile they're delusional.”
Leanne Bayley

I also hope this push to mobile from the bigger studios brings some new and exciting games and not just branded re-skins of existing genres.

As for me as an indie, mobile is still the easiest platform for us to release on and it suits our games. However, it's not the best option in terms of capturing a sizeable player base.

With more and more money being pumped into advertising by the big guns (and soon the console dinosaurs) visibility for the little guy is just going to get harder and harder. Because of this, we're looking at how we can broaden our reach, not necessarily switch platforms but how/if we can cover more.

Maybe once all the console publishers join the (new) mobile gold rush all the indies can reclaim the console market?

Kepa Auwae

Kepa Auwae

Business / Design at RocketCat Games

Surely any strategy that Konami has pursued recently is going to be just full of wisdom.

The best platform right now for indies for getting the biggest player base is probably "all of them that you can manage to get your game on". It seems strange to just focus on one or the other.

For future stuff I'm mostly shooting on PC first, then every console I can, then mobile if the controls and structure makes sense on those platforms.

Not all at once, but with breaks in between releases. Each launch drawing more players.

Jyri Kilpelainen

Jyri Kilpelainen

Designer at Jyri Kilpelainen

Which platform isn't becoming increasingly competitive? More games are made than ever before so no matter which platform you pick, you will see more competition than, say, a few years ago.

“Which platform isn't becoming increasingly competitive?”
Jyri Kilpelainen

Isn't the latest statistics saying that there are around 500 games being released every day on App Store? That's a lot of competition. Of course big companies like Square Enix have good contacts and big budgets for user acquisition but so does lots of other mobile game companies.

I think that the "best" platform for indie depends a lot on what kind of game you are making.

Some games work the best on mobile, others on PC and consoles. Owners of new devices such as Apple Watch want content so those are uncharted waters also worth exploring.

I agree with Kepa that although it requires a lot more work, I think it's still wise to go as multiplatform as possible. Better to spread the eggs to many baskets than just one.

Constantin Graf

Constantin Graf

Designer at Rebus Mind

Personally, it makes me sad to see Konami and Square Enix, two of my favorite studios from my youth, shifting away from consoles.

“From my experience many casual mobile gamers don't grow attached to the games they play. ”
Constantin Graf

But I can understand the reason behind that. Big studios have the money to establish themselves quickly on the mobile market, but honestly I'm not sure if that's works in the long run.

From my experience many casual mobile gamers don't grow attached to the games they play. They download it, play it for an hour or so, and delete it again.

That makes it hard to create a community, which is based on interaction with one another. That doesn't mean that those users don't generate revenue, but it's harder to rely on them (e.g. for a sequel).

I think on consoles or the PC it is easier to find people that want to engage with what they are playing. That doesn't really have much to do with the system, though, but with the attitude of the user towards gaming in general.

Nathan Fouts

Nathan Fouts

Founder at Mommy's Best Games

The biggest shift I noticed when we went from Xbox/Steam to mobile, was the immediacy of explaining and promoting the game.

For Serious Sam Double D on XBLA, I was very excited to have a game there, and gamers understood it, but I still had sort of explain "when you get back to your Xbox 360, on the XBLA channel, then get it". 


For Finger Derpy on mobile, I can simply say "just search the name and you can play it now". It's the first time any of our games were instantly in everyone's hands (and I mean everyone - like my in-laws or my kid's teachers included) which feels pretty great. Part of that is making a casual game, but it's also being on mobile.

But obviously we're not 'staying on mobile'. Like most devs, we'll continue to play the field: console, Steam, and yes--mobile.

With cross-platform suites like Unity, it simply makes sense to put in the extra time and make sure you port to all receptive platforms.

Pavel Ahafonau

Pavel Ahafonau

Co-founder at Happymagenta

Probably the "shifts focus to mobile" shouldn't be read as "leaving consoles completely".

So, there is probably nothing to worry about console products coming from Square Enix and Konami - just because, as others said above, cross-platform engines allow to support as many platforms as you can, saving budgets.

Yet, hopefully, we'll see much more of their stuff on mobile.

Mike Rose

Mike Rose

PR Manager and Developer Relations at Ripstone

So the funny thing about this shift is that it's the exact opposite of where indie devs are shifting - which makes sense, of course.

To really make it big on mobile right now, you need to have a ton of money that you can throw at marketing and advertising, which is something that these giant companies have, but indies don't.

On the flipside, 50,000 sales on a console is no good for a big company, but for an indie that's bliss.