Opinion: Smart gaming is no longer the industry's idiot cousin

But content curation now vital

Opinion: Smart gaming is no longer the industry's idiot cousin
Is smart gaming finally starting to mature?

It's a question that many have been mulling over lately, not least Eurogamer, which decided this week to publicly back the sector and start giving apps reviews equal billing with the more 'traditional' games out there.

"We want the site to reflect their significance," said Eurogamer Editor-in-chief, Tom Bramwell, with a firm pledge to cover games in the same way as everything else.

You could well argue that apps have been highly significant for years, and deserved mainstream acceptance a long time ago, but for many of the 'serious' game sites, apps just didn't perhaps hit the spot in those formative years of iPhone and Android.

To be fair to Eurogamer, it championed the sector from a relatively early stage, but most of the bigger sites still struggle to adapt to the changing landscape, and have not come to terms with how to adequately cover the blizzard of games emerging from the sector.

Private hell

The same complaints about app gaming have been made privately to me many times over.

Whether it's about their depth, the cheery aesthetic, the lack of physical controls, or whether they're 'proper' games - whatever that means.

But over the years, bona fide hardcore gamers (and journalists, for that matter) have overcome their often erroneous prejudices. They've gradually come to accept that apps have become an integral part of their gaming landscape alongside the full-priced blockbusters that dominated their lives for decades prior.

The Room

It's hardly surprising that people's attitudes have thawed.

Last year, yet again, we saw another deluge of high quality games in the app sector, and you'd have to enjoy the taste of sand to think otherwise.

For many, the pick of the bunch were original titles like New Star Soccer, Waking Mars, The Room, Beat Sneak Bandit, Punch Quest, Letterpress and Fieldrunners 2 - all titles designed from the ground up to work best on smart devices.

Turning point

What has proved much harder for developers over the years has been bringing established brands to the smart gaming scene with any real success - but 2012 saw a major turning point with Ubisoft's outstanding Rayman Jungle Run.

Not only were the visuals on a par with the stunning cartoon elegance of 2011's Rayman Origins, but the game's mechanics and level design were perfectly tailored for smart devices.

Rather than include a clumsy virtual joystick for movement, running from left to right is automatic, leaving the player focused instead on timing their jumps properly.

Rayman Jungle Run

With object collection and exploration as much a part of the gameplay as Rayman Origins, Rayman Jungle Run ends up far closer to the source than you'd ever expect.

Finally, here was clear evidence that mainstream publishers have got the message that you can't simply port games designed around physical controls and expect them to work properly on touch screen-only handsets and tablets.

Shoehorned nostalgia

And yet despite the changing attitude, we still see big-name publishers ill-advisedly shoehorning popular brands onto smart devices.

Often it's the ports of retro classics that come off poorly, and you have to ask what the point is.

For example, as much as I dearly love the idea of classics like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Max Payne, Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio turning up on my iPad, playing them with touchscreen controls is unsatisfying to say the least.

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I'd much rather the talents of Rockstar, Sega (and many others) went towards designing games tailored specifically for smart devices, because you know that when they do, the results will probably be worth paying attention to.

Crazy Taxi

Just last week, Hello Games released this year's first must-have gaming app on iOS, in the shape of Joe Danger Touch.

Much like Rayman Jungle Run, it demonstrated how talented designers can broadly emulate the same style of gameplay by rethinking how to make it work well on a touchscreen.

Via a series of swipes and intuitive taps, the game is a textbook example of what developers should be trying to achieve with mobile versions of hit games.

3D headache

Of course, in both cases, the task is made somewhat easier by being side scrollers. Somewhat harder to pull off are games displayed in first or third-person 3D.

So far, 3D has proved to be a tough nut to crack for some of the most adept names in gaming, with only Electronic Arts managing to translate big console brands like Dead Space and Need for Speed: Most Wanted with any success.

It's a hit and miss affair.

Epic Games meanwhile, has shied away from attempting to sully any of its existing brands by porting unplayable versions of them, and tried something new instead with the two Infinity Blade games.

It's a strategy that has served them very well indeed, with profits that are the envy of every studio in the world.

Infinity Blade II

As well as being interesting games in their own right, they're a clear demonstration that smart gaming doesn't have to cower in the shadow of PC and console gaming and doesn't always have to rely on established brands to succeed.

Just ask the chaps down at Boss Alien while we're at it.

The fact is, games come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, to suit all our disparate needs and whims and time pressures. Sometimes we're hooked on little time sink snacks that we slot into little parts of our day, and other times we've got an entire weekend to kill.


What's pleasing is that smart gaming has seeped into the gaming habits of traditional hardcore players. It's no longer the upstart. We're not surprised by the big hits, and our mobile and tablet favourites now sit comfortably alongside the established 'blockbusters'.

And yet, despite gaming habits having changed so rapidly, serious written coverage still lags well behind where you'd perhaps expect it to be.

Part of that is down to the lower price of mobile and tablet games. Gamers no longer have to pore over reviews like they once did, and wrestle with their conscience over whether to part with $60 or more.

But the truth is that the vast deluge of apps on the scene makes the role of the media in content curation more important than ever.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.