A couple of weeks ago, Epic Games' Mark Rein told the Go Go Games mobile conference, "You won't be competitive if you're not making triple-A mobile games in future."
But what do actual mobile developers think about that statement, and what's a triple-A mobile game anyway?
The PocketGamer.biz Mavens got straight to grips with the subject.
A question of quality
Like the great philosophers they are, a key argument was over the definition of triple-A.
Mills(tm), from UK/Swedish developer ustwo, thought that "triple-A in mobile should infer true quality, high artistic values and premium worthwhile ideas."
Providing an example, he added, "Tiny Wings is triple-A in my eyes."
Matt Meads, of Russian publisher Herocraft, took a slightly different tack, saying, "Most console houses would refer to production costs, licensing costs and marketing budget over finished game quality" when talking of triple-A games.
Michael Schade, of German developer Fishlabs, is someone who can claim to make triple-A mobile games (should such a thing exist). He had a strong view on the subject.
"We should not dilute this label with low budget games on mobile, no matter how polished and fun to play they are," he stated.
As befits his status as one of the industry's thinkers, Volker Hirsch, of German social network outfit Scoreloop, has a triple test for the definition.
- 1. Mechanic and game design - inventive, well-executed, unique twists.
- 2. Polish - graphics and art.
- 3. Branding and presentation.
"If two of the three are there, I would suggest you have a good chance," he pondered.
Of course, there was a feeling that Epic Games' status as a key console developer of games such as Gears of War, and vendor of the Unreal Engine 3, coloured Rein's experience and statement.
As Dave Castelnuovo, of US developer Bolt Creative, pointed out, "It's obvious that when Mark says triple-A title, he means multi-million dollar budgets and huge teams. He is trying to apply the evolution of console development to the mobile world. But history doesn't always repeat itself."
Christopher Kassulke of German publisher HandyGames, said the definition of triple-A from Wikipedia was, "Something that is high-quality, premier, or excellent."
He used this to come up with another way of defining triple-A.
"Only the market and consumers define what a triple-A title is," he argued. "The amount of invested budget for a title doesn't have to do anything with the triple-A status."
Kevin Dent of consultants Tiswaz, agreed. "Triple-A titles are like fine works of art, I can't tell you what they are but I know it when I see it."
Was there any consensus reached? Not, really. But did that stop the mavens talking about the future of the industry? Of course not.
Not my problem
Irrespective of definition, Jani Kahrama, of Finnish developer Secret Exit, thought the triple-A games were competing amongst themselves, and hence not an issue for most mobile developers.
"There's a sizable App Store audience that appreciates fun even if it's not pixel shaded and motion captured," he said.
Brian Baglow, of Scottish outfit Revolver PR, was more scathing; "Utter nonsense. Mark's been trolling this line since the mid-2000s, when he told me mobile would never be a platform for gaming.
"The mobile market is so diverse, the big, shiny, epic Infinity Blade-type games will only ever be a niche. A nice, high spending niche, but a niche none the less."
Matt Meads disagreed with both Brian and Jani though, arguing that "big budget productions pose the biggest risk to a mobile developer."
Jon Hare, of UK developer Tower Studios, referred to the risk of triple-A for many studios.
"Most of us certainly won't be competitive if we spunk all of our money away on a flop triple-A game," he said.
With a background in casual mobile, Richard Hazenberg, of German publisher Lunaforte, thought Rein didn't understand the mobile market, "The mobile device is first and foremost a mass market (casual) platform," he pondered.
He expanded his point: "By far the largest audience is looking for some quick entertainment to kill some time (boredom busters). A triple-A product that misses this basic understanding is either a niche product or not going to reach many mobile consumers."
Just a label
Nokia's Alex Bubb thought the argument about 'triple-A' was irrelevant and that developers must " simply match expectations of a download for that smartphone user."
"If, on balance, a user's expectations are repeatedly dashed, first he will stop paying, second he will stop downloading, and thirdly everyone loses out ," he stated
"Of course quality is king, however you call it."
Oliver Breitfeld, of German aggregator Arvato, argued that the interaction of brand and gameplay could confuse the issue.
"You can survive with a triple-A brand and a low quality game," he said, although pointing out that this wasn't sustainable in the longrun.
"It's the triple-A fun that counts and offering your players a continuous experience with updates and new features."
Big, bad troll
"It sounds like old school thinking," suggested Eros Resmini, of US mobile social platform OpenFeint. It's worked with thousands of small developers, some of whom have been very successful.
"We've seen massive success for super indies - what Mark would call single-A, I think - to super high quality with bells and whistles," Resmini explained.
"There is no magic recipe, especially when you consider return on investment."
Dave Castelnuovo, has experienced massive success with his 99c game Pocket God. He concluded Rein was a "big troll".
"There will always be a space for indies and 99c games, and they will be the games that end up evolving gameplay and the industry, while the big publishers rely on their sequels."
He also posited Rein was so immersed in a particular development model he couldn't see past it.
"We've all heard similar things by people using the freemium model, who think everything is going to be free in five years," Castelnuovo argued.
"It's just a bit of nonsense to think that everything is going to converge on a single solution. As an industry, we are more clever than that".
Sage old visionary
Yet, there was support for Rein's vision of the future too. Michael Schade said hardware advances will push up development costs.
"Triple-A productions will be key to success once mobile, PC and console gaming have fully converged, which is going to happen in less than five years given the speed of performance increase on smartphones and tablets, and the build-in connectivity and 3D rendering capabilities of TVs," he predicted.
Adam Telfer of Canadian developer XMG Studios also backed Rein. "We all know that big budgets are coming to mobile," he said.
"The gaming giants look at their profits and see mobile is booming with small budgets. They are going to try to multiply that effect with bigger budgets. If they build triple-A games and price them at 99c or free, indies will be forced to compete."
Adding, "When budgets go up, so do marketing budgets. What we indies take for granted with discoverability on the App Store may soon be gone. We will have to find new ways to be found."
Telfer expressed hope he was wrong, and the industry would stay in a golden age of development where gameplay beats budgets. But his conclusion was stark.
"I believe the honeymoon is over."
Ending the debate, Kevin Dent came over all Oscar Wilde.
"We have power in devices today that allow us to shoot for the stars. We can build games that we would not have dreamt of building a few years ago, he mused.
"Yes, using all of that power does cost more money, but personally I would rather be in the gutter, shooting for the stars than on the sidewalk shooting for the gutter."