Mobile Mavens

Blue-sky thinking: What's the future of mobile games?

Time for our Mavens to tell us what's next

Blue-sky thinking: What's the future of mobile games?

Given it's the summer, this week's Maven question wasn't about the news, but instead provided an opportunity to consider the future. 

So, partly inspired by Ben Cousins' talk about wearables and the next gaming platform at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki, I asked...

The era of mass market mobile gaming has now been around since 2008, but what will come next?

Will wearables - Google Glass, smartwatches etc - provide a more intuitive way to play, especially if the Internet of Things gets gamified?

Can smart TV rebound, maybe thanks to VR technology like Oculus?

Or will hardware itself become commoditised as games become service layers in the cloud that automatically reconfigure their gameplay to whatever device we want to play them on?

Or, maybe, mobile phones are the end of the evolutionary process?

Also, adding a bonus question:

With the ex-CEOs of Chillingo and GetJar both launching merchandising services based on 3D printing, so will that new technology revolutionise gaming in some "delightful" way we do not yet understand?


Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

I’m excited about smart TV’s future because at some point someone will get it right and it’ll be in every home and will be a huge opportunity for games.

As devices become smaller their immediacy increases and the agency decreases.
Will Luton

Right now those leading the way are lacklustre – the UX totally sucks and nobody wants to engage with it. It feels a lot like those later Symbian phones that had all the spec an iPhone would later have but without the UX, so completely unusable.

Smart TV is a huge open goal.

Wearables, especially smartwatches, however I’m much more bullish about in the short term. I believe we’re at the inflection point between early and mass adoption. The last Pebble figures we’re around 400,000 (and I’m sure more now),

Android Wear is now out and gathering steam, plus we’re about to see Apple’s iWatch. Maybe as soon as September 9.

What’s exciting about smartwatches is the approach to designing for them. They aren’t like mobile devices – the usage is very different. As devices become smaller their immediacy increases and the agency decreases. Smartwatches are the very smallest yet.

I launched Pixel Miner for Pebble a month or so ago and it was created in such a way that players could have a hundred meaningful five second sessions a day, rather than ten two minute sessions as we’d see in mobile.

Will Luton's Pixel Miner: short and sweet

That was pretty new thinking and I think one of the first true smartwatch games. It hit number two all time most loved game on Pebble in a week. Now seventh all-time most loved app, just over taking Foursquare. Awesome player retention. It works.

So as with all new technologies, the battle isn’t hardware itself but the user experience.

Harry Holmwood CEO Marvelous Europe

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Harry was European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

Harry is CEO of Magicave.

I agree with Will - smart TVs in theory are fantastic - already I consume pretty much all my TV content via one. Even though the UI is pretty ropey it's stopped me replacing the ageing PC I've had plugged into the TV for years now.

We'll see a bunch more false starts with Kinect or Wii-type controls before someone just nails it. I suspect the right solution is control via a smartphone or tablet, but all the efforts I've seen to-date have been risible.

Oculus is awesome, as is Morpheus. I think we'll see some really exciting experiences.
Harry Holmwood

Also with Will on smartwatches. I bought an Android Wear watch to see how differently I interacted with it compared to a phone, and I'm sold. Again, it's not quite what I want it to be but there's huge potential, as Will says, for large numbers of small (and discreet) interactions rather than small numbers of lengthier ones.

I will share one personal experience with a smartwatch which took me by surprise though.

These days I tend to wear glasses for screen work and reading, and when I don't have them on, increasingly have to do the 'old man' thing of holding reading material at arm's length.

It's not a problem with a phone, but a smartwatch is on your wrist, and you need to angle your arm to see the screen, so it's a good 30 cm closer to your eyes than you can hold a phone. As a result, I struggle to read the screen without my reading glasses on. This undoes the benefit of the quick glance/short swipe interactions that are fundamental to a smartwatch experience.

Will Motorola's 306 smartwatch drive wearable adoption?

Instead of reaching into my pocket and pulling out my phone, now I have to reach in for my glasses. I've actually started wearing my reading glasses most of the time to avoid this problem. Please don't recommend bifocals.

Strangely, and I'm interested to see if other people feel this, the thing I've enjoyed most about my smartwatch is talking into it to ask for navigation instructions while I'm driving (my phone being mounted on my car windscreen and springing into action with the navigation without my having to touch it).

I can't explain why talking to a computer via my watch actually feels more natural than doing the same via my phone, other than it's some kind of Knight Rider fantasy being lived out.

Oculus is awesome, as is Morpheus, and I think we'll see some really exciting experiences there. I'm slightly worried about the high number of dev kits that have been sold - I suspect a lot of developers are jumping on it hoping it's the new holy grail, the danger being there's too much content chasing too few users causing devs to lose interest before it even takes hold.

I think there's a big opportunity to get into VR now at budgets beyond the scope of the smallest devs but well below the AAA guys, and to create some truly amazing things.

Looking into the future?

Is it going to be mass market? Not in the short term, but we need to consider it as a first step along a really exciting path.

And I still don't get 3D printing. Well, not as a mass proposition, anyway. Great for companies making prototypes, but all this talk of everyone fabricating products in their own homes in a few years reminds me of those 50s visions of the future where you jetpack into your kitchen, press a few buttons and a magic machine makes whatever meal you dream up.

We'll look at it in 10 years and smile at our naivety. Or I'll be forever shamed as someone who completely missed the point.

Adam Green Managing Director / Owner Assyria Game Studios

Adam is an indie developer who works on own-IP and work-for-hire, both inside and outside the games industry. He formerly ran iOS promotion service Daily App Dream, before going on to sell the business in November 2012.

In terms of VR, I agree that I think a lot of developers are jumping in early.

I still find the current VR offerings fairly frustrating and cumbersome to use, which I think will impact on its mass market appeal.

Realistically I think this technology won't take hold in a big way until overlaid AR becomes more prevalent an affordable en-mass. It does currently exist, but is outside of consumer price ranges and needs improvement (I mean full vision AR as opposed to the Google Glass approach).

That having been said; I do think VR in some form is the 'next big thing', even if it still needs a bit of work.

Binaural audio experiences I find quite remarkable, and the potential of this technology linked with VR I do find an exciting proposition.

The power of emotions

I also think combining VR with some of the portable EEG/thought and emotion tracking technology currently in development could be incredibly interesting in the future; as it gives us the potential to not only immerse players in visual and audio experiences, but also get data back as to what they are feeling, allowing us to tailor make/adapt the experience to a given user.

Take for instance a VR horror game; we could track wether players react more strongly in terms of 'fear' when something jumps out at them, or if they find subtle creepy events more un-nerving, and then use that data to guide event triggers in future segments of the game.

Being able to potentially adapt gameplay in that way I find really exciting.

Jason Della Rocca Co-founder Execution Labs

Jason Della Rocca is the co-founder of Executions Labs, a first-of-its kind, hybrid game incubator and go-to-market accelerator that helps independent game developers produce games and bring them to market.

Formerly, Jason was a game industry consultant focused on business and cluster development, working with game studios and organizations all over the world.

Prior, he served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) for nearly nine years, and was honored for his industry building efforts with the inaugural Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Conference.

In 2009, Jason was named to Game Developer Magazine’s “Power 50,” a list which profiles 50 of the most important contributors to the state of the game industry.

As a sought after expert on the game industry, Jason has lectured at conferences and universities worldwide. He also serves on various advisory boards and volunteer roles, such as co-chairing IGDA-Montreal, as an advisor to the ICT Practice of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, and serving on the research management committee of the GRAND Network Center of Excellence

Definitely agree with comments about UX/UI being a major factor.

In part, this is why VR bores me. While it is freaking amazing technology, it does not fundamentally disrupt the user experience.

In terms of the Internet-of-things, I'm thinking of BotFighters, that location-based game from Sweden released in 2001.

You set up a little fighting robot on your phone that automatically fought with robots configured on other players' phones.

Now, extend that concept/functionality to a real-world scale tower defense-style game. A game that plays across all connected devices, and I set up my little robots that "inhabit" and protect each device (my fridge, my phone, the coffee machine at work, etc), and humans carrying phones are the troops that wander through the defenses....

Create alliances to control a floor at the office, or the coffee shop, or a block of the neighborhood.


John Griffin CMO GameSparks

I wanna play that!

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I totally agree with the view that smartwatches are a great way to go but it's not been nailed yet. It's very much like the early MP3 player days and ripe for someone to solve the use case.

I love my Galaxy Gear but it's clearly flawed.
Oscar Clark

I love my Galaxy Gear but it's clearly flawed... and it seems to me that the designers of all these devices have yet to understand the value of having an open ecosystem - or to be Apple. Let's see what they do with this.

The key for me will come when people understand that a watch is about "now"; this second...

What switched me on to why smartwatches will work is the way they make notifications work better and easier. I don't have to wait to get my phone out to see what it says I just turn my wrist.

As a gaming platform I suspect we will have to tap into that unique value. Of course that won't be helped by the unique screen aspect ratios (including the curiously circular Moto device) which will make software harder to optimise.

Google Glass - attractive advertising but little substance?

Glass does nothing for me as it's too obtrusive and hard to ignore. The only use case I have for it is with facial recognition tied into my Facebook and LinkedIn Accounts so I know if I have met you before and what you name is... with over 4,600 contacts its impossible to recognise people at events. And that has largely been ruled out.

I'm also still not sold on smart TVs but the idea of connected TVs which use easily replaced dongles still works for me.

Such a shame that the potential of the Chromecast and its great idea of using slave accounts was poorly delivered - not enough software and no support for games controllers.

The space needs to properly leverage server-side computing power as well as local rendering to really be effective. Putting the gaming platform in the cloud and letting any device tap into that seems to me to be the best way forward.

I'm still waiting to see the device which will kill off the hardware focus of console games - PS4 and Xbox One - as cloud services seems the way for me still, but perhaps it will take a while longer for that to happen.

Yeah, I'm a VR-head

I also stand by my thinking that VR will replace the hardcore gamer object of desire slot that hardware consoles once did. As a more immersive platform its the dedicated games fans who will be happiest to look like freaks. Indeed I suspect it will become a source of social identity... 'Yeah I'm a VR-head. What's your problem!'

Is there more we can do to make [3D printed] figures interactive?
Oscar Clark

I buy the 3D printing as a thing too. Disney Infinity and Skylanders tap into something pretty interesting. But the level of interaction is limited.

Being able to 3D print my own models or at least to customise my figures with a 3D printer is definitely a step forward. However, is there more we can do to make these figures interactive and appropriate for more adult audiences?

As a lapsed war gamer there is something about painting and customising figures. Having that make other things come to life on a tablet or touch screen seems enticing what if as Jason says we add robotics to those figures what will that look like.

I don't know what the answer is but I am fascinated to see how AR techniques, 3D-printed and robotic toys will come together.

I'm still waiting to see something happen with location. The application of movement as a function of gameplay can be joyful but to make that work its got to be built into an event or scheduled activity.

It's not something we want to do all the time; especially where our sofa beckons.

Harry Holmwood CEO Marvelous Europe

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Harry was European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

Harry is CEO of Magicave.

I'm with you on 3D printing for war game figures being a viable thing, and totally buy the genius of figures as a 'craft' element to the war game/role-playing game hobby.

It's more the hype that everyone will be printing everything that gets my goat. The laser printer didn't replace the printed book or magazine.

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

I have had a 3D printer since January. The technology currently inspires me creatively less than lots of other technologies because it's just so limited. Size, quality, time and effort are all mismatched even as we race towards affordability.

However, I enjoy making Creative Commons object that I know people love and use. Once the tech's overcome some hurdles there's huge potential.

Here's something I recently made for D&D.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

I love what you can do with wearables, mainly with watches and wristbands. I'm happy to be an early adopter again. It brings another great experience to mobile gaming.

At HandyGames we started with Aces of the Luftwaffe for the Sony smartwatch and smartband. And now we've moved to Android Wear so the Samsung and LG smartwatches, plus Tizen for the Samsung Gear units.

It reminds me of the early J2ME years when every OEM prefered their own technology. From a developer perspective, we require a standard and I hope we will see it soon. Without that it will be hard to produce mass market content. Currently we develop for several platforms and that doesn't make sense!

Yet it will be a huge market and I can already tell that HandyGames will invest heavily into the new wearables! When you see how many million units will be shipped in the next couple of months and years, it is a market to be in.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.