Mobile’s Growth Is Shifting the Landscape of Game Development

When Hideo Kojima, creator of the best selling Metal Gear Solid video game, mused recently that, “In the near future, we’ll have games that don’t depend on any platform,” he made some in the console world nervous. Hiroshi Kawano, chief of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, sat nearby and responded by calling Kojima’s prediction “bold.”

Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid
Screen shot: Wikipedia

The pair spoke at a pre-launch event for Metal Gear Solid: Peace
Walker
, which is being introduced for Sony’s portable PSP device.
Working on the PSP, Kojima said, would give his team experience in
portable gaming, which will help them eventually develop on-demand games
for the Internet.

Given the growth of mobile devices,
it’s not surprising those on gaming’s leading edge are thinking along
such lines. The investment firm Morgan Stanley just
released a report predicting that mobile access of the Web will be bigger than desktop access by 2015. (One interesting tidbit from the report: Games are the biggest app category on mobile devices.)

Crossroads

Indeed, “with the increase in speed and power of mobile devices, the games industry is at a crossroads. Should they see mobile platforms as viable development platforms or continue to focus on their core user base?” says Wendy Jones, department chair of game development bachelor of science at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla. She thinks mobile platforms provide the business with the chance to “expand their reach and grab the attention of more consumers by being delivered across platforms.”

Others contend that no matter how dramatically mobile grows, console games will continue to offer a richer, more engaging experience. “I cannot imagine myself playing NHL ’10 online using a mobile device,” says Juuso Hietalahti, a game developer who blogs at gameproducer.net. “I’ll stick with PS3.”

Still, those working to design and code games need to pay attention. Writing for mobile applications places tighter restrictions on their approaches, and may force them to become more familiar with aspects of networking they hadn’t considered before. “If mobile games start to really go online, where multiple people play the games, I’d guess understanding how networking works might become even more important,” observes Hietalahti.

Adds Jones: “Mobile devices are now forcing people to take a look under the hood and learn optimizations they may have ignored in the past.”

Good News at the Door

For veterans of the games world, mobile’s rise undoubtedly means some headwinds as they consider how both business models and technologies might change, and how they’ll have to grow their skill sets to accommodate both. But for those new to the field, the changing landscape could mean opportunity.”The game development tools have matured, and basically anyone can roll up his sleeves and knock together a game demo,” says Hietalahti.

The dynamics of the business help, too. “Getting into game development has always been about learning as much as you can,” says Jones. “A lot of the new mobile devices give those just starting out a dedicated platform they can focus on that has some of the restrictions that will force them into good coding practices.”

The payoff? “When you do fancy stuff, the companies will come to you asking for you to join their teams,” says Hietalahti.

— Mark Feffer

 

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