Part II: The Future of Mobile Games

As stated in Part I of this post, in the coming years games for mobile devices will likely continue to dominate Google and Apple app stores downloads. So what kind of mobile games can we expect to see in the coming future? Reading up on the subject I came across some interesting articles and interviews that I’d like to discuss.

First was an interview with Ray Sharma, founder of Toronto-based XMG Studio, an award-winning developer and publisher of mobile games. In the interview by Herbert Lui at Techvibes, Sharma discusses the possibilities and challenges of porting immersive games (i.e. complex console games) to the iPad, noting how the quality of the iPad display today is excellent, and muliti-core processors within mobile devices are getting us closer to this reality. However, issues may arise with exporting user interfaces from console games, creating compatibility issues with mobile devices.

Minority Report-type interfaces for mobile devices?

Lui illustrates this point by drawing from a previous interview with Digital Extremes‘ Michael Schmalz, describing how “the friction of the screen (in comparison to the ease of using a joystick) would hold the tablet gaming experience back.” Sharma, in turn, predicts the use of motion-detection in future mobile games – kind of like ‘Minority Report’, as Lui points out. In the future, projectors will possibly be integrated into mobile devices, allowing for ‘Minority Report-esque’ interfaces.

I remember last year seeing a fan video about the iPhone 5 that shows a holographic keyboard being used to type a message on the phone’s screen. Is such a feature possible?

The Celluon Magic Cube

If there already exist gadgets that can be attached to smartphones and tablets to achieve this effect, then it’s conceivable that such a feature will at some point become a part of the mobile device itself. This type of technology can, and in all likelihood will, completely revolutionize the way in which developers approach game design. Imagine an interactive interface that pops out of your phone or tablet’s screen, requiring you to interact with an application that is virtually displayed outside the confines you device’ s screen. Or how about the possibility of playing a game that is projected next to the phone, or above it, allowing you to manipulate holographic game objects to play a game? These are exciting prospects indeed.

AR Technology - How far can it go?

Another huge advancement, I believe, will be in augmented reality technology for mobile devices. AR software is technology that ‘augments’ a device’s camera view of a physical, real-world environment by blending it with virtual imaging – all in real time. Quite a few games and apps with this feature already exist for both Android and iOS. It has been argued, however, that these kinds of games haven’t yet hit the mainstream in terms of most-downloaded mobile applications. On the other hand, I’d argue that, as augmented reality technology becomes more advanced, the interest in these games will likely increase.

There are several challenges facing augmented reality technology today. For instance, in order to play a game, mobile users “have to contort (themselves) around a tablet or a smartphone,” states Rafe Needleman at CNET News. This is true: having to awkwardly move your body while pointing and looking at a small screen can negatively affect player experience. I’m not sure how this challenge will be overcome, considering that mobile devices are designed to be small, and by consequence, have small screens! Perhaps AR software will couple with holographic imaging to create a truly revolutionary gaming experience?

Neebleman also points out the issue that some AR apps require users to print out an “AR ‘target’ that (the) app uses as a beacon, over which it can display its imagery.” This ‘tablet-and-target’ system, he explains, work ‘just fine’ for some applications, like something for an art gallery, but for others, pointing a camera at a particular place, waiting for the software to lock onto the target, then keeping the phone focused on that target while interacting with the app all seem a bit too much to ask users. I couldn’t agree more. Mobile gamers cannot be expected to spend too much time first getting the app set up, then asked to hold their mobile device in place to play the game. This could get physically tiring – and quite possibly annoying if the user keeps moving from the target and losing the image. Yet this challenge is being effectively tackled by developers, whereby AR Apps are now capable of overlaying their virtual world over the real one without needing an artificial target – think of Droid Shooter or Sky Siege.

It should be noted that many AR games today are incorporating geolocation awareness, creating single player or competitive multiplayer player games that have players getting off their couches and into the street to play. Games like Zombies, Run!Parallel Kingdom, or Gigaputt or just a few mobile games that are changing the way in which people play games on their phones. The total physical response approach to mobile games – kind of like what the Wii and Kinnect have done for consoles – is slowly gaining momentum in the mobile gaming world.

So then, holographic, yet-to-be-seen interactive user interfaces and game screen projections, as well as the implementation of augmented reality software are only some ways in which games in the mobile sector seem to be going. I would argue that these innovations point to the future of the genre. This is not to say that the kinds of games we play today won’t exist anymore, it’s just that as AR software becomes more refined, and as revolutionary technologies enabling awesome new capabilities for mobile devices become available for our phones and tablets, mobile games and their developers will evolve accordingly.

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