Mobile Games vs Portable Consoles

10 January 2013

There’s an increasing trend in the media to compare mobile gaming to the rest of the gaming industry. We don’t really have a huge problem with this, as a video game is still a video game, no matter how simple or complex it may be. However, this trend has begun to lead to confusion with some people having difficulty seeing the pros and cons of buying a mobile gaming console or simply sticking with their mobile device.

With Mobile Gaming being labelled as the most popular form of portable gaming many parents and casual users can take this to mean that mobile gaming is somehow better or comparable to portable console gaming. This isn’t really the case. We’re not saying that one is better than the other, but it’s important to understand that, even though both involve gaming on-the-go, the two end up providing fairly dissimilar experiences.

There is also the questions of convenience and price to consider, as buying a separate portable console for gaming is more expensive than just relying on the phone you already have, not to mention the higher price of games on said console. It also means that you have another gadget to carry around with you, adding to the increasing amount of stuff we cram in to our pockets these days.

The Mobile Gaming Experience

Mobile games, or games for smartphones and tablets, are becoming more and more detailed every day. As the power and capabilities of our smartphones increase so can the complexity and graphics of the games and apps they support.

Mobile games are a fantastic way to squeeze in some light casual gaming to fill what might otherwise be periods of boredom. On the bus or train, while waiting for someone, before an appointment or just about any time where you find yourself with nothing to do is generally where you’ll see people whip out their smartphones and start tapping away.

Of course there are the exceptions that spend a couple of hours each day on a specific game that they just don’t get tired of. But generally people tend to not spend too much time playing a mobile game in one long burst.

Basically mobile gaming is still a very casual affair and it definitely has its place. Being able to jump and in and out of a game without breaking some kind of immersion is a handy option to have. Where mobile games tend to fall short is in the areas of storyline, character development, intricate soundtracks and often they don’t even boast a particular amount of forethought put in to movement and controls.

The Portable Console Experience

Modern gaming of a more ‘serious’ nature goes to far greater lengths in order to provide an immersive and enjoyable experience than many people realise. The days of merrily jumping on the heads of goombas are not totally behind us, but the gaming industry can offer a player much, much more if they want it.

These days a game can be just as or more detailed than a big-budget Hollywood movie. Because of the sheer amount of screen-time a game can get storylines can be developed in huge detail. Characters are given a chance to develop even while you’re playing the game through voice-over dialogue and clumsy exposition isn’t usually an issue, as any required information can be conveyed while the action is taking place.

Huge amounts of money are spent on creating a deeply immersive experience. Not only are the above mentioned topics important for this, but also music score, voice-acting, graphics and movement control.

A big-budget modern game title will usually have its very own original sound track (OST) written entirely for the game itself. Dynamic music is also employed, whereby the music score changes depending on how thick the action is at a specific point in time. This isn’t so much a scripted “play at this time and stop at this time” process, as much as it is a “when all the bad guys have been defeated go back to the relaxed melody” process. This helps to draw the gamer even further in to or out of the action depending on the context.

Voice acting has become a pretty big deal. Michael Ironside, Patrick Stewart, Brian Cox, Liam Neeson, Andy Serkis, Kiefer Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson and the fan-favorite Bruce Campbell are just some examples of actors who have appeared in video games within the last 10 years. This newer focus on voice acting in games allows the developers to create deeper stories and richer characters that a player actually cares about, rather than simply viewing them as a pixelated means to obtain enjoyment.

We could go on, but by now you should get the idea: modern games try to be just as in-depth or even more in-depth as modern movies, only you’re in control for most of the exciting bits.

This is the kind of experience that portable consoles like the Sony PS Vita have now started offering. Of course you still have the more casual games, but even what would be considered a casual game on a portable console is still generally more in-depth and boasts a larger variety of gameplay than a mobile game.

Obviously when it comes to that 5 minute wait for the bus you aren’t going to whip out the latest epic saga between good or evil and jump back in to the storyline; there’s simply not enough time. But as we mentioned portable consoles do make room for that more casual experience as well.

Price and Purchasing

Mobile Gaming

In the area of pricing mobile games and portable console games see huge differences in price, as well as some (lessening) differences in modes of distribution.

Mobile games tend to be on the cheap side. Depending on the operating system which you’re using, paid mobile games tend to be between around $1-$4. Many mobile games are actually free, with either in-game advertising or in-app micro-purchasing making up for lost sales. Some mobile games do run over the $10 mark, but they tend to be few and far between.

In-app purchases are transactions that actually take place within the game itself. For example, you may be playing a combat game and find that your character isn’t doing enough damage. You may then decide to purchase a better weapon using a special form on in-game currency which can only be purchased for real money. So you may end up buying ‘5000 Game Gold’ for a pre-set amount of real money. These purchases can go from as small as $5 right up to well over $100, with larger ‘Gold Packs’ being better value than the smaller ones. Some of these games are possible to finish without completely in-app purchases while others make it extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The way these games are distributed is over an applications market, or app store. Each operating system (OS) has its own official app store. iOS has the Apple App Store, Android has Google Play (previously Android Market) and Windows Phone has the Windows Phone Marketplace as well as the Xbox Live Marketplace, both of which are commonly simply amalgamated in to the name ‘Marketplace’.

These distribution systems rely entirely on downloadable digital content, rather than any physical products. Some games can be downloaded over your 3G or 4G data plan, but some are so large that a WiFi or direct-tether connection is required or at least heavily recommended.

Portable Consoles

Portable Console Games, on the other hand, rely more on the traditional model of paying up-front. Bigger titles tend to go for between $40-$50 but can vary up and down from that figure. For these titles the entire game is supplied and in-app purchases are not really a part of the experience.

These games are usually supplied in physical copies and must be bought from a store or shipped by mail if bought over the web.

Obviously this allows for games to be larger and more detailed, but presents the issue of storage and portability. Where on a smartphone all of your games are stored on the hard drive, with a portable console one generally needs to plan whatever game one wishes to play and pack them together along with the console. This means that not only is the console added to your extra gadget luggage but also the games themselves. This isn’t a big issue if you have a bag or are planning a trip, but the drawbacks are obvious when compared to the total simplicity of using your smartphone, something that you already carry with you, as both your gaming device and game storage unit.

Games can also sometimes be purchased over the air on portable consoles, but while this is increasing in regularity it is still much less common than physical copies.

In Summary

We’d like to reiterate that when it comes to these two very different types of gaming experiences one is not necessarily ‘better’ than the other. While portable consoles offer a deeper gaming experience with superior graphics, content and immersion a smartphone offers a faster and easier form of diversion for the casual gamer.

There are also the differences in pricing to take in to account. You may not be willing to spend the extra money on a portable console as well as fork out between $40 and $60 for new each new title.

So at the end of the day mobile gaming offers a cheaper and easier alternative, with advantages in portability, distribution and casually jumping in and out of games.

Portable consoles offer a far more intricate and immersive level of gaming but are more expensive and take up more room in your pockets or bag.



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