Why Are Mobile Games Still So Damn Hard To Find?

Phone app stores are still some of the worst places to find new games to play.

By Daavpuke, Posted 09 Jun 2020

Considering I just finished playing The Gardens Between and thoroughly enjoyed the ride, I wanted to spend a bit more time away from social media with a new game. For people with limited resources at hand, a modern phone is a big part of their connection, not just to the world, but also to escapism. While phones allow people to stay attached to certain hobbies, the gaming world certainly makes it so much harder than it ought to be.

Phone app stores are still some of the worst places to find new games to play. While curation has always been a problem, the front page for mobile games now has a selection process. The new problem that arises is that the overwhelming majority of games that surface are still tied to the same advantages that make discovery so damn hard.

App Store, Mobile Games

Time and again, going through the Google Play Store will feature a "recommended for you" slider that has virtually nothing to do with personal taste or curation. This supposed unique category has mostly the same games every time. At any point, the page will serve titles like Raid: Shadow Legends, Clash Royale or Brawl Stars. Herein lies the problem: The games that get "curated" are those who have invested tons of funds into advertising, which already made them ubiquitous within the mobile space. Half the adverts on YouTube and Twitch mention Raid: Shadow Legends; everyone knows it exists. No offense to titans like DotA Underlords or Teamfight Tactics, but if I wanted to play them, I'd find the avenue to them with no obstacles. There's no need to surface a colossus like that.

Even going beyond that, the info served on the recommendation page leaves much to be desired. Most of the exposure comes from a game's title, a small icon and maybe a general category, like "action"  or "puzzle." Compounding that problem, lots of these recommendations are copies of a copy of a copy; a nearly endless stream of homogenized projects, each latching on to the same tropes of a few top sellers. For people with a gasha addiction, there is an infinite supply of anime games of every variety, with interchangeable girls to obtain. While they possess different names, these anime snares are nearly indistinguishable in nature. All this doesn't even include the disturbing amount of games that steal whole assets or names, like frequently advertised Pokemon clones.

With nothing to fall back on, I personally tend to fall back on known quantities. If I am to play the same, cheap garbage, at least I'll have name recognition. In the pre-register tab, I'll frequently click on dumb titles that will one day pop up on my screen. That's how I got to play the worst Candy Crush clone I've ever put time into, named Garfield Puzzle M. Worse yet, I spent about a hundred hours into American Dad: Apocalypse Soon, because it was effortless to do so. Guess what that game was, based on the title? The answer is that the American Dad property got slapped onto Fallout Shelter, almost one-to-one, with an avalanche of microtransactions attached. Really, the building aspect was more of a secondary element, since grinding required so much effort, just to get one more room. These games are bad, bluntly put.

Game sites like us are also complicit to the obscurity of mobile games; let's take accountability for that. Considering phone apps tend to a casual crowd who doesn't read articles, there are fewer incentives to write about them. No one reads the article, so why write it in the first place? As such, marketing teams trying to surface interesting projects face a significant barrier when the game is on mobile. For instance, the reason I covered The Gardens Between is because I already played it on PC and it was one of my favorite games of 2018. That alone should speak on the lofty expectations that phone games have to fulfill. Simply being free is not good enough, not when there are a million free alternatives. At the same time, being the one name with a price tag, in a deluge of free choices, raises that much more scrutiny. Any mobile game gets trapped between a rock and a hard place. Before The Gardens Between, one of the only other games with buzz around it was Florence, because it won several awards. That's just not a realistic expectation for a majority of what's on an app store.

itch.io, App Store, Mobile Games, Store

A possible solution for this problem could come in the form of independent curation, such as game store itch.io. Quite frankly, it's surprising that this site doesn't yet single out phone games in their different tabs. There are mobile games on itch.io, but they're just as hard to find there as anywhere else. So, whether on this site or on a new framework altogether, phone apps could use a bit of specified care, by having a community-led selection process and perhaps a personal algorithm, for good measure. At this point, I'll take anything that makes me stop clicking on such gems as Bleach Mobile 3D or SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-off. Yes, those are real games. They exist.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PS4, PC
Publisher(s): The Voxel Agents
Developer(s): The Voxel Agents
Genres: Adventure
Themes: Story
Release Date: 2018-09-20

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