A screenshot from Lili on iPad

iOS Gaming: Worth Your Time?

(Note: while I’m writing this post ahead of a forthcoming series of regular-ish posts focusing on my favorite iOS gaming experiences, most of what I have to say here relates to mobile gaming in general. For now my bias is towards iOS gaming because that’s the OS my phone and tablet uses. No Android devices for me, sorry!)

As you can imagine, I know many people who are passionate about video games. A significant chunk of those people also own an iOS device, be it an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, yet are actively choosing not to play games on it.

Scooby Doo is confused by the lack of iOS gaming on iOS devices too!


Yes, it confused me too, so a while back I asked some of my Twitter pals to explain their reasoning. Most of the replies were variations of the following:

“I really, really, really hate touchscreen controls!”

I can understand the touchscreen control issue. We’ve spent the last 30 years with joysticks, gamepads, keyboards and mice, so it stands to reason that a gesture-based system is going to take some getting used to. And I’m not just talking about gamers getting used to it, but developers too.

There’s still a pervading tendency to create “virtual” gamepads for touchscreen games, which of course is a completely bonkers notion. The problem wouldn’t really exist if it weren’t for developers trying to bring gamepad-based gaming experiences to a touchscreen device rather than, I dunno, touchscreen-based gaming experiences to a touchscreen device. But gamepads are all everyone really knows, so that’s where we’re kinda stuck.

But touchscreen gaming does work when done right. It can take some getting used to, but let’s not forget it wasn’t too long ago that the gaming community balked en masse at the prospect of playing first-person shooters on a gamepad. Now it’s the most widely-used control method for such games. We got used to gamepads, we’ll get used to touchscreens too. At least until iOS 7 introduces universal controller support, in which case all bets are off. 

“I’ve never really considered my iPhone/iPad to be a capable gaming device.”

This may have been true four or five years ago, when this technology was in its infancy, but today’s smartphones and tablets are extremely powerful machines that continue to blur the line between mobile and desktop (or mobile and console box).

Five years ago you were lucky to get a decent game of Tetris running on your phone. Now you can play things like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Deus Ex: The Fall. 

Phones and tablets are almost always purchased for purposes other than playing games. The ability to make phone calls, listen to music, read books and visit web sites is usually as much as anyone reasonably expects their phone or tablet to do. Everyone’s aware that there are games available via the AppStore, but I still pick up on a lingering perception that in order to play “proper” games you need a dedicated gaming device, such as a PS3 or Xbox 360.

Which brings us to the next point:

“Smartphone/tablet games are all about freemium/paywall bullshit!”

Yes, the chaff on the App Store far outweighs the wheat. But that’s also true for Steam, PSN, XBLA, and just about every other kind of retail store in the history of forever.

However, the major difference here is that it’s a lot easier to release objectively terrible games on the App Store than it is anywhere else, so unless you find a trustworthy third-party to curate all this nonsense you’ve no hope of being able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I personally detest freemium/paywall games; the vast majority of them are designed to encourage addictive behavior which is then exploited by the publisher for cash, which in turn strengthens that addictive behavior, and so on.

iOS Gaming: more than just another fix of Candy Crush Saga!

“Just need one more fix of that sweet, crushed candy…”

It doesn’t help now that almost every video game publisher has decided, with approximately 30 years’ worth of evidence to the contrary, that the freemium/paywall model is now the only way to make money out of games, but there is a ton of awesome stuff out there for which you pay a one time fee up front, get to play a decent game for about 6-12 hours, then never have to spend money on that game ever again and I can’t believe I’m typing out this sentence as if it’s describing a revolutionary new way to consume games.

There are even games out there which, after you’ve paid a small one-time fee, actually continue to give you new content for free: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Plague Inc, etc. Unfortunately, people are inherently stupid, so an awesome $3 game that regularly updates itself with free content is deemed “too expensive” next to a shitty free game that compels the user to spend an additional five bucks a week buying “more energy” for the better part of a year.

We now have a market saturated by “games” that are completely devoid of anything resembling a cognitive challenge, requiring little more of the player than two minutes of screen-tapping to collect “stuff” followed by a 24-hour wait (or a 99¢ IAP to speed things up) before new “stuff” appears. It’s no wonder non-gamers see gamers as intellectually stunted manchildren if this has become the dictionary definition of a “game” in the mobile space.

“Mobile games are rubbish and just for kids—they will never be as good as my manly console games!”

This is where we start getting into highly subjective territory, but really the argument that mobile games just aren’t “worthy” doesn’t really hold water.

It’s all about keeping expectations in check. No, you’re not going to find the equivalent of a balls-to-the-wall Crysis style FPS experience on your mobile device any time soon. But they’re close. And no, you won’t find open-world games with the epic scope and visual splendor of GTA V. But they’re close too.

Spy Mouse HD on iPad

Spy Mouse HD on iPad: the cutest stealth game that ever did cute.

But what you will find (at least on iOS) is no end of awesome puzzle games such as Fuusio, Hundreds, Little Luca, Girls Like Robots, and The Room; quirky platformers like Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, Waking Mars, and Lost Winds; no end of quirky physics-based games along the lines of Badland, Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Cut the Rope, and Bridgy Jones; stealth-based titles such as Dynamite Jack, Tiny Thief, and Spy Mouse; nifty RPGs in the form of Squids Wild West, Zenonia, Lili, and Ravensword: Shadowlands; for strategy fans there’s Star Command, Battle of the Bulge, Autumn Dynasty, and Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy; adventure fans get Fetch, Year Walk, Gemini Rue, and The Walking Dead; and so on.

In short, there’s something for everyone. I like to think that those folks turning a blind eye to iOS gaming are doing so simply because they unfortunately discovered the bad stuff before they discovered the good stuff, rather than because of some misplaced “smartphones/tablets aren’t proper gaming systems” snobbery.

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting about all my favorite iOS games right here on RunJumpFire. I hope some of you take the time to try out some of these recommendations and maybe persuade a few people that the gaming possibilities of their iPad/iPhone are well worth exploring.

In the meantime, do you own an iOS device? If so, are you actively exploring the world of iOS games or do you prefer to get your gaming fixes elsewhere? What does the iPad or iPhone lack that would persuade you to play games on them more often?

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About Mark Stevens

Mark is British but lives in the USA, which is why you'll see him flip-flopping between British and American spelling without a care in the world. As a veteran of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras you'll notice a decidedly retro slant to his posts, but he has just as much to say about contemporary gaming too. Outside the world of blogging Mark has previously written for Wired and The Guardian and has written a number of Doctor Who short stories for Big Finish.