I’m becoming less bothered by mobile game shenanigans

I remember a time, when smartphones were new and novel, that I thought that the original Angry Birds, specifically the free version, was the absolute worst. It had the audacity to show ads between levels. And sometimes banners during the level. And it was a whole dollar to get rid of them. Ah, if only we knew then how bad things could become.

Fast forward to 2019, and I got eye strain from rolling my eyes at everyone being shocked and outraged that the Elder Scrolls mobile game was monetized like a mobile game, with increasingly long wait timers on chests, buildings, and crafting, and green pay-to-win gems offering to help you skip past it all. None of it surprises me, and none of it is half as bad as half of what’s on the Google Play/iOS App Store. What’s the big deal? This seems totally normal and reasonable for a high production value, free-to-play mobile game! I’m way more bothered by the unreasonably long loading screens than the business model.

I can’t decide if I’m bothered by this change of attitude. On the one hand, I feel like I should be up in arms about the trend of exploitative, bait-and-switch monetization that’s taking over games these days. I shouldn’t be playing these games, because, even if I’m not giving them money, I’m supporting them by spending time in their game.

But another part of me feels like this is just how it is now. Me refusing to download a game isn’t going to cause game companies to change their ways. What modern game can you go to these days that isn’t flirting with some kind of frustrating business practices? If the game is fun despite its monetization model, I’ll play it. Or, perhaps more accurately, if a game isn’t so obnoxious in its monetization that I can have fun and not give them money, I’ll play it.

There’s a certain meta-game to trying to get as much out of a free-to-play as you can for little to no money. I remember when LotRO went free-to-play, one of the first to do so, there were a bunch of players who prided themselves on scheming all kinds of ways to get things from the cash shop for free by creating a new character, doing some “easy” low level achievements for the small amount of cash shop currency they rewarded, then deleting that character and starting the whole process over. In Guild Wars 2, people have been similarly farming the free Black Lion chest keys given for completing certain story chapters for years, to the point that ArenaNet has had to come up with several different strategies to thwart key farmers. I’m sure there are tons of examples of this in a wide variety of MMOs, but you get the point.

But is this really fun? Isn’t this just making your MMO into another job? Many have pointed out that you could pick up a few hours at a minimum wage job and earn enough money to buy way more cash shop currency in a lot less time. But, for these people, it’s not about efficiency, it’s about feeling like they gamed the system. Plus, let’s be honest, even repetitive achievement farming is way more fun than flipping burgers.

While I’ve long since given up on this kind of thing in MMOs, this is kind of how I feel about mobile games like Fire Emblem Heroes or Dragalia Lost or Clash Royale. I’m a little embarrassed to even admit that I play gacha-heavy mobile games like that, but, in a way, trying to grind out enough currency to get the best characters for free is the thing that keeps me in the game. Shortcutting by buying currency would take the fun out of it. I feel a little better about Elder Scrolls Blades, because, while a lot of my best gear came from lootboxes, some of it was also crafted from materials I got from quests (and lootboxes), which feels like a decent compromise.

People get really upset over this topic, to the point that I’ve sat on this post for a while before working up the courage to post it. I’ve been told I’m an anti-mobile elitist PC gamer for claiming that competitive games like MOBAs and shooters don’t work on mobile and companies should stop trying to shoehorn them in, and I’ve been called things I don’t care to repeat for daring to suggest that the upcoming mobile Diablo might be a reasonably fun game. This reminds me of a post that Massively OP ran[LINK] recently wherein Tyler made the claim, which seemed pretty innocuous to me, that being an elitist is dumb, so stoppit. The comments immediately erupted with outcries along the lines of “How dare you tell me what to like!” He was not trying to tell us what to like and what not to like, he was pointing out that liking a thing and screaming at people who like that thing are not the only two options. I didn’t think that was an extreme viewpoint, but apparently some people did.

Anyways, enough rabbit trails. What do you think? Has The Industry just worn me down so much that I just don’t see how terrible the games I play are anymore? Or is acceptance of the way things are, and making my own fun regardless, the ideal here?

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Old School RuneScape Mobile

I’ve been playing RuneScape on a device that fits in my pocket. We are officially in the future.

As you may remember from past posts on the subject, RuneScape was my first MMO back in 2005. I played it for about five or six years, subscribing for most of that time. I was lured away by various other, newer MMOs and when I returned, the game was so different that it just wan’t appealing to me. So when they announced Old School, I was interested, and I would dabble in it from time to time. Since Old School characters are separate from those in the main game, I had to start all over, which is fun, but loses some of its charm when you’re remembering all the things you used to be able to do, and realize that it will probably take you years to get back to that point. Then they announced Old School for Mobile, and I was very interested. I’ve been thinking for years that RuneScape would be great on mobile with only minimal tweaking. It’s already point-and-click, with low-end graphics that theoretically shouldn’t burden even a relatively old or cheap phone.

Old School RuneScape Mobile recently went into beta/early access/soft launch/whatever we’re calling it these days. Currently it’s only available to subscribers on Android, though it’s supposed to be available to everyone October 30th. Fortunately, Twitch Prime offered a free month of subscription (plus purple skin, just in case you want to look like Thanos’s blockier little brother), so I was able to get in without having to pay. I’ve been impressed with how well it plays on my phone. I don’t have an Android tablet (yet? This might finally convince me I need one), and sometimes games are a little cramped on a smaller screen. RuneScape, however, was originally designed to be played in a browser on a 1024×768 monitor, so it’s no stranger to small screen spaces. Also, the UI has been redesigned to collapse into the edges of the screen, so you don’t have to try to navigate around the inventory and chat box if you’re not using them. The game’s overall slow pace helps a lot as well. Inventory management is a little hard, since fingers are imprecise, but it’s far from the worst mobile user experience I’ve had.

My only complaint is battery consumption. I generally burn through at least 50% of my battery just playing on my lunch hour. This isn’t really surprising–most 3D games, especially online ones, are about the same–but it’s something I’d like to see them work on if possible. It has been pretty kind to my data plan, though, which surprised me (I don’t have access to reliable wifi at my desk).

It has been fun getting to know this game again on mobile. While I’m at my PC, I want a full PC experience, but this is something I can do in my down time while I’m at work or out and about. Between this, Maplestory, and Final Fantasy XI (that’s still supposedly coming to mobile, right?), it makes me wonder what other older MMOs would work on mobile. I’d love to give Guild Wars 1 a try on mobile!

Crusaders of Light: The Okayest Mobile MMO I’ve Ever Played

I’m not a big fan of mobile games in general. Mobile lends itself to the worst kinds of free-to-play games; your smartphone is easily accessible, especially in short bursts, and many people have their credit card information saved to their account, so it’s the perfect venue for lockboxes, wait-to-play, pay-to-win/pay-to-advance, and other annoying marketing strategies hoping to capitalize on impulsive spenders. Add to that the fact that touch controls are inherently awkward and imprecise, and it’s just not a very good platform for games. There are some gems–Mage Gauntlet, Bloons TD 5, Implosion, and a few ports like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Final Fantasy III and IV come to mind–but most of them are paid games, and honestly I’d choose to play all of those on my PC if I was sitting in front of it.

And yet mobile is just so darned so convenient. Who among us hasn’t been stuck in a waiting room or something and wished that they could somehow play their favorite MMO? So I’ve been on a quest for a while for a good MMORPG (or even an MMO-ish ARPG) that I can play when I’m AFK. Sadly, I’ve mostly searched in vain. I’ve waded through a lot of badly translated imports (poor translations ruin the experience for me; I’d rather have no dialog than bad dialog) and mediocre gameplay without finding much worth playing.

I think I first came across Crusaders of Light on Massively OP. It’s pretty much your standard Chinese WoW clone. The graphics, while very clearly trying to imitate Blizzard’s iconic style, are passable, and the gameplay looked fun enough, so I gave it a shot. I was impressed by the fact that it’s fully voiced. I’ve always felt that fully voiced media has better translation than plain text, not only because it means that the company had to sink a decent amount of money into translation, but also because you at least had to get an English speaking person (presumably a native speaker) to read the lines, and they will probably object to awkward syntax or outright nonsense phrases. I also enjoy the combat. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s fun to run around, dodging red circles and slinging fireballs. I’ve resigned that autopath/autoplay is just a thing that all mobile MMOs seem to have. I get it, it’s annoying to run for long periods on a mobile device, but it also serves to disconnect me from the game. At least Crusaders of Light makes me feel a little more in control, asking me to press buttons to interact with objects instead of just watching my character gather five flowers and return to the questgiver with zero input from me (the moment I decided Lineage II mobile wasn’t for me was the moment when my phone went to sleep due to inactivity while I was “playing”). Also, pressing any button stops the autopathing, which is nice because some games I’ve tried have made me feel like I’m fighting the game for control until I tap the quest button to stop autoplay.

Overall, it’s far from the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s the closest thing to having a decent MMORPG experience on my phone that I’ve found so far. I’m still pretty early on in the game, and I can see it getting old fast, so we’ll see if there’s enough to keep me coming back.

Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for mobile MMOs! I’ll definitely be going back to RuneScape (probably just Oldschool, but who knows) when that launches on mobile, and if the Tree of Savior mobile version ever materializes I’d be interested to give that a shot too.

On Mobile Ports

Let me just say this up front: I’m not a huge fan of mobile games (“mobile games,” for the purposes of this article, meaning “smart phone/tablet games”). Touchscreens are horrible for playing anything more advanced than Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Give me a keyboard and mouse or a controller any day. It’s not about the graphics; I hated Infinity Blade and that had nice enough graphics. It is about game companies (and Apple fanboys) trying to convince me that in 10 years every core gamer like me is going to be playing the new Half Life by swiping their fingers across a screen. That is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Yes, there are controllers for iOS and Android (the MOGA seems to be the current favorite), but if I’m going to carry a controller around with me everywhere, why wouldn’t I just carry my 3DS with me? If I’m not supposed to carry a controller with me everywhere, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of it being portable? Wouldn’t a microconsole (like, my favorite, the Ouya) be a better option?

Now that that rant is over, let’s talk about the issue at hand: mobile ports. Inevitably, companies are going to see the ridiculous popularity and profits of games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope and want a piece of the action. It’s easier and cheaper to adapt an existing or in-development game to a new platform than to try to develop a whole new game for a different platform. I can’t blame companies for this, but some games make the transition better than others.

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