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Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side? - PC to Mobile ports and vice versa

A military shooter game being played on the mobile phone

Porting from PC to Mobile

Over the last decade, mobile gaming has taken the world by storm; from the ever-green match-3 genre games to action packed character-collecting ones. In fact, mobile gaming has been taking the lion's share of the revenue in the video gaming industry. Outperforming both the PC and console markets for a good number of years now. As such, it is no surprise to see that the traditional PC and console game developers feeling the need to reach into the pie and porting their games to mobile. We see this happening with a good number of big IPs, like PUBG and most recently, Call of Duty.

However, is it absolutely necessary for all PC/Console games to make this move? It is both related to technical limitations and a game design philosophy.

Back in the early 2010s, a number of AAA titles tried to port their console titles over to mobile. On top of the hardware limitations and smaller screens of phones back then, the games were designed for longer play sessions. When these factors were coupled together, the result was a terrible gaming experience. As such, we no longer speak of their existence.

Given that technology has improved by leaps and bounds, it is indeed a better time to be putting out higher quality game ports to mobile. Leaving only the game design philosophy as a key determining factor.

If you would notice, a good number of the well-performing mobile games (including ports) all allow for shorter bursts of playtime. Their design involves shorter levels or rounds, usually taking less than 20 minutes a sitting. This caters to the nature of mobile gamers, who generally play games during their commute or while waiting in line at a crowded supermarket on a Sunday afternoon.

So, before you make the decision to port your PC/console game over to mobile, do have a good think. Would it fall in line with the gaming habits of the typical mobile game player?

Porting from Mobile to PC

Conversely, we have also observed that a number of mobile games are taking the reverse path; these mobile games have launched their own official PC ports. Why then, would mobile game developers do that, since mobile gaming is already taking the such a large portion of the video gaming industry?

To answer that question, we have to understand that within the mobile gaming space, there are huge disparities in profitability of the different types of games. In short, some are more cost effective to develop than others, despite the revenue difference, a less popular game with less revenue may actually be generating more profits than a higher rated game with greater revenue.

If we were to take a closer look at the mobile games with PC ports, they tend to be games that are full of visual splendor, catering to the "mid-core" and "hardcore" gamers. Otherwise, they are deeply-loved "classics" getting a refresh.

In the case of the former, it is obvious that the developers are trying to capture additional users on PC (who also tend to be mid and hardcore gamers), while simultaneously providing additional options to their userbase that sits in the overlap between Mobile and PC/console gaming. As per the reasoning above, action games tend to be more costly to develop. With more time needed to create new characters, animations, visual and sound effects, game balance... and the list goes on. It is crucial for each new feature added to reach as wide an audience as possible to maximize the cost effectiveness of development. From the mobile gamers' perspective, they get to see their beloved characters and gameplay on a bigger screen! And they also have the option to play the same game on the go! So what's there to complain about?

On the other hand, the mobile "classics" play on the nostalgic factor. Refreshing an old title with a slightly newer look to match the current generation of technology is comparatively a more cost effective development endeavor. The older players who grew up playing it have now gained some purchasing power and wouldn't mind shelling a few more dollars to replay the game on a bigger screen. And sometimes, the developers sweeten the deal with added features, or easter eggs. Its a win-win, or so it would seem.

In any case, if you are a mobile developer thinking of porting to the PC, perhaps study your audience for a while more. Does your game appeal to the audience there? Are they asking for the port? Do you expect it to become a cult classic that can be refreshed in a few years time? More importantly, do you have the budget to do so?

(These questions are also applicable to porting in the other direction)


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