There's been a lot of talk recently around the idea of E3 losing its relevance. You wouldn't know it, however, if you went to the show itself. Major publishers like Sony and EA are pulling out of E3 in favor of their own events, but the companies that do attend go hard. Some commission giant sculptures of game characters, others hire a DJ to spin at their booth, and others still wine and dine attendees all in the hopes that they can pull your focus for just a minute, long enough to make you consider playing their game.
That makes it a waste, we've decided as a culture, when all those efforts and resources go towards showing you a mobile game. TheGamer's own Patrick Kobek made this point after a Bethesda conference many felt was lacking. Instead of showing anything of Starfield or the new Elder Scrolls, Bethesda gave a considerable amount of stage time to two mobile games. Many viewers even expressed interest in Commander Keen's Saturday morning cartoon style only to instantly lose it the moment they saw it was a phone game.
Mobile games have been around for years, so I won't waste time outlining the many reasons why gamers as a whole dislike them. At best, they tend to be cheap copies of our favorite console/PC games. At worst, they're predatory cash grabs. Yet, they're not going away anytime soon, because investors love them. Pokémon GO, which often prompts a "people still play this?" comment every time we bring it up, made over $65 million dollars this April alone. So, of course, companies will continue to trot them out during E3. All of that money makes them think we love mobile games.
The good news is that there are developers who know we hate mobile games. They know about their reputation for being low quality and shady, and they're working to deliver an experience more worthy of being shown alongside their more robust cousins.
Black Desert Mobile Tackles The Hate Head-On
Pearl Abyss, the developer behind Black Desert Online, held its second annual "Into The Abyss" event at E3. It was essentially a more fan-focused version of an E3 conference. Everyone got free popcorn and drinks, along with some quality swag. As for the presentation itself, it was a no-frills showcase of what the Black Desert team was working on. TheGamer got a sneak peek at the news before E3, so I expected the announcements.
I did not expect one of the game's directors to stand in front of an audience and say "I know you guys aren't big fans of mobile games." Yet, that's exactly what happened. I can't quote him exactly, as he spoke through a translator, but there was a definite admission that he knew mobile games were not what we had come to see.
He knew that Black Desert Online fans were itching to hear about a new expansion, a character class, anything but a mobile version of the MMO they already invested so much into on PC. Yet, he pressed on eagerly and even claimed he would show us why Black Desert Mobile is more than just a cheap copy.
This portion of the presentation put repeated emphasis on quality. Pearl Abyss wanted us to know that Black Desert Mobile would have great graphics and large scale battles just like the regular game. It would even add new features to define it as its own thing, such as a town management system. It looked and sounded very ambitious, but also very sincere. These developers do not seem to be throwing out a mobile version just to fish for money from a casual audience. They really want to deliver a hearty product on par with the main Black Desert game. At least that's the sense that I, and the other audience members who applauded at the end of the presentation, seemed to get.
I still won't be buying microtransactions when Black Desert Mobile launches in the US later this year, but I did buy into Pearl Abyss' passion.
Don't Sleep On The Mobile Switch Ports
I also spent some of my E3 time with Gameloft, a veteran mobile developer. Their catalog includes everything from CSI: Slots to several official Disney games. The jewel in their crown, based on how excited they seemed to be during our meeting, is Asphalt 9: Legends.
There was one key difference between my Gameloft meeting and the Black Desert Online event. I actually went to Gameloft specifically to check out its mobile games. The Gameloft guys did not brush them aside. These games are their bread-and-butter, after all. They spoke proudly of their partnership with Disney and the joy of winning an iTunes award for Asphalt 9: Legends. They know what their product is and they're not ashamed of it.
Gameloft is actually facing the opposite challenge of Bethesda. While the Fallout developer wants its hardcore fans to adopt mobile offerings, Gameloft hopes to convince the console faithful to play Asphalt 9: Legends. The game will be coming to Nintendo Switch soon, and Gameloft is adding some smart new functions to make it feel like the console games we're used to.
The most jaw-dropping addition for me was split-screen multiplayer. It feels like forever since the last time I played a split-screen racing game on a Nintendo console, and yet there I was reliving those Mario Kart 64 memories thanks to a mobile port. It definitely blurred the line between what I thought were two very different sides of gaming. Gameloft, for what it's worth, also spoke about its focus on quality when bringing its flagship game to a new platform.
Mobile Is Inevitable, But It Doesn't Have To Be The Villain
I, like many others watching Bethesda's show, groaned when Commander Keen turned out to be a mobile game. I play Pokémon GO daily and I still question the audacity of mobile games that dare invade my E3. It took spending time with developers who didn't have investors breathing down their necks to remind me that developers actually care about making gamers happy. They just also have to pay the bills, and that means more mobile games.
However, maybe, just maybe, there's a future where mobile game are what make us happy. Or at least one where they're not so dang annoying.