Mobile Phone Games and Japanese Developers – Starting to Get Worried

People calling themselves analysts, who have absolutely no clue as to how the industry works, have been saying that mobile phone games are the future of the gaming industry, mostly due to the fact that Angry Birds was successful. I can say without doubt that mobile gaming is here to stay for a whole slew of reasons including: consumer base, cost, and time. However, the idea that mobile phone games are going to replace large-scale gaming is just as laughable as when these same analysts were saying that gaming is doomed because of Facebook games, based on the success of Farmville. I don’t usually consider mobile phone games to be of the same market as large-scale gaming, so it doesn’t really concern me. But there’s an issue that’s starting to pop up. Japanese developers have been building an increasing amount of mobile games instead of console/PC/handheld games. This is more of a reflection on the rising costs of development and the weakness of the Japanese market than it is of the successes of mobile gaming, but this is something that chafes somewhat. The reason for this is simple. I, like many others, grew up with various Japanese gaming franchises, and to see them reduced to a pile of microtransactions and weak gameplay mechanics hurts. So today, we’re going to be looking at this increasing occurrence.

Classified as a warcrime.
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I understand the appeal of mobile phone games from a developer perspective. They are incredibly cheap to make, costing a fraction of even the most paired down handheld game. On top of this, they have hidden potential to make a huge amount of profit. The idea is that a popular franchise can be made mobile, garner millions of cheap or free downloads, and then soar to massive profits via microtransactions. Simpsons Tapped Out is a free game that has made millions because of this model. That being said, this business model relies on a huge number of sales since many people won’t ever spend a dime. This cuts out a lot of independents who simply won’t get enough downloads on average to recoup their costs. But for big developers such as Square-Enix or Capcom, being able to profit from mobile phone games is about as easy as tossing an orange into the toilet, which is to say very. 
Millions
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Square-Enix has already confirmed that an increasing amount of resources are going to be funnelling into mobile phone development. This began in Japan a long time ago with Before Crisis, a Final Fantasy VII spinoff game that the west was denied. Nowadays we have games such as the mediocre, but inoffensive Final Fantasy Dimensions, and the clearcut winner for worst game of the decade Final Fantasy All the Bravest. Coming up on their roster, we have a sequel to as of yet Japan only Final Fantasy Type 1, called Agito, which was Type 1’s original name. Other large developers are dipping their fingers into this pocket as well. Capcom, to the screams of a million fanboys, announced they would be making a new Breath of Fire game, but it would exist purely on mobile devices. These companies have the brand recognition, they want to cut costs, and they live in an urbanized country where massive commuting is a daily thing. It makes sense, but it’s still a bad thing. 
Looks pretty for a mobile game. Would I rather it on any other system ever? Yes.
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Why do I think it’s bad, you might ask? I don’t hate mobile gaming, but I see it for what it is: a distraction. It’s something to do while in a waiting room, or in line, but none of it has any depth, or scope. One of the most lauded mobile game series out there is the Infinity Blade series. I’ve played them, and I would give them very high marks, something in the realm of a 9, if I were reviewing them based on mobile phone standards. However, compared to even the weakest game on the 3DS, I wouldn’t give any of them more than a 5. The reason is because they are completely different. These games don’t offer the same gaming experience, and that’s a problem as we see more and more familiar franchises get gutted in order to transition into the new medium. 
An on-rails game where you swipe to win. Do you think this would score high on consoles/PC/handhelds?
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Following this, the issue isn’t that All the Bravest exists, but the fact that it was enough of a success that  Square is going to be pushing an increasing number of games. There is a cost to everything, and development times, teams, and branding is a cost of mobile phone development. The profits that can be generated from mobile phone gaming prompts the question as to why you’d bother developing for consoles/PC/handhelds. Sure millions of gamers want those games to exist and will gladly pay $60 for the right to play them. But the development costs are so much higher that they simply don’t bring in the level of profit unless you make a massive hit like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, which no Japanese developer has managed to do over the last generation. Mobile phone development is a siren, leading unweary developers to their doom, or, in this case, irrelevance. I don’t like seeing the Japanese market stagnate the way it has been, and mobile phone gaming, while profitable is going to make things significantly worse. If a company is choiced with making risks on a new IP, or pushing a middling franchise in a big way, or copping out and releasing a stripped down mobile phone game, which is guaranteed to make profits, there is a serious chance that IPs and former great series might end up disappearing into the void that is mobile gaming. 
The only good thing about this announcement is that now people can stop fighting whether Dragon Quarter was Breath of Fire 5 or a spinoff.
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In the end, I hope I’m reading too much into the recent mobile phone game announcements from Japanese developers. It’s starting to look like a trend, which worries me greatly. Mobile phone gaming is great, and it’s a field that will likely grow by leaps and bounds over the years. But it doesn’t hold a candle to any large-scale gaming. I like it when developers make good games, the medium they use doesn’t matter. However, when I see developers taking short cuts, and creating weak, subpar games in order to maximize profits through microtransactions, I can’t help but be angry. All of this has been to say: I understand the temptation to make mobile games. The profit available is huge, and the effort is minimal. That being said, I feel that this temptation leads to weak games, and prevents the development of better ones. Japanese developers are more susceptible to this temptation than most due to their relative failure to keep up with rising development costs. And yes, I’m still really bitter about the new Breath of Fire game.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer
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