From Tokyo to San Francisco, mobile game studios have struggled for years to captivate fickle audiences, fostering an overlooked problem: the average title has become so huge that gamers can no longer fit more than a few on their phones.
Japanese game publisher Gree Inc. expects an imminent consideration of escalating costs and file sizes, as developers pack their games with increasingly complex graphics, voice acting and larger scenarios, all to entice players to spend. This creates a winner-takes-all situation that could wipe out smaller studios for years to come, Gree senior vice president Yuta Maeda said in an interview. Things will only get worse as Sony’s console veteran – accustomed to space-hogging hits – prepares to invade the mobile arena.
“Mobile game production cannot avoid becoming more complex, time-consuming and larger-scale, which will inevitably lead to larger app sizes,” Maeda said. “The companies that survive in the market will only be the ones that can keep up with this trend.”
Spending has been on today’s A-list mobile titles – MiHoYo Co.’s Genshin Impact, for example, started with a budget of $100 million – rivals Hollywood blockbusters and produces better values production than ever before, but also a disproportionate footprint. This game can take up over 20 gigabytes of storage, which is a huge chunk of what most people have on their phones. With memory upgrades not keeping pace, the result is that fewer games can compete for attention.
“Even though gamers are showing interest in our games, we’ve seen some of them give up on installing the apps because their phones are already full,” said Yoshihide Koizumi of Gree, who leads marketing for the latest game. of the company, Heaven Burns Red.
Sony, one of the console gaming giants, has outlined plans to bring its top-tier PlayStation franchises to mobile platforms. Rival Microsoft Corp. also builds an Xbox mobile game store. All of this puts pressure on the entrenched free-to-play business model followed by Gree and others. These publishers rely on monetizing game items and upgrades, regularly adding more content for players to buy and play with.
The most common workaround from game studios is to only put a basic installer in the app stores, which then downloads other game assets once the player boots up. Gree uses it with Heaven Burns Red, which is an initial 1GB and tops out at 10GB for players who want the full experience.
The typical flagship smartphone today starts with 128GB of storage, but many devices already in people’s hands have significantly less. Necessary operating system files also take up a significant portion of the base allocation, leaving even less room for big games. But memory upgrades are expensive.
“As smartphone prices have increased dramatically over the years, users tend to buy the cheaper versions of the latest devices, which have lower storage,” said Francisco Jeronimo, vice president of analytics at IDC. . “Devices with more storage can cost up to 50% more, and most users don’t realize that apps take up a lot more space and they’ll download a lot more apps.”
Gree’s Maeda and Koizumi said reducing data requests at the expense of game quality is not an option. Exceeding player expectations is now considered the minimum requirement for a game to stick around for the long haul, prompting studios to be more aggressive in their spending and marketing.
To catch fans’ attention, the company hired a famous writer to write the script for Heaven Burns Red. Other mobile publishers have pushed the envelope with more faithful graphics, video and voice actors in their titles – and Gree’s big 10GB game won’t be the exception but the rule going forward, Maeda said. . He expects mobile gaming to continue to grow as expectations rise with more big-budget console and PC games coming to mobile.
“Most big-game mobile game successes come from Asian developers, but I think Western studios are poised to follow this trend,” said Tokyo-based industry analyst Serkan Toto. “Users expect increasingly high quality from mobile games. File size definitely has only one direction going forward: up and to the right. »
Cloud gaming, the long-promised next step in connected gaming that would house all gaming progress, assets, and compute-intensive work on remote servers, has yet to significantly materialize to address the storage shortage. Alphabet Inc.’s Google Stadia service was one of the best-funded such initiatives, but the company recently decided to shut it down due to lack of player adoption — it now serves as a cautionary tale.
Offloading other phone content like photos and videos – which are also gaining momentum with more advanced cameras – to the cloud becomes an expensive affair. Free online storage from Google, Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. is inadequate for the job, in part because these companies want to push users to subscribe to paid storage.
The threat to smaller companies now is that ever larger game productions will simply take over with the brute force of their marketing budgets and reach.
“The only hope would be for handset makers to realize this is a critical issue for their ecosystem and come up with larger storage models,” said Toyo Securities analyst Hideki Yasuda. “Without them changing course, the future for mobile game companies is bleak and industry consolidation is likely to come.”