“Of course, it is not meant for everyone. It is targeted at the large segment of people who play PUBG, Asphalt, Fortnite and other games. It is a gaming phone.”
Those were the words of a senior executive from a brand that had just launched a gaming phone, a device that is becoming slightly more popular in the smartphone market than it was a few years ago. There are at least three manufacturers in India that have released gaming phones – Asus, Nubia and Black Shark. All three of them combine very gamer-friendly design with top of the line hardware and software tweaks to ensure that the gaming experience is a very good one – there are overclocked processors, lots of RAM, special displays with high response rates, special cooling systems, and so on.
The assumption in some Android quarters seems to be: you need great hardware to really get superb gaming experience. And that would seem to make sense. I mean, that’s what gaming on PCs taught us, didn’t it? With great hardware comes a great gaming experience.
Or does it?
For, notwithstanding what some might believe, gaming is not ALL about PCs. There exists the console world, which many insist is the “real” gaming world – indeed, many smartphone manufacturers themselves talk of delivering “console” like experiences on their devices. And there, the benchmark for a good gaming experience is rather different. There the stress was more on the gaming library that a console platform had rather than the hardware itself, as the hardware was pretty much equal across users of the same console. There is not much you can do in pure hardware terms, although some might talk of larger displays and better sound systems, but those are not something that the console manufacturer can actually control. It really becomes mostly about the games, which is why many console wars actually end up being about the games on each platform, with every party trying to get an exclusive which is not available on its rival.
And that seems to be the path that Apple seems to be taking as far as gaming on the iPhone and iPad goes. A few days ago, the brand launched its Arcade gaming service along with iOS 13. For those who might have missed it, Arcade was all about giving you access to a special range of gaming titles for a monthly subscription fee. The games would come with zero ads and in-app purchases. The interesting part? The games would not be available for anyone who did not have Apple Arcade on their device, and would be optimised to run on iOS devices (at the time of writing). The biggest attraction of Apple Arcade? Not the hardware (which would pretty much be standard – iPhones and iPads) but the games!
Even as some Android players try to highlight the hardware to promise a better experience (the good old gaming PC route), Apple is actually looking to score on the gaming library. At the time of writing, Google had also unveiled an app and game subscription service but unlike Arcade, it does not hint at exclusivity. Not yet, anyways. Apple with Arcade seems to be following something like a Nintendo formula – games will run smoothly on our systems because they have been made specially for them and them alone.
Android, like iOS, is also following a template of sorts – better and specialised hardware for gaming – but it faces a very different challenge. And that is that game developers for the platform tend to develop games that can run even on mid- and low-segment devices. Developers of titles like PUBG and Fortnite are actually trying to make them more accessible on relatively modest-specced devices. And this developer tendency is understandable – after all, the mid-segment is where most users are, and where the money is. This is very different from PC gaming, where the gaming bucks are made on a relatively higher end. EA is not likely to lose sleep if someone with a Rs 20,000 basic notebook cannot run FIFA or Need for Speed on it, but mobile developers are trying to make their games run on Rs 10,000 devices, and sometimes even come out with special “lite” versions for them. The reason is simple: gaming on PCs is a relatively niche activity, but extremely mainstream on smartphones. As a consequence, mobile game developers prefer to make smaller games for huge audiences (often on low to mid segment devices) rather than complex games for a power-phone toting niche.
In short, Android has the hardware, but needs games to not just make the most of it, but do so exclusively (we are still waiting for the first major title that demands 8 GB of RAM!). Apple on the other hand might not have comparable hardware but has games that will exclusively run on it. Right now, the odds seem to be favouring the Cupertino company, but these are early days. There are indications that game developers are coming out with titles to leverage gaming phone features, such as high display refresh rates and customisable controls. And we will have an all-out gaming war when gaming phones on Android get their own special array of titles. It would be very much “Game on” then!
We are getting such console vs PC feels already though. Grab some popcorn and watch that mobile gaming space. Things could get…interesting. Oh and feisty too!