“Mobile-first” is a common enough phrase in the search engine optimization (SEO) realm. Surging numbers of mobile device users have forced the issue of optimizing for phone and tablet use across the board for companies with websites. Manifold businesses are finding that capturing this mobile audience is actually more important than capturing the desktop audience. Riding the same wave, many companies such as Big Fish Games have scrambled to utilize this space, bringing gaming to mobile devices in creative and colorful ways.
But, for the most part, mobile gaming falls infinitely short of console or computer gaming. The Overwatch enthusiast isn’t going to be looking to play that game on a tablet, much less a phone. The majority of Triple-A game titles would never dream of squashing themselves into a handheld device. Imagine: Destiny 2, tucked into your pocket or purse. While a plentiful selection of mobile games is available for your phone, the console gamer is still forced to be that – a console gamer, not a phone gamer… until now?
Enter thatgamecompany, an independent studio founded in 2006 by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago. Remember Flow? How about Flower? Maybe your most recent experience with thatgamecompany was through their particularly hypnotic piece, Journey. Journey was released for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, along with Flower and Flow. The latter two were also given PS Vita releases. Each game possesses a certain quality unique to the studio that, once tasted, is impossible to forget. They’re more than just games to pass the time. They’re wonderful, charming works of art that linger long after you’ve put the controller away.
On November 16, thatgamecompany announced their newest project – their most surprising, and perhaps most ambitious, project yet. Instead of focusing again on a Sony console, thatgamecompany has chosen a completely different route: mobile gaming. Meet SKY, the “social adventure game” that will first release on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Additional platforms are teased, per thatgamecompany’s website, but the message is clear. This game is to be for the mobile-device user, not the console gamer. This game is to be mobile-first.
The November announcement follows the Nintendo Switch’s release date by around eight months. The Nintendo Switch attempts to bridge the gap of the mobile vs. home gaming experience by allowing you to play on the go as well as from the couch on your TV. Granted, the Switch is no iPhone. It’s still a gaming-specific device, and even so it struggles from its lack of hardware capabilities. The trade-off with game devices has always been the same. If you want a better game, you’ve got to have the better device, whether that’s the difference between the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii or the PS Vita and the PS4.
But times are changing. Mobile devices, particularly phones, are becoming ludicrously high-tech – and more importantly, ludicrously ubiquitous. The mobile audience isn’t a subsect of a subsect. The mobile audience is… well, everyone. And with mobile devices comes a new kind of social connectivity. How often do we check our phones for our Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook accounts? How often do we use them to share or communicate with others? Constantly, constantly, constantly.
This is why SKY is such a fascinating phenomenon, more so than a simple port-over like Minecraft to the mobile sphere. SKY isn’t going to be a game that was flattened to fit onto your mobile device. It’s going to be a game created by a well-established and well-respected studio specifically for your mobile device. And graphically speaking? Given the gameplay videos that have already been released, it looks to be just as visually and aesthetically pleasing as anything thatgamecompany has already put out.
The studio explains their newest project by referencing the many letters they received from fans of previous hits like Flower. Their fans wanted something they could share and play with their family, instead of the distinctively solo experience that thatgamecompany was known for in their games. But they didn’t stop with just simply creating a co-op campaign. They made it a mission to make it as accessible as possible. To do so? They’re making it mobile-first.
Other stellar modern games like Limbo, Broken Age, and Don’t Starve have already made it to the little screen inside your pocket. Certainly, all of these games, including SKY when it comes out, couldn’t be considered anything close to a Triple-A title. But are we really so far away from a world where massive games could fit onto tiny devices? Are we really so far away from a world where “mobile-first” thinking dominates not only the business and social spectrum, but the gaming one as well?
Thatgamecompany is taking a mighty leap of faith with the mobile-first movement, and we’ll have to wait and see if the world of gaming is ready for this upcoming, and surely inevitable, evolution.