In part one of The Future of Star Wars Video Games I argued choice-based games, seen heavily in RPGs and adventure titles, wouldn’t be possible in the new era of Star Wars. Part two chooses to instead focus on something which will continue to be part of Star Wars gaming for years to come, whether you like them or not: mobile games.
In the infancy of smartphones, which is hard to image was only back in 2007 with Apple’s first iPhone (they’re on 6 now), mobile games weren’t very numerous, popular, nor noteworthy. But as they grew in popularity, I’ll admit, as a console and PC gamer in those early days, I used to scoff at mobile games and how those who played them considered themselves ‘gamers.’ That’s pretty archaic thinking nowadays, which I’ve definitely since rectified, as mobile games have not only exploded in usage since then (with over 60 million new mobile gamers from 2011 to 2014 alone!) but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of mobile experiences and wondered why I was so against them initially.
With a nearly 150 million install base, any company with a license like Star Wars would be passing up quite a lot of cash if they didn’t dip their hand into the mobile gaming cookie jar. LucasArts, the gaming division of Lucasfilm, shuttered last year only a few months after the Disney buyout and switched to a mobile-focus while licensing out the franchise for developers (with EA picking the license up for a 10 year deal on console/PC development). Since their closure, we’ve been treated to just over 5 different mobile games (with a few being taken down already), a couple apps like the Scene Maker and Journeys series, and only a few gameplay-less trailers for the next Battlefront game.
But before all that, the Angry Birds Star Wars series really showed how a well-tuned game and inventive crossover could make for really enjoyable experience on the go; both games are still being supported to this day with tons of new content (unfortunately they are embracing the freemium world in a rather aggressive way, including making levels where you can only use the birds/pigs you bought to play in an effort to make you buy more). The rest of the new mobile experiences are primarily turn-based combat/strategy, time-gauged/freemium, card games, or a combination of all the above, but their genres are not ones I’m a fan of usually.
Galactic Defense is a tower defense game in Star Wars clothing, while Commander is a clone of Clash of Clans, a strategy game where you build defenses to withstand an attack while going out on missions to attack the enemy. In Commander, you’re likely to wait a lot, as adding buildings to your base, training troops, or upgrading defenses all take time. But maybe you’re the impatient type, or would get bored easily by games this these (like me) and want get back in the action. That’s where freemium pops up: while you may have gotten the app for free, there’s the option to use the conveniently scarce in-game resources to speed up the process. Of course you’ll run out of them quickly but thankfully there are bundles of said scarce resources to buy with real money that can cost up to $99.99! Free does have a price and it’s either your time or your money; I’ve always found it easy enough to just play for a little while, set things up to build and come back a few days later, but impatient types won’t be able to adopt that strategy.
But this influx of freemium is set to change, as I was involved in a survey on Obi Wants To Know Me where they asked us about a list of app ideas they have in mind for Star Wars. I can’t give away any specific examples, but a lot of the listed app ideas had very inventive uses of a mobile devices’ many special functions, possibly including one where you’ll get to play a game we’ve seen played on both the big and small screen (trying to keep it vague, here). The list was rather extensive, over 17 in all, with most of them being more like Scene Maker and Journeys’ type apps. Of course I have no idea of how any of the apps would play, as the more game orientated concepts could function within the freemium spectrum somewhere, but at least games possible to go that route weren’t the focus of the 17 ideas.
Companion apps have been hit or miss with video games, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if games with an online component like the upcoming Battlefront had one. Companion apps range in their functionality, from letting you respec your online characters, check out their gear, inspect your online rank, issue challenges, invite friends to your game, give extra details on stuff within the game, or keep you updated with news from the developers. Having one for Battlefront might mean you can check out your own or your friend’s current progress in the game and/or get news directly from Visceral Games and EA regarding DLC releases and patches for the game. Your mileage will definitely vary with these apps.
Mobile gaming is fickle in nature, however, especially on the business end (but what industry isn’t, really?). Tiny Death Star and Assault Team, both released no more than a year ago of this writing, were taken down without notice from mobile stores (supposedly the developers didn’t get any warning either). Disney’s reason for taking these apps down was simple: focus on higher priority games, like Commander (which some 5 million people downloaded since its August launch), and from the 17 other ideas running through the pipeline, there’s plenty of higher priority projects on the way.
There’s also the option of ports to mobile, much like how Knights of the Old Republic made the jump to iPads at its 10 year anniversary and you can collect LEGO bits to your heart’s content wherever you go with LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Mobile ports do suffer from a mostly wonky control scheme and adjustments to look good on a smaller screen, but they seem to be popular enough that they may continue. For me, I can justify getting a game like LEGO Star Wars on mobile, but stuff like KotOR needs to be experienced on a bigger screen.
My final point about mobile games is about the all important question these days: will they or will they not be canon? Commander, while the first game released after the EU/Legends reboot where all new games were supposed to be considered canon, was deemed to be Legends due to it’s choice-based gameplay. I don’t think anything not like Journeys (which rehashes the film’s story in an interactive way) will ever be considered canon, as mobile experiences work better if they aren’t concerned about being shoehorned into a lot of other material. Expect canon video games to be on PC/gaming consoles instead.
Whatever shape, form, gameplay, or pay scheme, Star Wars will continue to have a strong presence on mobile platforms in the years to come. There’s tons of possibilities which come with the ever-expanding market and ever-evolving mobile device capabilities, plus when you consider the much broader audience to reach than what game consoles commands (though the new current gen has been selling rather impressively), it’s really a no-brainer to support mobile. So now with people seeming to be a tad wiser about freemium pricing (South Park lampooned the concept rather well in “Freemium Isn’t Free”), here’s hoping the upcoming mobile future doesn’t consist of dull games and energy meters. But from the the list of experiences I saw, we shouldn’t have to worry too much about it.
OTHER BUTLER CONFESSIONS:
A Good Blaster At Your Side: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 3)
Choice Isn’t an Option: The Future of Star Wars Video Games (Part 1)
EU and Gaming: Thoughts on Their Relationship
Star Wars Ring Theory: An Interview with the Author, Mike Klimo, and Why You Should Read It
The Great Reboot of 2100: Just How Evergreen is Star Wars?
Star Wars Netflix Hopes: The Rule of Two
Chutes, Shafts, and Sinkholes: Star Wars and the Descent into the Underworld Mytheme
With New Eyes: The EU Reboot Changed How I View Ep. VI
Preserving the Mystery of In-Universe History
Story Fight Night: Game of Thrones VS A Song of Ice and Fire
More Classic Star Wars Games Hit GOG.com (Updated)
Star Wars: Battle Pod In Arcades Now!
X-Wing and TIE Fighter Flight Sim Games Re-Released
Footage And Details For Cancelled Rogue Squadron Games
Star Wars: Battle Pod Arcade Game Coming 2015
VR Demo Lets You Train Like Luke Skywalker
Lead Uncharted Writer Joins Visceral Games Star Wars Project
Execution vs Ideas: Another Cancelled LucasArts Game Surfaces
New Star Wars: Battlefront Trailer Shown at E3