When the mobile game market began, specifically the phone / tablet app market, it was a completely uninhibited creative space. Large companies were looking to make impressive large scale titles and small indie developers titles were making novel titles which resembled toys more than the games we were used to from the console age.
The truth was that no one could predict what would be a hit. All the rules and models didn’t apply to the new platform; traditional controls wouldn’t work, core demographics shifted from 18-35 year old males to women 30-60 years old. Everything was new and with these platforms there was a sense of freedom in how games were made, that developers could be successful by being off the wall.
However the market soon became flooded with cloned titles, copy cat games which featured similar names, themes, mechanics, etc. The ease with which developers could produce and publish games soon led to any company with a decent budget being able to mimic any game that was marginally successful. American and Asian game markets have often been the worst when it comes to focusing on creating copycat products. Since in those markets theme drives a game’s intellectual property protection as opposed to European markets which focus on mechanics and gameplay to protect an intellectual property. Meaning that as long as you reskin a game it can be marketed as a new product.
Eventually a few large publishers began to consume the indie developers and put them to work on competitive titles in established genres. Just as it had happened on console, the mobile market was now stratified into successful genres that defined and ultimately constricted the creativity of the development community.
The silver lining though is that games such as Pokemon Go are still being produced which shake up the market. The game has many elements which cannot be replicated since they were perceived as outside of the realm of successful tech. Geolocation games were an obscure genre and no one saw the need to develop comparable technology. In a greater sense it resets the market through its success since now there are no titles or genres that come close to its success. Meaning that companies will have to go back to the drawing board to see where the markets will go next. Hopefully this will lead us to a resurgence of innovative and compelling games which break the mold and reinvigorate the development community.
Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor. You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.