The perception of iPhone games as temporary distractions suggests their disposability. We find them increasing common in waiting rooms, on commutes, and in life’s unexpected pauses. They have become a genre to themselves on video game blogs and magazines, marked by repeated game mechanics (flick! tap!) and diminutive graphics. iPhone games, we might conclude, are as vapid as the moments they save us from: meaningless, unimaginative downtime between life’s “real” events.
But increasingly, game developers are making the iOS platform a place for astonishingly creative play. These developers are coming to the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch market because this is where the casual gamers are, and because the platform’s approachability makes development remarkably feasible. Where a console game (Xbox, Playstation, Wii) requires expensive licensing and large production teams, iPhone games can be made at lower costs with much smaller crews. And because iPhone development teams can personally market their product on the App Store, access to real revenue streams incentives indie production. In the face of repeated iPhone game styles, these developers must innovate design and play to stand out.
Take the Johnny Two Shoes team as a study. Founded and staffed by two brothers, Johnny Two Shoes released a pirate/adventure platformer on the iPad/iPhone that has become one of the devices’ most popular games. The mechanics are simple yet explorative– one’s boat only moves when the entire device is tilted, encouraging players to impart their own sense of gravity into the Plunderland world. From a simple desk in London, two young men have competed directly against AAA publishers like Electronic Arts and Warner Brothers.
In Papa Sangre, a game from fellow London developers Somethin’ Else, a player uses only his/her ears to navigate a dangerous voodoo underworld in search of a loved one. The game has no visuals because, as Project Director Paul Bennun explains, “The pictures are better in audio.”
Game makers continue to push the boundaries of what mobile gaming devices can do. In WeSliders from a Barcelona game maker, the rules of play emerge in playing, with only a palette of shifting colors supplying the visuals. Sword & Sworcery has been one of the year’s most celebrated games, yet it too does more with less. The iPhone game is only a distraction for those unwilling to really play with it.