My biggest problem with modern mobile games…

I got a Kindle Fire last year as part of my efforts to engage viewers on Twitch. The plan was, I’d have my tablet streaming the chat from my channel, so that way I could keep up with what folks were saying whether I was on the PC or my PS4. That plan didn’t work because the Android Twitch app was bugged and wouldn’t show people’s comments. So I’d finish a stream wondering why no one said anything, only to check the channel on my PC and see that folks did try to say hi, and since I didn’t respond, they didn’t bother saying anything else. (And on that note, for the love of God, Twitch fix your shit, PLEASE.)

But after moving to the country, where streaming isn’t possible, (seriously, on a bad day, even YouTube can hang if my husband and I dare to watch videos at the same time) I thought I’d use the tablet to play all the mobile games I’d been missing out on by owning a Windows Phone. (This is the last one. Microsoft gave up on their music service, the only reason I was loyal to them, so fuck them.)

Which leads me to the real meat of my gripe, which is a consistent problem I’ve seen is way too many mobile games. You might think I’m taking about microtransactions or “energy limits” to keep me from playing without sitting through a timer, but neither of those bug me. I don’t worry about microtransactions because I don’t have money to spare on random loot boxes with no guarantee of getting the item or character I want. The timers don’t bother me because I pretty much play solely in the bathroom, and right about the time the game is ready to hold my session hostage, I’m ready to shut it off and get back to work, or back to a game on my PC or console. (Granted, I’m old, so bathroom breaks can sometimes take a while to get everything moving out the back door. But I digress.)

No, the real problem for me is constant downloads. You see a game has a 100 MB install file, and you think that’s big. But then right after you install it, it’s got to download updates, and these can end up being around 300 MB or higher. No sweat, though, it’s all installed and patched so now…no, finish playing the tutorial level and here’s another 300 MB download. Five minutes into a game, it’s already nearing a gigabyte of space for a mobile game with static image cut scenes and “voice acting” like “Ah!” “Aargh!” and “Nani!?” Every time I load up the game, it has to download more, and more and more. No, even worse, I might play one level and instantly get another download, halting my session for several minutes. You thought loading screens on your console were bad because you had to stare at them for a minute? Try waiting ten minutes between levels, and then that one minute wait seems pretty mild in comparison.

I might understand if the game was graphically intense and with a lot of video cut scenes, or with a fully voiced script. But we’re mostly talking about puzzle games and side scrolling RPGs with extremely simplistic animation, midi music, and very short game levels. So why is this file bloat getting so out of control?

My only theory is, just like with other games, once storage space and memory became more available, the programmers stopped trying to clean and compress their code. When a game had to fit on a cartridge with 512 KB of storage space, programmers had to work to make the game fit. But then we moved on to CD (starting at 650 MB and later evolving to an impressive 8.5 GB) and then consoles installed hard drives of 250-500 GB, and suddenly, there’s no need to compress or clean anything. Because of that, we’ve seen game file sizes leap higher with every generation.

On consoles, it kind of makes sense. Most modern games are extremely dense with little details, and with characters that are walking near the edge of the uncanny valley, about to step into photo-realism. We’ve had reporters mistaking games footage of multiplayer shooters as real conflicts, and yeah, that level of detail explains why the games are so much larger.

But, there are also some good old-fashioned 2D platformers for consoles that total up to around 300 MB, and that’s a game with 10-20 hours of play time. That’s music, levels, cut-scenes with voice acting, all the bells and whistles, all in 300 MB. So why do these crappy mobile games need upwards of 1 GB for their stuff, and with the need for constant updates every day?

I don’t know. I just know that with a lot of these games, I burned out on playing them precisely because I just knew before I could actually get into the game, I’d have to wait five to ten minutes watching the same four ads while a download bar slowly fills up. I quit most of them so soon after I got them that I can’t even do reviews because despite “clocking in” 20 hours on a game, I’ve played much less than half of that time. The rest is just more tedious downloads. And if that’s the future of mobile gaming, it’s a pretty bleak landscape that will surely send me back to my PC and consoles where all the real action is.