The modern mobile game market has two sources of origin; the PC market and the Japanese keitai culture. The PC market is the originator that is most visible in the West, as smart phone are essentially palm computers with a phone twist thrown into them. One could even argue that using the term phone is archaic at this point in their evolution, as calling has become a lesser function over almost everything else you can do with a smartie in your hand. Angry Birds is still a good example of a game that sits well on both PC and smart phones, as are the numerous examples of ports between Android and Steam games. Most smart phone games, mobile games if you will, do not try to hit the high market with their game design but gladly try to hit that low market. There are some high market games for sure, but a smart phone doesn’t exactly offer the best control interface. The fact that mobile phone games tend to resemble Flash and Java games isn’t a coincidence, but a natural growth from PC to its spin-off mobile market. Only few succeed in making a game that could shake things up. Niantic and Nintendo managed that with Pokémon GO, and in the future Nintendo’s titles on smart phones will aim to do replicate this success. The mobile marketplace is a great advertisement spot for them after all. Just like television and comics before it.
What Westerners tend to use their phones for nowadays strongly resembles the Japanese keitai culture with allowing basically everything with relative ease. E-mailing, phone and address books, instant messaging, photo sharing and so on. The usual stuff we take more or less granted was engineered in the 2000’s when J-SH04 was released. It was the first phone with a built-in camera, and basically kicked off the trend. Keitai is also the source of flip-phone fetish some Japanese still have.
When Western mobile market was just testing out possibilities of mobile gaming, Japan had expanded gaming possibilities with online connectivities and had began to implement more social elements within them. Phones in Japan in the early-to-mid 2000’s could be connected, for example, to NTT DoCoMo via I-Mode phones and use them as karaoke devices. Because of Kanji and the need to switch between them and alphabetic letters, Japanese phones tended to be small powerhouses with higher resolution screen than their contenders in the West. This, combined with the smart phones absorbing most of the palm computer market, is the direct progenitor on how modern screen came to be in the end.
Pokémon Go is nothing new in this sense. au was known to be forerunner in their GPS functionality and games. MOGI, socially connected GPS gaming, has a player avatar represented on the screen in real-world map and their aim is to collect virtual objects in the streets. This is around 2004, and Wireless Watch still has their old article about it up, which still does resonate in modern mobile market. If anything, all the little assumptions and suggestions made in the article have become true.
It should be noted that each time MOGI has resurfaced news about it taking spot in mobile game market has been hyped. New Scientist had an article boldly claiming that gamers will soon quit their living rooms and head outdoors in 2008. It would seem that it took Pokémon‘s name and brand recognition to make MOGI what it had been proclaimed to become more than a decade earlier. MOGI of course is more or less an obsolete term at this point as the more popular Augmented reality has taken its place. It’s really the same shit, just different boxers.
The Japanese games and game culture has evolved alongside other more traditional art and crafts fields just in the same manner they’ve evolved with technology. Technology that also evolved to serve the consumers’ needs for communication through various other means. Due to these, the are no clear barriers between each other and as such the barrier between high art and pop-art is much lower, if it exist at all. Western culture still has a definitive difference between the two, but with the generation and cultural exchange that barrier has been lowered and that is evident in smart phones. In their design, user interface, games and how we communicate with each other.
Keitai of course didn’t spur out from nothing. As mentioned before, multiple elements in the culture had to come together in a happy coincidence and intentional design to give birth to keitai culture and nurture it. Pagers are most likely the closest technological analogue without resorting to mobile phones outright, as teens found a way to utilise pagers to signal short messages, e.g. how 88919 would mean hayakuiku, hurry up, let’s get going. The mobile phones saw a price drop around the mid-90’s during which the switch from one form of communication to the other took place. i-mode service’s launch sealed the deal, and modern phone messaging was born.
Western phone culture has been much more rigid in comparison, largely reliant on text messaging, simpler games and so on. Perhaps the infrastructure for similar use at a reasonable price for use similarly extended use of media that the Japanese enjoyed just wasn’t there until relatively recently. However, the Western culture has always been more interested in incorporating home computers’ abilities into mobile phones, and in many ways Japanese keitai culture had already done all the leg work for it. With the advent of pads and smart phones in general, the two sides have come together in sort of fusion, thou there are numerous regional variants still.
What comes next is anyone’s guess. However, one could argue that we are already seeing signs where modern phone culture is going with the devices and how we use them. Mobile phone technology marches onwards in a very fast pace, and I hope we won’t be stuck with only one or two companies leading the way.