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Are mobile games the same as “real games”?

Are mobile games just as valid as “real games” on console or PC? Are they played by the same people or even the same kinds of people? I see this topic come up a lot, and the discourse of everyone involved got me excited about writing this article. Yes, I get excited about internet video game discourse. I may have a problem.

“No, YOU’RE an angry bird!”

Lumping People Together

The argument generally goes like this: Someone (typically someone outside the gaming industry) makes the claim that Candy Crush is a perfectly valid game, the same as any other. People who play Candy Crush are no different than those who play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or Dark Souls. There is functionally no difference between these games or the types of people who play them. One just happens to be on a mobile device and the other doesn’t. From that point it torrents into an argument over casuals vs hardcore, elitists vs commoners, girls vs boys, you name it.

Angry Birds

Now, as someone diligently working on a mobile game, I’m not entirely unbiased in this regard, yet I hope to bring some new perspective to the debate. First, allow me to say that games are in fact games, regardless of the format or device used to play them. Was bejeweled any more of a game when it was full price and on PC? I don’t think so. A game is defined by many things, but the hardware it runs on is not all that important to its nature. Having said that, mobile games and full price $60 games are not in any way the same and this is directly related not to the game itself, but the audience that enjoys each.

Seems weird they don’t just use phones at EVO. It’s so much more convenient!

The Nature of Mobile vs Console/PC Gaming

Mobile games by their very nature can be played and enjoyed anywhere. They’re often free to play and require very little commitment, if any. Anyone can look up and find a game to waste a few minutes with on their smartphone in just seconds, and this is really what defines the genre. Mobile games are largely viewed as time wasters by design. A way to pass a few minutes without much real commitment.

In contrast, PC and console games are designed to entice that commitment from the player. We get involved in the hype, the story, the promise of new ways to play. We spend good money and set aside our personal time, not to waste it, but to commit and engage with the medium. It’s the difference between glancing at article headlines while waiting in line and picking up a good novel to lose yourself in.

House slytherin wins national election?! Whaaaaa?

The difference is not just a matter of scale or proportion though. It’s a difference of mindset. Mobile games are meant to be quickly consumed. In contrast PC and console games tend to consume you. Aside from generally having more going on in terms of story and characters, these games demand your attention in a way that simply isn’t viable if you’re just trying to pass a few minutes in public. Dark Souls is famously easy if you know how to approach each enemy and section, but getting to that point requires focus and determination that envelopes large chunks of your life.

This guy just drummed his way to victory in one of the hardest boss fights in the series

Hype and Numbers

Working on a mobile game, I’ve also noticed that people don’t really get that hyped for mobile releases. It simply doesn’t work the same way it does with console games, even small indie ones. You don’t often see people get as hyped over upcoming mobile releases like Pokemon GO. Even Mario on mobile is getting only a lukewarm reception so far. Yet almost every major console release is just drowning in hype.

It would perhaps surprise some people outside the industry that aside from last year’s Pokemon GO, console and PC gamers don’t play that many games on their phones. The cross-section of people that play both is rather slim. This speaks to the idea that the two serve drastically different needs for drastically different kinds of players. It will be interesting to see how the Nintendo Switch performs in the coming years, since their strategy seems very focused on the antithesis of this article. Take a look at this statistic which I think is meant to illustrate how much time people spend playing mobile games, but actually shows the opposite:

It generously tops out at just over an hour of play per day. And this is for the vast minority of mobile players to begin with. Now if you look at playing times for console or PC, even for adults with kids and jobs, they typically have a minimum of an hour of play per day across the board. And just to add some completely anecdotal evidence of my own: I know plenty of people who play one or the other, but almost nobody that would claim to play both in any serious capacity.


In conclusion, mobile games and full priced console/PC games are different not because of their content or makeup, but because of their audience and the kind of attention that is demanded from the player. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying one or both of these kinds of games, but let’s not lump them in the same category just so our statistics match the narrative we want to convey.

Thanks for reading this article. I know a few of you were waiting for our own statistic article based on the data we’ve been collecting, but that i still in the works. I wanted to get this article written right now because I felt strongly about this particular topic and I can be impulsive sometimes. In the meantime, we are doing a Kickstarter campaign for our own free mobile game Happy Chess. Check it out if you like chess or just enjoy supporting indie games.

(disclaimer: the incredible pixel art in the header isn’t mine, it belongs to, check out their other work, it’s just amazing!)


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Maxx Golbraykh

Video game fan and indie developer. I love discussing game theory, design, mechanics and anything tangentially game related. Currently working on #HappyChess.


  1. I think it depends. There are some high quality games on both markets, but it seems like mobile is suffering from way more shovelware, bad clones and reskins. I also think that many devs who focuses on mobile do so because they can push out many small games in a short amount of time, without much consideration to quality, replay value, and other factors that are more important on Desktop/Console.

  2. A great insight into the differences between mobile & PC/ console games. The comment about mobile games demanding a minimum of commitment echoes my own experience in designing iOS games. It is a different mindset that drives both markets. @RodatGHG

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