Are You Streaming Mobile Games? You Should Be.

My last handheldwas a Game Boy Advance. I remember taking it to summer camp the year it was released, and how I was always the center of attention, sitting in my bunk or at a picnic table, playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater in mind-blowing 32-bit graphics. It really did make me giddy, having the power of my Super Nintendo, mired away under the television back home, at a moment’s notice, in the pocket of my backpack.

And yet, I don’t remember how that relationship ended. My Game Boy Color had fallen out of rotation the moment the Advance arrived, and my old Game Gear was a casualty of childish forgetfulness, left sitting in a Ft. Lauderdale airport lounge during a journey back from Disney World, but the GBA just sort of faded away, out of mind, hidden in a drawer full of junk. I never stopped gaming on home consoles or the PC, but, as I grew older, the newer handhelds, the Nintendo DS, the PSP, the Vita, they simply never appealed to me. I know now that it’s fallacious, but while consoles seemed to grow up with me, the smaller devices always felt more like toys for some reason, meant for children, the games less mature.

This is the bias I bring to any conversation about “mobile gaming.” For me, gaming on my phone has always been a diversion. Back when I was still living off of an indestructible Nokia brick, its integral versions of “Snake” and blackjack were enough to suck up those spare five minutes waiting in a doctor’s office or sitting on a bus, and now, even though my smartphone has power nearly on par with my admittedly on-its-last-legs desktop, I find myself only playing games that fulfill that same roll. I don’t sit down at home explicitly to play an iOS game, or anticipate new releases or read reviews and previews. It simply feels different from the rest of the gaming space. It feels less substantial, like they’re not “real games.”

But this perspective is growing increasingly archaic.

Major AAA games are making their way to the mobile space. Certain developers, whose games are conducive to a touch-based interface, like Telltale’s point-and-click adventures or Firaxis’s X-Com series, jumped on the bandwagon early, releasing fully-functional ports of their hit titles, and the rest of the industry has clearly recognized the opportunity at hand. Mobile gaming is serious business, with bigger-budget titles joining the rise of “freemium” and “casual” gaming to create and enormous marketplace.

From here stems the question: Can mobile streaming be just as big?

PAX South was all about YouTubers and Streamers, featuring myriad panels and meet-ups with the new rock-stars of the internet, and one such panel actually focused on just this question. “Mobile Streaming: Broadcasting Without Limitations” featured mobile-focused streamers Albert Dzurka and Tom Willems, alongside experts from Gameloft and Twitch itself, talking about what it’s like to stream directly from your phone using Twitch, and the conversation has me convinced that this is an arena primed to explode.

Streaming from your computer is complicated. Microphones, pre-amps, webcams, green-screens: there’s a lot to consider, to set up. Not so with your phone. Your webcam, if you choose to use it, is right there. Your microphone is built into your headphones. During the panel, Dzurka explained how, the first time he streamed Asphalt 8, he “didn’t need a studio, [he] didn’t need a computer, and the game was running at full speed.” Oh, and he also happened to be streaming to 1500 people. Now, approximately 90% of his streams are of mobile games. He’s addicted.

That simplicity and accessibility makes mobile streaming a sort of “gateway drug” to the bigger world of Twitch. You don’t need to invest in extra equipment, you can simply download a game, open it up, and get going.

So, to say the games are getting better would be an understatement, with more attention and bigger budgets being pushed to phones and tablets, and streaming those games can be an even simpler endeavor than doing the same thing on your PC. These two variables make it clear, I think, that this can be the next niche within the already growing space to really take off. Granted, Twitch’s streaming SDK needs to be included in more games. Right now, Gameloft has done an excellent job integrating the system into their products, but other developers need to hop onboard as well. Streaming and “Let’s Play” have been such a boon for gaming in general, if it becomes ubiquitous in this more specific space, the positive feedback loop between game and streamed content should be powerful.

Have you tried streaming from your iOS or Android device? If so, how did you feel about the experience? Do you think it has a major role in the future of the industry? And, if not, why? Are you, like me, for whatever reason, put off by the games themselves, or is it the experience itself that lacks appeal? Let me know below, or on Twitter. You look around, at streaming, at mobile games, and you see runaway success. It really seems like it’s just a matter of time before those two slices of bread come together to make a delicious, delicious sandwich.

Originally published at Feb 12, 2015.

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