Why the most powerful smartphone games are worse than on PC and consoles?


It is not even in power. Smartphones have already surpassed the performance console of the previous generation. Xbox 360 GPU performance 240 GFLOPS was made (240 million floating point operations per second), the iPhone X this figure equal to 350 GFLOPS, and the latest system on chip Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 – 727 GFLOPS. Even highly specialized hybrid Nintendo console Switch in portable mode just squeezes 157-198 GFLOPS… AND why on smartphones we don’t see “their” Uncharted, Halo, Legend Of Zelda?

Every year the manufacturers of mobile phones delight us with new numbers of performance. Apple boasts of cool graphics and constant updates graphics API (tools to work with “iron” smartphones) – like, now in 100500 times faster than before. So where did “merge” all those gigaflops? In what black hole they fly away, even if the latest mobile games on the most powerful smartphones still lag behind the games of a decade ago – not only in gameplay but also in graphics?

Compare, for example, the console Burnout: Paradise 2008 mobile Asphalt 9 2018. Burnout on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 was working in 720p resolution with 60 FPS – and it was a race in the open world! There was a real and quite detailed reflection on the car body and overall graphics still looks fresh (if not old-fashioned effects post processing).

Asphalt 9 to top-end smartphones shows a picture about 720p (somewhere more, somewhere less – that if you believe the analysis of Digital Foundry), with some stubby effects of reflections, even can not give a stable 30 frames per second. And there is no open world! And only the gameplay and compare it is useless – Burnout here out of competition.

Why is this happening? Why despite all the technological advances mobile games are literally at the bottom of the industry? There are several reasons. Divide them into two categories: technical and economic.

Technical reasons
1. Flopsy the Flopsy strife
When we talk about performance of a certain chip in the number of operations per second, we do not consider, what, in fact, this chip will generally be busy and how to process this information. Game developers for consoles can have direct access to any hardware (almost) and load it as you want, the operating system of the console gives the games a high priority, and in General the OS itself is quite easy. Roughly speaking, the CPU and the graphics console are exclusively engaged in the game and their entire performance (almost) working on the game.

The cell phones (like personal computers, by the way) cares much more. And direct access to the “hardware”, consider, no, and operating system hard, and the priorities are quite different. You don’t want to miss an important call just because of the toys? Although, admittedly, sometimes such a desire. But still, neither Android nor iOS afford I can’t. And background processes there is a lot.

2. Throttling and the problem of cooling
The previous paragraph is obvious to many, we should mention him only because not mentioning it is still not. But far fewer people think about trotline – that is, reducing the processor speed (by skipping clock cycles) in case of overheating.

Snapdragon 810, of course, egregious case, but it clearly shows the problems with the stability of the processors in smartphones (source: Ars Technica)Snapdragon 810, of course, egregious case, but it clearly shows the problems with the stability of the processors in smartphones (source: Ars Technica)

Take the same Nintendo Switch – in fact it’s just a tablet on the Nvidia Tegra X1. Same as the TV Shield, not counting the controller. In stationary mode, the Tegra X1 Switch can operate at a frequency of 768 MHz, whereas in portable or 302,7 MHz or 368 MHz. The problem is that the Switch can’t afford to slow down under any circumstances. No one megahertz. In fact, for this in Switch decreases the clock frequency of the Tegra X1 (nominal frequency – 1000 MHz), not only in portable mode, but even in dock mode. Because the console needs to be calculated (and it is) for a permanent job under full load with stable performance. A mobile phone can after 10 minutes of play in the new-fangled toy to take and cut off frequency.

And here Xiaomi Mi 8 is fully operational only with artificial cooling (freezer for example). Source: GSMArenaAnd here Xiaomi Mi 8 is fully operational only with artificial cooling (freezer for example). Source: GSMArena

Even if the brakes of the mobile OS anyway, if only not to burn. Moreover, the size of mobile phones does not allow to set active cooling. And how do you imagine a mobile phone with a fan? But in the same Switch, the fan is. What can we say about stationary console!

3. Fragmentation
Of course, even though both factors listed above, it is possible to try and squeeze all the juice out of the top iron – at least 5 minutes of gameplay. The problem is that this iron “hands on” is very small, and the same schedule will invariably have to be lowered for owners of secondary devices. As a result, these costs of effort, time and money will be spent almost in vain.

If you make games without considering the low-powered smartphones, a lot of money not earnIf you make games without considering the low-powered smartphones, a lot of money not earn

Remember, at the dawn of the advent Nvidia Tegra had a lot of exclusive games for this SoC (“processor”, as they say)? But at that time at the hardware level supported many effects (e.g., water particles). But, first, competitors quickly caught up with Tegra, and secondly, until that happens, these games are played one. Well, is it worth it?

4. Awkward control
One of the main reasons why normal games on mobile phones are impossible – but … First of all, let us recognize that the touch screen is suitable for only two types of games – point-&-click (the strategy game one button, quests of “find the object in this room”) and gaming with physics and controlled gyroscope/accelerometer (roll a ball across the field). All. At best you can come up with something like arcade racing, where the control by tilting the smartphone and press a few pedals – this is the maximum that can be squeezed out of the smartphone control.

On-screen buttons are not only inconvenient, they also greatly narrow review.

Of course, you can buy a gamepad. But first, what is it? With the consoles controllers are supplied, and any game developer can be precisely sure what a controller is, how many buttons (and what) they are located. But the cellphone is not universal gamepads on the number and arrangement of buttons.

But the main problem – input lag (response to clicking), especially in the Android smartphones. When you connect a regular Bluetooth gamepad input lag is 120-150 MS (and, more precisely 150), which makes the game extremely difficult. On consoles already 100 MS is considered high input lag, and here 120, is rarely achieved at least.

I think wired controllers, to solve the problem? Not at all. The author of this text tested the module controller for Moto Z2 Play, which connects to the smartphone using the pads. So – with this controller input lag was increased to 200 MS! Moreover, with the same simple Chinese gamepad gave 120-150 MS! (By the way, is not a Prodigy of some kind- the gamepad’s PlayStation 4 is also using a wired connection input lag suddenly higher than Bluetooth).

Of course, in some games you can play. Slow, unhurried. But count on the normal slasher, fighting games and shooters on mobile is not necessary. The developer can’t afford to “punish” the player for the slow response, if there is such a wild lag in management coupled with a General discomfort. In General, high input lag – the problem is Android, there is even a reaction on the screen itself, not everything went smoothly.

Economic reasons
The economic reasons all the more interesting. First of all, because here already it is not so much about why “the graphics suck”, and about why the games bad.

1. $10 – it’s expensive
To make as good game as on consoles. And who is going to pay for it?To make as good game as on consoles. And who is going to pay for it?

But you try to ask friends – they would have taken any regular mobile shooter for $20? I’m sure most of them will be staring eyes and look at you like an idiot. In the minds of users of mobile phones, the game should cost a dollar, and better distributed free. Well, if you are very good – $10-20. But not anymore.

2. Profit as a demotivator for developers
If you look at the statistics around the games market, the mobile industry brings the most money. But we have been told that some major hits on mobile game is still there. How is it?

You already know the answer – microtransactions. Since, as was invented by the propagation model free-2-play even a paid the earlier games (which cost a dollar) turned into a free, but paid “whistles”. For Example: Jetpack Joyride, Temple Run, Ninjatown: Trees Of Doom, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja. It turned out that this model is much more efficient from the point of view of profit, especially for some games “a La casino”. A person may “leave” in this game is not that 4,000 rubles, but $ 4000 – not necessarily immediately. At the same time laughing at the “stupid” console gamers who once spend 4K on a masterpiece.

However, f2p-game should be as simple as possible, in terms of gameplay. To be clear, delayed, wanted to return again – unless it is necessary to come up with a couple of bounding points, which would be easily overcome with the help of small cash infusions. That is, some deep gameplay and/or story here also does not attach.

In short, to protect the investors a business plan that “we make cool mobile games level AAA console projects, sell for 4K on mobile phones, have a few happy customers per month,” you are unlikely to succeed.

Approximately so arranged mobile games todayApproximately so arranged mobile games today

3. Financial success and reputation are two different things
This follows from the previous paragraph. The game can be successful in different ways: image or financial. PR – if, roughly speaking, it will all be discussed. Financial – if it will bring a lot of money. And, as it turned out, in terms of image and financial success are not the same, but you know which one is more attractive for most developers. Strictly speaking, on the consoles all the same – for example, the most profitable games 2018 – Ghost Recon Wildlands and For Honor, but everyone is discussing the Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Horizon: Zero Dawn. Both games also brought a lot of money, but not as much as much less well-known products.

The mobile games market for many years. And still the developers are unable to do anything more famous than “snake” on your Nokia 3310 and Angry Birds. Exception – Clash Of Clans, which, in fact, known not only as a game but as a model of the gameplay to follow. That is, her love is not so much the players as the developers – after all, you can do something similar to row money with a shovel. Well, let in ten, but at least a hundred times smaller than rowing the authors of the Clash Of Clans is still a huge amount.

Because of this, mobile game developers give up. Whatever you come up with – a fashion success (conditional status “game of the year”) without significant infusions in the PR campaign won’t Shine, and financial does not require a creative approach.

So what have you designed for mobile phones and was really quite interesting to discuss? Well, for example, Monument Valley. Really high quality game, although we started to train with the discussion of the charts, and she didn’t need cool graphics and all these new Snapdragon. Or Shadowmatic, award-winning… oops, among mobile games, because in the “big meter” on the console or PC is simply unnecessary.

Or Oceanhorn is a pretty good game for the mobile market. It even released on consoles. It’s just pretty weak clone of the Legend Of Zelda: the Wind Waker 2002 (the developers did not hide) from the GameCube. On mobile play is still normal, but on consoles is immediately obvious that the game itself – better to run the original or the Wind Waker HD remaster on Wii U.

4. Time
Time and technical and economic reason, but we decided to talk about it in the end. Let’s look at the development time the three mentioned in the beginning of the article hits the console: Uncharted, Halo, Legend Of Zelda. To “meet” in the performance of mobile phones, let’s take Uncharted 3, Halo 4 and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. Uncharted 3 was developed from 2009 to 2011, Halo 4 – from 2009 to 2012, the Breath Of The Wild from 2012 to 2017. In all these cases the games were followers of the series, that is, the authors already had a lot of own developments on which they relied.

That is, at least 2 years (although, preparing for development, it is often not considered, but is also of considerable importance), and max – 5. But there are games-protracted that make 10 (e.g., The Last Guardian was developed from 2007 to 2016). All this time you had to pay people salaries, but also to spend money on all there motion capture and other necessary things. It’s hard to imagine that with the price of even 500 rubles this game had recaptured all of the costs, provided that the expensive games on mobile phones are reluctant to buy.

“Wait for Snapdragon 995″, yeah”Wait for Snapdragon 995”, yeah

And most importantly – the developers of mobile games are not at the disposal of the “iron” that in 2-5 years will be on the market. That is, even when a new game console is not out, developers can get a Development Kit together with a more or less exact characteristics of the console. And mobile developers mainly focus on what is here and now. Therefore, to delay the development makes no sense, in five years, your mobile game can be worthless, because it will change everything.

A bleak future of mobile games
What we have in the end? Games like Monument Valley, of course, given the genius of their authors, but also cool graphics they don’t require, and consoles are more “dense”, the rich content of the game that use similar mechanics. Something like Oceanhorn, again, may be some time to delight during a half-hour subway rides to work, but let’s not forget that this is just a clone of the console game, and not much reach. The richest content and gameplay on mobile phones or clones of console games or straight ports (the same as GTA or Half-Life, Yes, even Limbo). Moreover, even a single clone in this case is not “outweighed” the original.

Smartphone makers, of course, not soon recognize that selling a top iron, they sell people air. Any new, more powerful Snapdragon or iPhone is justified by the fact that “the interface is now generally flies”, but from year to year to hear the same tired. When did he fly into space finally? Still by the end of the year will begin to slow down.

But games on mobile phones will not be better. Because even the coolest graphics a little for a good game. Need a thoughtful gameplay, spelled out the characters, the plot (not all games, of course, but still) – and all this costs money and, oddly enough, time. Console games make for 5 or even 10 years – and then beat off the costs of their production. With mobile phones it is impossible to imagine, and who knows what sort of cell phones will be in 5 years?