Don't miss
  • 2,232
  • 6,844
  • 6097
  • 134

[Gamesbriefers] Can you get the immersion of console games on mobile platforms?

By on July 17, 2013
CC image by Johan Larsson


We still hear people saying that the only way to get a truly immersive experience is on a large screen that dominates your living room with a controller in your hand. Is that true? Can you get the immersion of a console game on a mobile? Do you distinguish between mobile and tablet in this regard.


Ben Cousins1Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA

iPad 4 has:

  • Higher resolution
  • Better color reproduction

Than any commercially available television.

Now sit in front of your gaming TV. Hold a full-size iPad as you would when gaming, now raise it up so it is in front of the TV. 99% of people will notice that the iPad’s screen takes up more of their field of view than the TV. FOV coverage is one of the key elements of immersion.

Now place a pair of headphones on for better audio immersion than you could ever get from speakers.

I can’t see how anyone can argue that TV gaming is more immersive than this.

Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

The obvious, boring thing to say: it’s mostly about the game. A super-immersive game on a phone trumps a not-that-immersive game on a console. And I’ve missed stops on trains far too often for comfort when playing a mobile game with headphones on.

But comparing hardware to hardware alone, I find sitting with an iPad in my lap can be every bit as immersive as playing on a TV in the corner of the room – smaller screen closer to me feels pretty big, if we’re talking size. And again, if I’m wearing headphones (on either phone, tablet or console) has a big impact on how deep I’m sucked in.

But yeah, CONTENT IS KING and all that: it’s perfectly possible to make a mobile game that’s as immersive as the best that console has to offer, and it’s about more than just screen-size and graphics.

Oh, and also there’s an argument that some of the best mobile games aren’t trying to be immersive in long bursts, but more shorter, bitesize bursts. Is Words With Friends ‘immersive’? When you have a bunch of games on the go and notifications pinging in regularly, it’s more that it makes everything else less immersive as you’re easily distractable

Simon OliverSimon Oliver Designer at HandCircus

Yup totally agree with Stuart here – playing Walking Dead on iPad at night with headphones was one of the most immersive, moving gaming experiences I’ve had in years – its all about the content.

eric seufertEric Seufert Mentor at Gamefounders

Not necessarily analogous but I felt far more immersed in the Walking Dead game (on iPad) than I felt in the TV show. To be fair I think the writing and direction waere probably better for the game (so the comparison is a bit strained aside from having the same IP), but I have never been shocked or surprised when watching the Walking Dead series, whereas I have been with the iPad game.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode

Many factors make up “immersion”: the content, the playtime, the interaction, not to mention the mind/eye of the beholder (how easily they are captivated and sucked in by certain things)!

I would say that it is possible, but that it needs to be arrived at from a different angle due to the hardware. I would say that established console gaming and its associated customers generally have two things that we take for granted when creating “immersion” on more mature platforms.

  1. Generally longer play sessions to get into the flow
  2. People adept with physical controllers forget they are there. They are looking at the screen and feeling their actions (when I play an FPS I am not consciously using the controller. I just look at the screen, my hands do stuff, and stuff happens! Magic!). Ergo, they don’t have to touch the screen! And it could be argued that having to touch the screen is immersion breaking for a certain group of people more used to these design patterns.

In my opinion, *traditional* twitch mechanics are a poor fit for mobile/tablet with touch. However in terms of games with a slower pace, perhaps majestic, or perhaps slow and foreboding, all with more of a social element on a personal connected device: I think we’re only just getting started. And I think it does vary from mobile to tablet. I think tablets are simply more immersive than phones dude to their screen size.

Felicity Foxx HerstFelicity Foxx Herst Product Manager at GREE

I’ve certainly had deeply moving, immersive experiences on mobile devices. Resolution regardless, I think the points about FOV and headphones are compelling – playing Sword and Sworcery on iPad with headphones a few years back truly felt like being transported to another world, and remains one of my all-time favourite game experiences on any platform.

It’s the business model and design paradigm more than the form factor that presents a blocker – designing for short burst, always connected gameplay does not make for a traditionally “immersive” game experience, in the sense of forgetting the rest of the world to explore a deep, well-realized virtual space. Obviously not every mobile game is designed to be casual, and longer sessions on tablets have indicated a market for deeper experiences for some time now. But the expectation of mobile games being free to download, cheaper to build and service products rather than content products means there is little precedent.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need a big console dev team for ultra-real graphics or a subscription/pay up-front model to create immersive content – Sworcery and Journey are both super immersive with stylized graphics, and an MMO or Second Life style virtual world could be far deeper than linear content allows – it’s just that most people aren’t making money doing this on mobile right now.

Walking Dead iPad is a fantastic example that’s been brought up a few times. Though I think it’s a mistake to compare the TV programme to the game – has anybody played the game on both console and tablet? I’m sure it would have been wicked on iPad, but I played it on PS3 with my partner together on the sofa, struggling with the decisions and emotional fall-out together – local multiplayer being one place where the lean-back big screen still has the advantage in the living room.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

As others have said, it’s about content, dominating FOV and sound. But it’s also about interface.

One of the key distinctions between the console or handheld experience over the mobile or tablet is physicality. You have buttons and triggers and joypads and such, and the ability to trigger or manipulate those things brings your body into the game. With glass touch screens that sensation is harder to convey. Some games like Angry Birds manage it by creating a believable sense of elasticity, others by making a game out of drawing. However a lot of the console-y (or would-be) games that have attempted to make the crossover feel muted. There are issues of thumb occlusion for virtual joypads, or the accuracy of tilt in steering, but also just a general sense of separation for many kinds of games that’s hard to overcome.

So for games like The Walking Dead that’s not such a big deal, but for more action-oriented affairs it is. Issues like precision, responsiveness, reliability and extensibility of control all come into play. This is why, beyond questions of graphical flair or mood music, I think we have yet to see much in the way of action-oriented games that really works for mobile platforms. The lack of physical control, haptic feedback and so on takes a lot away from games, makes it harder for them to bridge the divide and make you believe that you really are in another world. Perhaps iOS controller support will help to overcome that, but we’ll have to wait and see.

kristian_segerstraleKristian Segerstrale CEO of Playfish

I wonder if the more relevant question is not about “action games” or “non action” games but rather the “max uninterruptible game session length” players will tolerate – which may as much a sociological issue of increased multi tasking and shortening focused attention spans rather than a form factor change to tablets.

Clearly there is a relationship between immersion and session length. But it’s also a matter of design. It feels to me that the success and stickiness of most “action games” – whether MOBAs or FPSs – is really about the synchronous multiplayer mode and associated game play patterns. The real question might therefore be whether true synchronous multiplayer with the requirement of a relatively long, uninterrupted game session is tolerable for tablet gamers.

As a focus group of one I actually found it very hard after mainly playing on tablets to go back to League of Legends and do my daily 40min+ uninterrupted match. I almost find it distressing that my phone is buzzing with a message and I can only check it quickly next time my hero dies, vs after my attack in Clash of Clans which only lasts 2 minutes.

Agreed with Ben that cracking it is worth billions. If you do, please hit me up for funding.

pecorellaAnthony Pecorella Producer for virtual goods games at Kongregate

I struggled today with an answer to this question. My gut instinct was to jump to the defense of consoles. I self-identify as a gamer, and in that I mean consoles and PC. I actually spend more time on my tablet gaming, but I generally feel less satisfied afterwards, for whatever that can be interpreted as.

I agree with points about touch controls potentially breaking immersion and Felicity makes a great observation about local multiplayer. I was even getting ready to make an argument based on the success of movie theatres and IMAX in favor of bigger screen immersion.

But then I remembered this video. Try to count the number of times the ball is passed between the players.

So, that was likely rather enlightening. Now think back to the original GameBoy. That thing is tiny, ugly, and sounds awful. And yet we were able to get deeply enhanced in its grey-hued chip-tuney allure.

The fact is, the human brain is an incredible filtering device. We only “see” a small fraction of what I’d visible to our eyes (how many of you were aware of staring at your nose, until just now?). When we get focused we can get deeply involved in something regardless of controls, graphics, FOV, or sound, books being perhaps the clearest extreme example.

So now I’m forced to argue against my gut. The device matters very little, and as it was wisely said before, the media and content are the defining elements of immersion. There are specific challenges for some genres and platforms (console FPS or not, not even Halo Wars could bring RTS to a controller), but game developers have always worked within limitations of technology to create amazing entertainment experiences, and that’s no different for phones.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

Can we step back a little? I think there is a fundamental prejudice in the question. It assume that there is one kind of immersion and that immersion has to be a constant stateroom be valid. Indeed it assumes that the immersion has to be about the current moment of play through a specific device.

I, of course, want to suspend disbelief, I want to be able to exclude the world around me whilst I enter this world. But each device I use has a different mode of use and engagement profile. Ben’s comment about a tablet and headphones being incredibly immersive is spot on. So is the feeling I get in front of my TV with surround sound. But they a different. I choose the device according to my current circumstances and the different conditions I’m in before I choose one or the other of these experiences

But it is also immersive when I think I’m spending 3 mins playing Triple Town and it turns out that 40 mins have passed. Or when I was playing CSR Racing and sat their waiting, checking my phone to see if my fuel had replenished enough to be able to race again. They are different experiences but none the less delightful.

For me the immersion quality of a game only starts while you are playing the game and as far as i am concerned the specific control interface is a red herring; as long as it works. I know that a game is truly immersive when I think about how I can get back into that world; when I dream about play it. I dream about Triple Town just as much as I did Bioshock Infinite or Skyrim.

Games break that immersion too readily when they break their own internal consistency; not because of the size device the player uses. Take Last of Us a beautiful amazingly immersive experience, but I kept dropping out of the immersion whenever I killed an enemy with a gun, only to get no ammo. That really annoyed me; breaking the immersion.

Of course we want to make games people will love that allow us to escape reality for a brief moment; but don’t let the device format be an excuse for failure. Use that device experience to its strengths.

If you want me to get into Social Play too I can too…but it’s not about immersion. It’s about the critical mass of players and interdependence theory. It takes effort to engage with real people and the payoff has to be worth it; dropping players into a real-time synchronous game without making it safe to do so is a fools errand.

jaspurewalJas Purewal Lawyer at Osborne Clarke

I wanted to give a couple of responses to Nicholas’ request for examples:

(1) Both of the games released to date by Tiger Style Games – Spider: the Secret of Bryce Manor and Waking Mars. They both blend excellent game mechanics with arresting graphics and audio with, most importantly, a subtle but powerful story that builds over time. In Spider it’s “what happened to destroy this family whose home I’m exploring?” and in Mars it’s “who gave Mars life before and how I do it again”?

(2) Ndemic Creations’ Plague, Inc (disclosure: I act for them). Once you’ve started designing and deploying your humanity destroying plague, it’s hard to look up from the game session until either you’ve won or the human race have.


About Gamesbriefers

Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.