Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best games writers in the industry and giving them a platform. Veteran journalist Jon Jordan is here each week examining the trends shaping your mobile games scene. This week, he's thinking about the wave of battle royale games.
Something significant has happened in the world of mobile games over the past couple of weeks and it has nothing to do with mobile games.
It has everything to do with PC and consoles games.
We can see the scale of the insurgency when we look at the global matrix of the App Store's most downloaded games, which aside from some notable countries, is now dominated by the Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite's icons.
Not that this should be any great surprise, given PUBG was the big hit of 2017 and Fortnite's Battle Royale mode has - to a great extent - improved on the experience and overtaken the popularity of the original with its full console-PC release, especially in western markets.Small screen, big games
Looking back into the history of mobile game, however, this isn't this the first time mobile versions of successful console/PC games have gained prominence.
Over the years, we've had versions of GTA, XCOM, Crazy Taxi, loads of Final Fantasies, Knights of the Old Republic, Rage and Witness, not to forget Blitz versions of MMOGs like World of Tanks and World of Battleships.
What's different now is that, in the case of Fortnite, mobile players are running the same version of the game as players on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
So while the game's default option is to match you against players using the same hardware, you can create teams with players using any of these devices.
Again, Fortnite isn't the first big game to offer this feature but, both in terms of its controls and graphics, running Fortnite as a cross-platform is a lot more impressive than, say, Hearthstone's integration.
This situation is partly a result of the decreasing relative gap in computing resources between mobile devices compared to consoles. There will always be a gap between the two of course, if only due to power consumption issues, but it’s now small enough to be irrelevant.
In addition, game designers have become a lot better at making games where a device's control and UI can be largely ignored.
But - and it's a big but - the characteristic that's always defined mobile games is something that cannot be ignored.Battle royale specifics
By their definition, mobile games are played on portable devices and that means while mobile gamers may play for an hour or more a day, they typically play multiple sessions of ten minutes or less. In contrast, console and PC players may play for an hour or more a day and typically that's all consumed in one session.
And this difference is something that's much harder for game designers to overcome.
Yet, the way battle royale games play out provides a compromise. Although these game sessions may last up to 30 minutes, the vast majority of players will be killed early on, reducing the session time down to a more mobile-friendly five-to-ten minutes.
Throw in other mobile-friendly elements such as automatic door opening, automatic item pick-ups and use of bots, and in the case of PUBG at least, there's a strong argument the mobile version is better incarnation of the game concept than the PC original.
Still, for all the current excitement, what really matters in terms of their long term significant for mobile gaming is whether these titles can generate money for months and years to come.
Fortnite is off to a great start, ranking in the top 5 top grossing in the US iPhone chart. The commercial future for PUBG is less clear, if only because it currently doesn't include any in-app purchases.
That said, NetEase's PUGB clone Knives Out is in the Japanese top 5 top grossing chart, so there appears to be no reason why this type of game can't convert high downloads into lots of cash.
Nevertheless, ever the skeptic, I remain to be convinced these games will be top 5 grossing mobile titles in a year's time, much less in five years times as demonstrated by the likes of Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Monster Strike.If this column has given you food for thought, share your comments below and bookmark this page for more of the same next Monday. Remember to also check out words of wisdom and mirth from experienced games journalists Susan Arendt and Harry Slater each week.
Want more? Check out our 17 other Fortnite Battle Royale features!