Smartphone storage is the new war for mobile game developers | Techy Kings

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From Tokyo to San Francisco, mobile game studios have struggled for years to appeal to fickle audiences by fueling an overlooked problem: the average title has become so huge that players can no longer fit more than a few on their phones.

Japanese game publisher Gree Inc. is anticipating an upcoming reckoning with rising costs and growing file sizes as developers introduce increasingly sophisticated graphics, voice acting and larger storylines into their games to keep players engaged. That creates a “winner-take-all” scenario that could attract smaller studios in the coming years, Yuta Maeda, Gree’s senior vice president, said in an interview. The situation is only going to get worse as console veteran Sony, no stranger to space-conquering hits, prepares to enter the mobile phone arena.

“Developing mobile games is inevitably becoming more complex, time-consuming, and larger in scale, which will inevitably lead to larger application sizes,” Maeda said. “The only companies that will survive in the market will be those that can keep up with this trend.

Spending on today’s A-list mobile titles — like MiHoYo Co. Genshin Impact, started with 100 million This game can take up over 20 gigabytes of storage, which is a huge chunk of what most people have on their phones. Since memory is not refreshed, fewer games can compete for attention.

“Even if players are interested in our games, we’ve noticed that some of them refuse to install apps because their phones are already full,” said Gree’s Yoshihide Koizumi, who heads marketing for the company’s latest game, Heaven Burns Red.

Sony, one of the console gaming giants, has outlined plans to bring its high-profile PlayStation franchises to mobile platforms. Rival Microsoft Corp. is also developing a mobile game store for Xbox. All of this puts pressure on the entrenched free-to-play business model that Gree and others have followed. These publishers rely on monetization from in-game items and updates, regularly adding more content for players to buy and play.

The most common solution for game studios is to put only a basic installer in the app stores, which downloads more games when the player is launched. Gree uses it with Heaven Burns Red, which starts at 1GB and grows to over 10GB for gamers who want the full experience.


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A typical flagship smartphone today starts with 128GB of storage, but many people’s existing devices have much less. Necessary operating system files also take up a large portion of the base allowance, leaving even less room for large games. However, memory upgrades are expensive.

“Smartphone prices have increased significantly over the years, so consumers tend to buy the cheapest versions of the latest devices with less memory,” said Francisco Jeronimo, vice president of analytics at IDC. “Devices with more storage can cost up to 50% more, and most users don’t realize that apps need a lot more space and will download a lot more apps.”


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Gree’s Maeda and Koizumi said reducing data demand at the cost of game quality is not an option. Exceeding player expectations is now considered a minimum requirement for a game to survive for the long term, prompting studios to push releases and marketing more aggressively.

In order to attract fans, the company hired a famous writer to write the script for Heaven Burns Red. Fellow mobile publishers have been pushing for more accurate graphics, visuals and voice acting in their titles — and Gree’s hefty 10GB game will be the rule, not the exception, Maeda said. He expects mobile gaming to continue to grow as expectations rise for higher-budget console and PC games on mobile devices.

“Most of the big hits in mobile games come from Asian developers, but I think Western studios are ready to follow the trend,” said Tokyo-based industry analyst Serkan Toto. “Consumers expect better and better quality from mobile games. File sizes really only have one direction going forward: up and to the right.

Cloud gaming, the long-promised next phase of connected gaming where all gameplay, assets, and compute-intensive work resides on remote servers, has yet to materialize in a meaningful way to address the storage gap. Alphabet Inc.’s Google Stadia service was one of the best-funded such initiatives, but the company recently decided to shut it down due to a lack of players — now a cautionary tale.

Moving other phone content, such as photos and videos, which are also increasing with more advanced cameras, to the cloud becomes an expensive affair. Free online storage from the likes of Google, Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. isn’t up to the job, in part because those companies want to force users to order paid storage.

The threat to smaller companies now is that bigger and bigger game titles will simply take over with the brute force of their marketing budgets and reach.

“The only hope would be if phone makers realize this is a fundamental problem in their ecosystem and offer larger storage models,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Toyo Securities. “Unless they change course, the future is bleak for mobile game companies and the industry is likely to consolidate.”

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