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Why Apple's 'Metal' is going to force you to take mobile gaming seriously

by Glenn Kisela (Dreamer IX)  Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:04:00 AM

 

In case you weren’t aware, the mobile games market is huge. Like massive. What’s scarier is the fact that it’s still growing and at a rapid pace. The global mobile market is projected to have revenues of $23.9bn by 2016. Looking closer to home, there are at least 105 million players in the Middle East & Africa, with expected revenue being $260m. That yearly figure is expected to grow by 29% every year. (Source: Applift)

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Digital trend or profitable investment?

Whilst these numbers are impressive and the future looks bright for mobile gaming, the larger gaming community still has difficulty taking the industry seriously. Mobile games are seen as time wasters and are not evaluated on the same level as you would a console or PC game. Admittedly the relatively cheaper cost of mobile games plays a part in that, making them feel less like an investment and closer to a digital treat.

In the more traditional forms of gaming, one of the biggest aspects that get people riled up are graphics. One of the fiercest discussions happen between Xbox One fans and PS4 fans. Stable versus unstable frame rates. 720p versus 900p. The same discussion rages on and on until it inevitably degenerates into generic ‘fanboy’ battles about who has the bigger e-peen. You throw in the ‘PC master race’ and you have a recipe for digital disaster.

No one seems to have that problem when it comes to mobile gaming. That horrifying exercise in futile arguments has never taken with mobile gaming between Android users and Apple users, but it seems things are about to change. Apple, often associated with game changing innovation (excuse the pun) is about to shake up the mobile graphics world with the launch of its graphics engine called ‘Metal’. 

Metal vs OpenGL and why Metal wins

Without getting bogged down with the technological details, current mobile games generally use a graphics library called OpenGL to render everything you see in a game. Apple’s Metal renders faster whilst using less CPU. Metal uses less of the phone’s power to do more. This means that game developers using Metal can create more visually appealing games than if they used OpenGL. This is a move whereby Apple is looking to do away with OpenGL on its devices.

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The benefits of Metal go far and beyond just better looking games. Apps, a highly important part of mobile systems, can also tap into this new found power to create better looking apps that illustrate more and run faster. Metal hasn't been launched yet, but the early signs are promising.

What Metal means for the future of mobile gaming

Expect Apple to surge ahead in the mobile gaming industry, despite already being in pole position by quite some distance. Games often launch on iOS months ahead of Android, if they even make it to the Google operating system at all. Having gaming accessories like the Powershell for iOS devices just furthers that gap. Metal is going to blow it wide open and it will take a miracle for Android to catch up.

Big name developers are already positioned to capitalize on the benefits of Metal. Epic Games, who brought their Unreal Engine to iOS, can now add more firepower to an already visually impressive game with Metal. Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic, has already showcased the abilities of a Metal powered Unreal Engine 4 demo & the results are incredible:

Other big names that are poised to join the charge include Electronic Arts and Crytek. iOS gaming is looking scarier than ever and an exciting place to be in.

The introduction of Metal also heralds higher expectations from gamers. Metal gives improved frame rates, a contentious issue among console gamers. This could soon be a sticking point when Apple goes head to head with Android devices. If Apple sets a higher standard, Android will be forced to rise to meet it, or pay the price.

Mobile industry is ready for Metal technologically, but is it ready mentally?

Whilst Apple is clearly winning, mobile gaming is still focused on the numbers and less on producing high quality, envelope pushing products and thus they will continue to produce based on the lowest common denominator, which is OpenGL.

Most game developers are primarily focused on creating a highly addictive game that generates a large playerbase which can then be milked financially with paywalls littered all over the game. Until that process stops being as lucrative as it is right now, that doesn’t look likely to change.

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Additionally, people don’t think about games primarily when choosing what phone to buy, thus Metal might not be too large a problem for Android. For now. However, if the mobile industry has shown anything, it’s that things change rapidly and adapting is key to survival. Ask Nokia.

So whilst Android might be able to sit idly by whilst Metal creates waves, it’s inevitable that people will begin to take mobile gaming more seriously and with that, ask more questions and expect better. If Android doesn’t deliver when that day comes, they can expect a dark forecast. Couple that with the more serious mobile games coming out trying to create a competitive scene, such as Modern Combat 5, and maybe the mobile industry is perfectly poised to expect the same from their mobile games as traditional platform based games.

Do you think mobile gaming will ever reach the heights of console or PC? Do you think Metal will make a difference?

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd


 
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