The 5-Minute Games

Gaming. The one thing most people having access to a computer have done at some point in their lives. Sure, it might have been an old-school game on your Pentium 3 machine (Aladdin! Hercules?); or perhaps a soul-sucking (in a good way), addictive Grand Theft Auto title; or one of the N first-person shooter titles based on World War 2 (yes, Call of Duty – I’m looking at you).

It used to be different. You needed to pay attention to the game. From hearing the development rumors, anticipating the release, buying or ahem … borrowing the game, and then making it the sole purpose of life for a few weeks, to feeling empty once the game was over – used to be an experience.

Nostalgia :-(

Nostalgia 😦

Enter smartphones. From the moment Apple opened its App Store for third-party developers in 2008, gaming got a new dimension. Was it the first time we saw good games on a mobile phone? Hell no! Snake was one of the most addictive, challenging, and satisfying games of its time. Nokia N-series phones had some decent games. What changed, then?

A new class of games was born. One that took casual gaming to new levels. One that didn’t require to pay much attention to the game. Games that became a part of your daily routine; ones you played for months or years without realizing! Angry Birds, you say? Cut The Rope! No. Not those. Not games where there is a definite objective and you have level after level of the same.

I’m talking about Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Farmville etc. You have most likely played (or heard of) at least one of these. Titles that appeared on the app store as simple, ‘time-wasting’ games, have made their studios millions.

What makes these games tick? The fact that you have to play them in ‘small bites’; logging in at least once a day? And the fact that you have to buy in-game items to progress faster? Wouldn’t that make you want to play the game less?

Patience is a (money-saving) virtue. Image: Clash of Clans

Patience is a (money-saving) virtue.
Image: Clash of Clans

If a friend of mine said to me ‘Dude, you need to play this mobile game. To complete the objectives and reach a high level is going to take you months!’, I’ll proceed to ask him about the substance he has been smoking recently. But maybe that is why these games have become so successful. Let me explain.

To become a ‘l33t’ player or a professional gamer in any traditional computer game requires one to put in massive hours at an age where your reflexes are at an all-time high, and your parents’ patience at an all time low. Kids have given up education, dropped out, and done all sorts of things to become world-beaters at the game of their choice. And if you’re thinking that’s horrible for their financial future, Sumail Hassan, a 16 year-old Pakistani-American won more than $1.1 million a couple of months ago by winning the fifth DOTA 2 international tournament.

But that’s not a requirement on these mobile games! Most of them have a ‘freemium’ business model, where you can play the full game for free, but there is some time restriction – forcing you to come back to the game at regular intervals. Want to get to the top in a couple of days? Spend a few hundred dollars, and you could become the best in the world! Of course, you may say that the number of people who can spend such a ridiculous amount of money on a mobile game are few. And I agree with you. So what about us mortals?

If the game forces you to wait to play more, you wait. Can’t attack with your armies yet? No problem. Cannot harvest your crops just yet? Not able to update your base defenses for another day and a half? No worries. The casual gamer doesn’t really care. And so we keep playing these games for a surprisingly long time! Months, even years! Sure, it’s never more than five or ten minutes per day, but still. How many things can you decide to do for five minutes every day, and then follow through for six months straight?

Of course, not all of these freemium games are successful. Some of them appear to be money-grabbing apps that don’t deliver (I’m looking at you, Roller Coaster Tycoon Mobile!). But successful ones have changed the way people look at mobile gaming.

Will these games stand the test of time? Who knows. But for the moment, they’re here to stay on our iPhones and Galaxys.

Which mobile games do you play regularly?

Thanks for reading! 🙂 Do spread the word if you like what you see!

P.S. – You’ve got to try Boom Beach. What an amazing game!