The 'IFC' of mobile games - good apps that did not sell

 Image credit: CookieAMA mobile app

IFC ("Independent Film Channel") used to joke about themselves that they present good 'artsy' movies that did not sell.  'IFC' mobile games/apps are those with good and original designs built by independent developers neither AAA companies nor funded by AAA companies, who often go against the trend (aka starving artists) providing unique designs and experiences.   How to define a good mobile game? I want to say a fun game with good design and story but let's be realistic, people jump into a mobile game not for fun but for a conversation, a bragging right and to feel superior in a digital world, the 'alternative' world they live in.  It is not about a game but 'I am in'.  

While people continue to complain about micro-transactions and data privacy concerns, they continue to play those games and take a blind eye on how their personal data are being exploited everyday.  Some may consider it as a small 'price' to pay for keeping them entertained.  The truth is, spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on buying digital gears, charms ... etc. to stay relevant to trendy games is exactly how AAA game companies continue to exploit personal data and manipulate users to 'pay to win'.  Many of these games are cloning each other or themselves with similar designs spiced up with different explicit graphics.  There are no better for kids games.  The same idea of wanting the conversation and staying relevant among friends in school or the digital world shaping kids to beg for popular games when they should be exploring and developing their creativity with different mediums.  As for many parents who really should safeguard their kids, they would rather install some popular games which are clearly taking both the parents and their kids' all kind of data daily because damn, digital nanny is what it's all about!  

This is not just a mobile game problem, this is our future generation development problems.  We used to have different physical activities, arts and music in school and at home instead of watching videos or participating virtually through a screen.  There are certainly advantages of digital worlds providing more immersive experiences;  however, we must have the balance between digital vs. hands-on activities where physical and mental development cannot be relied on a single learning source.  We are not raising cultural snobs but mental stimulation does not come from a single source ... except ECT ("Electroconvulsive Therapy"), yep, mental it is.  

Many mobile games are designed to promote gambling and addiction encouraging gamers to keep burning hours after hours with daily challenges and bonuses, scoreboard to be the champions, challenging others with top rankings,  paying more and more for a chance and opportunity to win some arbitrary trophies marketed by the companies.  Even when gamers come across some genuinely good games, they will not have time or motivation to explore further when they are pre-occupied with those 'must play' and 'must have' games that 'everyone' is raving about. 

Do they have good mobile games which are not monetizing your personal data or pressuring kids and adults to 'pay to win' or 'pay to feel more superior'?  Yes, very rare and you likely will have a hard time finding them even if you try.  They are buried under all the AAA games ads, search engine ranking suppression (either by paid ads or clicks), social media, game stores ads, paid ratings/reviews and paid influencers.  It is brutal and very depressing for indie games or I should say mobile apps in general.  Good original mobile games (not those cookie cutter games with the exact same assets purchased from different asset stores) are very expensive to develop from art, music, design, animation and the technical skills to compact everything into a mobile game which hardware resources are limited.  

There are so many ridiculously good mobile apps and games that never bubbled up and/or eventually disappeared.  I have to keep an old ipad to use some awesome photo apps such as Big Lens by Reallusion (exited the mobile platform) and Filterstorm Neue which both no longer are available to download from the app stores.  The game world is even more brutal.  'Ancient War' by Triniti was one of the earliest tower defense games with a single in-app purchase for lazy gamers which was unnecessary compared to those pay-to-win tower defense games today.  Triniti was far from an indie company back then but an example of 'IFC', a good game that did not sell.   Some well designed and truly original games may make the news such as Shadowmatic (the website is crappy not the game I promise).  However, if you search at the app store by 'shadow' you will not find the game at all unless you also filter by 'puzzle'.  Shadowmatic was one of the apple design award winners and they have been maintaining the game.  Such an original design and good game does not even rank among the top 100 in the family category.    Who are the top so-called free or paid mobile games? Roblox, monopoly, minecraft ... etc. and some questionable high number of ratings/reviews based on the initial release date and lack of originality.  

Less independent developers and designers are willing to develop good games with original ideas as it is doomed to failure drowning by AAA ads and marketing, FOMO ("Fear of Missing Out") from social media and peer influences.  I am sure Elon Musk can make a mobile game drawing a line across the screen naming it 'Line-X' for $9.99 and will still make it to the top of the charts, best selling, editor choice ... etc.  while art critics will chime in glorifying such abstract and minimalist design, how to draw a line like a rich with his app, the tech Picasso ... 🤮.  If Elon donates the proceeds to animal shelters, I will even mow his lawn in a pair of Christian Louboutin!

Most independent developers do not survive unless you are one of those cookie cutter developers scraping quick cash using popular assets purchased from asset stores (i.e. proven visual recognition) and be among the first group landing in the app store before being marked as 'spam' apps.  True good design with original asset games without invading personal privacy  such as personal information, location and usage ...etc. or pay-to-win are rare, super rare.  With little to no advertisement, the survival is beyond grim.  Same for those who keep looking for games whether for themselves or for kids.  The market presents what they want you to see and lure you with the 'top', 'what we're playing' ,'must-play', 'Hot', Best ...' ... etc.  which you sure do not want to miss out, do you?  Even if you try searching for good design games online,  you will have a hard time discovering them.  As I mentioned earlier, they are buried under all the AAA games and game stores ads, paid ratings, reviews, influencers, social media and search engine ranking suppression either by paid ads or clicks.

BebeBoop is another 'IFC' mobile game, although the company makes the game 'free-to-all' without collecting/selling personal data so really, they did not sell in nature as they have nothing to sell.  The story behind the game is heart warming yet heart breaking at the same time (link here if you are interested in reading their design story).  The game is based on individual 'Posters' as different gameplays each with its own story, design, characters and music.  There are 17 gameplays so far (that is 17 'IFC' in one, 'pitiful' 😭).  For an indie game especially it is free, they even have in-game avatars, animated accessories and photo booth for sharing.  It is hard to believe it was designed and developed by 2 people only!  Not to mention all those activities outside the mobile game from take-out box folding, coloring, karaoke ... etc.  Based on their design story and their technical background, one can understand the motivation and ability behind all the hard work (spoiler alert, not money).  The question is, will they be able to fund this free game from other paid engagements?  I certainly hope so.  For now, I am going to enjoy a game or two while getting inspiration from their creativities to write more often.

The current mobile app market does not reward originality and creativity while many mobile users do not care or have time for good design games and apps.  Most mobile users paid to be exploited willingly,  but hey, for what its worth, now you feel you are relevant, you are in the loop, you can brag about those rare items from the games which other people would 'die' for, you rank top 100 'Yay' ... keep telling yourself for what its worth ... or is it?