I recently picked up a game called “Great Little War Game” from the Android App Store. I’m always interested to see new turn based tactical strategy games, and this looked a lot like Advance Wars, but hex based. Sounds amazing! Sadly, I actually found that the game design itself was pretty lackluster. Not to go too into detail, I found the game to be really poorly balanced and to have some really dumb rules (for instance, no summoning sickness – you can summon in and fully use not just one, but as many units as you can afford, from one production buidling in a single turn… anyone who’s played Advance Wars or a similar game knows how bad an idea this is). It’s disheartening, because most games on the Android App store barely even qualify as games to me – most are either puzzles, toys, or farmvilles (which are agreements between the player and the computer that if the player keeps clicking, the computer will keep increasing a number). I also have a lot of trouble getting into anything real-time with a touch screen; I’d even go personally as far as to say that I don’t think it’s a good idea to make real-time games on a small touch-screen device.
So anyhow, I went to the app store to write a (bad) review of the game. First problem is, they give you some ridiculously small amount of space to write your review in – about one paragraph’s worth. I barely was able to outline even the basic problems of the game in that space. But that’s not the worst problem.
The real problem with the app stores – and by the way, everything I’m saying here goes for the iOS app store, which is basically exactly the same as far as I’m concerned – is that very few people writing reviews are even reviewing the game. Here’s a quick screenshot of a random selection of reviews for Great Little War Game.
As you can see, none of these reviews offer any insight into what the gameplay is like, what’s good about the gameplay, what’s bad about the gameplay, etc. It’s all simply judging how it actually “functions” as an app – does it drain your battery, can you mute sounds, are there bugs. The best you’ll get is some blanket statement like, “the gameplay is good”, which helps no one. Why is this the case? Partially, this is because of the aforementioned lack of space to write reviews in, which I think needs to change. Why are we limited to such a small amount of space? People can write short reviews if they like, and most people will, but if someone has a lot to say about a game, why limit them? However, I’m not sure this is the only, or even the main reason for this problem.
The problem also stems from the “culture” of App Store games, which hasn’t matured to the point where people are really even thinking about gameplay. Apps are still sort of seen as “something that I can do while I’m on the toilet”, rather than something anyone would ever actually go seek out in order to play. We haven’t gotten to the point, with arguably any Android/iOS apps, that we have some “killer apps” – something that you just HAVE TO PLAY, even if it means you have to buy new hardware. This is because the biggest hits on the platforms – stuff like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja – have the gameplay quality of a flash game, not of a hit PC or console game. Games are seen as this weird, cheapo commodity – more like getting a toy with your happy meal than the main course.
Further illustrating this is the way that games are treated on the Android Market. Here’s a list of the “genres” on Android Market currently:
- Arcade & Action – I’m guessing that any real-time game would fall into this huge, sweeping category that could cover roughly half of all games ever made.
- Brain & Puzzle – Okay, so this is where puzzles go, and I guess turn based games, trivia games, word games and “brainy” stuff like that. Again, a massive category that could cover roughly half of all games ever made.
- Cards & Casino – No problems here.
- Casual – What? Honestly, why is there a Casual category? It’s very, very difficult to find any apps that don’t qualify as casual on these app stores, so if anything I would think there should be a “hardcore” category, not a casual category.
- Live Wallpaper – Sort of a technical filter, not a genre - these are games that are incorporated into the wallpaper. Just about any game could have a “live wallpaper version”.
- Racing – This one kinda comes out of nowhere, eh? This is actually the first category that I would really, actually call a genre of game. That it exists makes me think that there will be “First Person Shooters”, “Turn-Based Strategy Games”, “Platformers” and other such actual genres of games.
- Sports Games – Again, solid – this is a genre of game.
- Widgets – this is like the Wallpaper one – absolutely NOT a game genre.
So, out of these 8 categories – yes, that’s all there is – I would say only three of them are actually genres of games, and so only three of them would actually help a person find a kind of game that would interest them. This is a huge problem and it’s causing massive ripple effects in the community.
Please, Android Overlords, please reform this system. Just to give you a start, here’s what I recommend as genres (bonus points for sub-genres).
- Massively Multiplayer Games
- Tower Defense Games (this automatically filters out 98% of all apps on the store)
- Role-Playing Games
- Turn Based Strategy (can have subcategories of wargames, tactics games, 4x games)
- Real Time Strategy
- Card & Board Games (Would be ideal if this had subgenres, like trick-taking games, abstracts, deckbuilding games, Eurogames, etc – hire someone who knows their stuff about these things)
- Sports Games (subcategories for specific sports, as well as an other subcategory)
- Racing Games
- First Person Shooters
- Shoot-Em-Ups (or Shmups, if you prefer)
- Other (for stuff that really just doesn’t fit anywhere else at all – maybe subgenres for some smaller genres like Fighting Games for instance)
- Misc (this should have the technical filters, like widgets and live wallpapers)
Really, it seems like they don’t have someone who’s an expert on games setting this all up, and that’s a huge mistake. Android people, I personally know many people who are qualified for this job, hell, I’ll do it myself if you’ll let me. It can be something that changes when enough people decide it needs to change. Anyway, what’s there now is not reasonable. Having a clear, consistent way of organizing games is a really great start in improving the situation on these platforms, which, at this time, feels more like reading my spam folder than my inbox.