Mobile games mostly MIA at E3

LOS ANGELES—Gaming's most important platform has been mysteriously absent at this year's E3. Companies attending the week-long expo have shown off plenty of games for the PC and all the major consoles, but games for smartphones and tablets have been almost nonexistent. After making my rounds through the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, I found a total of two games playable on mobile devices—Terraria and Deus Ex: The Fall.

It's rather disappointing that a show that's supposed to be the biggest video game expo on Earth seems to be ignoring the fastest growing segment of the gaming market. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Electronic Software Association, 36 percent of gamers play games on their smartphones. Furthermore, 25 percent of people who play games play on "wireless devices," a category that includes tablets, iPods, and similar gadgets that don't connect to a cellular network. It was surprising to see that companies with extensive mobile game portfolios, like EA and Ubisoft, hardly promoted anything beyond games for PCs and consoles. Mobile gamers make up the vast majority of the gaming population, but they got no love from E3.

This hasn’t been the place to find mobile games.

Instead, it was Apple that threw mobile gamers the largest bone this week. At its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, a slide in Apple's WWDC keynote revealed that iOS 7 would support standardized gamepads. Suddenly, playing games like Grand Theft Auto III, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Dead Trigger on your phone becomes that much more appealing because you're not forced to use some terri-bad virtual joypad. It also opens up the platform to more complex games. Imagine being able to play a title like Battlefield on your phone or tablet. Apple did more for mobile gaming in one day than E3 did in an entire week.

Apple’s Craig Federighi hints that Apple plans to offer more expansive support to third-party controllers.

Even with these recent developments, however, the idea that mobile lends itself to a subpar gaming experience is very much alive and well. Mobile gaming is the red-headed stepchild of the gaming community and that perception won't go away as long as developers continue to hide their wares behind their console and PC titles. I thoroughly enjoyed the few minutes I got to play of Deus Ex: The Fall on an iPad and would love to see more big-name developers take the time to craft original games for tablets and phones.

Ports of existing titles are fine, too, but only if they don't lose anything in the transition to mobile. 2K is bringing its popular XCOM: Enemy Unknown to iPhones and iPads later this year, and that version of the game will feature all of the content found in the console and PC versions. That's how you do a port, folks.

I have my fingers crossed that next year's E3 will give us mobile gamers something to get excited about. If not, maybe Apple can start throwing its own gaming conference.

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