They’re everywhere — the MRT, the line for that newly-opened restaurant, the sidelines of a pick-up basketball game. Invasive, pervasive, they’ve intruded on the Filipino national consciousness, a phenomenon that’s been sweeping the country for a while now.
Of course, I’m talking about mobile games. The once taken-for-granted sibling of bigger console and PC games. They’ve come with a vengeance to stake their claim in the hearts of Filipinos nationwide. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. Call of Duty Mobile. Black Desert Mobile. The list goes on and on, and the titles involved are only larger and larger. Clearly, gone are the days where simple platformers and puzzle games such as Candy Crush and Temple Run dominated the market — nowadays there seems to be a game for just about every person interested in the mobile gaming market.
What happened? What are the reasons behind the exploding cases of “looking-down-at-the-cellphone” stiff neck in the country? How have these (quite literal) small games struck a chord with us?
The Nintendo Switch, Sony PS4, Microsoft Xbox One, and the common PC are all great gaming devices — with a large, price tag-sized caveat. Indeed, the reason why two of the most popular traditional video games in the country are computer and arcade games respectively, Dota 2 and Tekken, is because of accessibility. Around P17 gives you a go at competing in your nearest Timezone or Power Station. P20 gets you a Dota game in one of the harshest places on earth: the Filipino internet cafe.
Smartphone gaming takes it to the extreme. It takes a necessity in the modern age — the smartphone — and amplifies its power with a plethora of free-to-play options with no significant logistical or financial investment. Instead of trekking to a Mineski to first-pick Pudge in a 2k MMR Dota game, a prospective gamer can simply install Mobile Legends and instantly lock in Franco in the comfort of his own home.
No cost, no sweat — simply a killer combination in the increasingly fast modern Filipino world, where the working class is becoming a huge target for mobile game companies. The people who grew up in the Philippines’ Dota 1, Counter-Strike, and Ragnarok boom of the 2000s simply do not have the time anymore to indulge in computer shop gaming. So instead, they resort to their rather impressive mobile counterparts.
As mentioned earlier, the free-to-play model has been adapted by most of the popular mobile games here in the Philippines. Of course, they still have to make money. They do so, quite infamously, with microtransactions — a word that sends chills down anyone’s spine. These microtransactions allow more invested players to spend their spare money, often only for cosmetic benefit as to not tip the scales in favor of paying players. This goes hand-in-hand with the recent boom in online transactions amongst Filipinos.
Online payment schemes, such as banks, and e-money services like Paymaya and GCash, have paved the way for more common transactions over the internet, online shopping and mobile game microtransactions just being two examples. A major local newspaper notes that 30% of financial transactions in the country are already done online. Some people have essentially relocated their potential spendings on a Switch, or 50 hours in a computer shop, to in-application purchases.
Not only that — mobile data plans continue to get cheaper and cheaper. My own plan, as a matter of fact, just recently got upgraded for free, much to my surprise. Telecommunication companies are quickly offering up bigger data plans for less, even going as far as providing free data for some games such as Mobile Legends.
Globe’s GoSakto promo, gives 1 GB of data for P70 at the very minimum, with a free 1 GB daily allocation for media consumption, which includes games such as Mobile Legends, PUBG, and Arena of Valor. It’s pretty insane value, and that’s not even the most budget-friendly option out there. GoSurf promos go as low as P15 for 100 MB, which is more than enough data to play these games for two days. Take note that mobile games do not use up much data — most of the game’s assets and graphics are already downloaded to your phone. Mobile Legends, by far the most data-hungry mobile game, only uses around 25 MB per game, which means a 1GB plan will likely get you around 40 games.
Indeed, people are willing to fork over their hard earned cash for digital gains now, but what about the hardware? The price of the Internet?
Counterpoint Research has reported that Chinese smartphone brands recorded their highest ever share of the Filipino smartphone market in the 3rd quarter of 2019. What does this mean? Bigger bang for your buck, of course.
Chinese smartphones are quickly hitting a sweet spot where the majority of them have high-end specs at low to mid-end price points. Brands like Xiaomi, Realme, and OPPO have led the charge towards a consumer revolution, especially in a market as competitive and as populated as the Philippines. Which means that everyone can essentially afford a high-end smartphone now. Everyone can have 50 tabs open on their browser app on their phone now. And yes, everyone can now play Black Desert Mobile and PUBG on ridiculously high graphical settings, setting you up for a great raid, or a great headshot.
Price points and technological breakthroughs are quickly intertwining, and the accessibility of mobile gaming is a direct result of it. If logistics is taken care of by these games’ portability factor, then financial feasibility is handled by the fact that the smartphone and the modern mobile data plan are already necessities, not luxuries.
Do you remember playing Warcraft III custom lobbies in an internet cafe? Or Counter-strike: Source deathmatches? I certainly do, and they really were quite the experience. There’s something different when you play with your friends. It becomes its own form of bonding; its own form of creating new ties. Whether it’s celebrating over a win, or jokingly insulting someone after he or she makes a mistake, there are plenty of memories tied to gaming with friends, especially within the Filipino context of an internet cafe.
Mobile gaming allows us all to experience this camaraderie (and the opportunity to play with friends) any time, anywhere. You’ll often see workers on a break crowding a table in a restaurant, just enjoying a quick game in between shifts. You’ll see commuters readily playing with some friends in the downtime of a bus ride. You’ll even see people play mobile counterparts of big games at home where other consoles are available, just for the sake of continuity within the game itself. Smartphone, internet, game — they all bring together the convenience of modern necessities, and the allure of a game breaktime.
In the modern world of games, everything has to flow from one play session to the next. And when a platform presents itself as omnipresent and indispensable to daily life, developers would be stupid not to take that opportunity. A fast-moving society begets quick and dirty fun. A fun that’s simply plug n’play, indistinguishable from the daily platforms that form our backbone so that anywhere is where the playtime begins.
Header art by Zoe Rosal
Anton has been writing ever since his English professor in college roasted one of his essays. He writes mostly about pop culture, mass media and our consumption of it; he’s most interested in how they influence our view of the world. Usually you can find him binge-watching an anime, or perhaps listening to the new Kero Kero Bonito record.
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