Slouching awkwardly against one of the hand rails on the train during my daily commute the other week I found myself captivated by a gentleman sat in my line-of-sight playing something on his iPad. Until his gaze flicked up causing me to nonchalantly drift my eyes away and pretend I was just glaring at everything in the carriage like a normal person and not just him, I had been transfixed by whatever it was that he was playing because of one simple fact: I had no idea what it was.[break]
If you are at all plugged into the games industry, it's rare that you are surprised by any new releases. Even with the indie scene, a lot of the more significant and interesting titles generate enough pre-release hype that although they may be innovative or unusual in some way, you're still not exactly surprised by them.
This was different though. It's not that the title looked particularly enjoyable, or even terribly well polished, it was just that there was absolutely no recognition of any of the artwork or style of game. Not only had I no idea what the title was called, I would have been unable to give a rough guess of the developer and actually a little hard-pressed to reliably tie it down to a particular genre.
It's not the first time this has happened at all. Being nosey and glancing at what people play on their phones will a third of the time reveal Angry Birds, a third of the time Solitaire and a third of the time something completely unrecognisable.
Birds, cards, or potential madness
It's easy to see why this is the case. There is a daily deluge of games unleashed onto the Apple Appstore and Google Play, making it impossible to keep up with everything. A couple of news outlets make a valiant outlet, but there is a never-ending quagmire of games freely or cheaply available, catering to the many weird and wonderful tastes of your average smartphone owner.
The scenario reminds me of a simpler time in gaming, a time before the internet where a handful of titles were marketed incredibly hard with the rest left to be spread gradually through word of mouth among peer groups, or were quite simply found in a shop and bought on the off-chance it would be ok.
The iOS and Android markets inspire a sense of nostalgia, not in their wares but in the system itself. They encourage discovery and give you the chance to uncover hidden gems. The Appstore reminds me of going to visit my Amiga-owning friend and being introduced to games I'd never seen before and would quite likely never see again.
It's impossible to go back to that time before everyone knew everything, and even if it were possible, it would be a bad idea. The gaming collective having a persistent always-on knowledge of what is out and what is going to be imminently released is the lifeblood of the industry and to remove that would be to see everyone on all sides of the equation suffer.
However, seeing this completely unknown game being played by a complete stranger on the train made me want to branch out of my comfort zone a little more and explore the gaming unknown. Be it the mobile gaming markets or the less mainstream end of the indie scene, the next Minecraft analogue that nobody has played yet is out there and I want to find it.