"Immersion is widely agreed to constitute an integral part of the game play experience." (source: Portable Presence: Can Mobile Games Be Immersive Games?)
Most of us played mobile games at least a couple times in our lives, and we noticed how different this experience is from playing a game on a PC, TV, console, or even on a handheld device. We usually start mobile fun in specific conditions or places, or we are motivated to do that by specific behaviors. Mobile games have many advantages and disadvantages to give us better or worse gaming experience. In the past few years, mobile gaming became a very popular activity. It is also claimed that mobile gaming is set to overtake handheld gaming. According to IDC, gamers will spend more money on mobile games (smartphone, tablets) in 2013 than on handheld games. This is very interesting because mobile devices aren't the actual gaming consoles, but they have become very popular gaming devices. Why are we immersed by pocket sized entertainment which doesn't even have convenient buttons or controllers?
Let's analyze a couple factors which can be crucial for immersion in mobile gaming, and let's compare that to other gaming devices, such as consoles, PC's, etc.
The 4 inch mobile screen size can't replace the experience of gaming with a 52 inch LCD. It is just impossible to feel the depth of the game world. What is interesting is that research has been done with example games called Osmos. Here is an excerpt from a study over immersion of mobile games by T. Lavender, and D. Gromala:
"The proposed study will compare immersion across three different sized platforms (including two portable devices) to explore the relationship between immersion and screen size for video games and the potential for immersive mobile video games... Osmos was chosen because of this need for the player to focus, which is conducive to immersion. Osmos has other immersive characteristics, including challenging and varied tasks, a consistent game world, and visual and audio quality. It was also chosen because the game is easy to learn, and is available on different sized platforms, such as desktop computers (Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows), tablets (iPad) and smartphones (iPhone/iPod Touch, Android). The rules of the game are identical for the different versions, making cross-platform comparisons more valid."
The hypothesis coming from this study expects that screen size has a positive effect on immersion, and "immersion scores will be higher for players of the iMac version of Osmos than for the players of the iPad and iPhone versions". It seems to be obvious that a bigger screen gives us more depth and a better "feel" of the game, but it still doesn't answer the question of why mobile devices are so popular for gaming. The next factor is also connected with this study.
Comfort of gameplay
Mobile devices don't have controllers (special buttons, joysticks, comfortable keyboard, mouse). A touch screen, qwerty keyboard, an a couple function buttons can work, and it can work for tapping and sliding games, but it will never be as accurate as a mouse. Let's go back to the study over the Osmos game. One consideration can be interesting: "On the smaller platforms, the player manipulates the organism with their fingers, while a mouse is used as an intermediary on the iMac. It is possible, therefore, that any difference between immersion could be in part explained by these haptic considerations, and not by screen size." No matter how big the screen is, we would prefer to "touch" the objects in a game and have a feel of control over them, and I believe these may be reasons why we immerse so much into mobile games.
Another factor is the way we like to play. I already mentioned that in my previous blog entry. It comes out that we immerse into mobile game much more, because we can play them anywhere and anytime, wherever we feel comfortable to play. In many cases lying in bed and not being forced to prepare PC or consoles for gaming, make us much more eager to play a game on a smartphone or tablet.
Length of gameplay
Let's face it, mobile devices aren't best for huge MMO's, Strategies, or FPS. They just aren't good enough for spending more than a couple hours on one session. We usually play casual, quick games, but if the game is more complex, we we play a short session and come back to it later. So basically, immersion here is motivated by not very engaging length which gives mobile games an advantage in different situations, when we don't really want to make a long raid to the dungeon bosses.
The audio experience in mobile games is not as good as the one on PC's or standalone consoles. It may create a specific atmosphere (horror sounds, spooky or dungeon music, etc), and it helps gamer to be more linked with the game world and feel it's thickness (especially with surround systems). On a single mono speaker we will not experience this features, we can only hear some clicks, notifications and specific actions sounds, of course there is also music, but only with earphones we can make it slightly better. For example, HTML5 mobile games still have issues with sounds. Personally in many cases, I prefer to play mobile games in silence, no matter what technology it was made with. Despite lack of sound depth, we still like to hear funny notifications, entertaining music, but I believe we don't really put as much attention to it as in standalone, bigger games.
IMHO, when we start a mobile gaming session we don't really look for experiences which we can find on the huge screens of our PC's or TV's. We are immersed by totally different factors, and we are looking for different feel of the gameplay. We feel comfortable playing this way, because we can do that in our bed (even when the TV is on), on a bench, or even in a tent and no cables limit us. The immersion comes also from the way we want to spend our time with a game. If we don't really want to sit for long hours over the keyboard, we just take a smartphone and start a short session with a casual mobile game. Mobile games make us eager to buy them, because it is easier and cheaper to obtain the next product, and it is much cheaper than a game for a PC or console. I believe those factors brought success for pocket sized devices. They aren't the actual consoles, but with a few advantages they became e an ultimate solution for many games lovers.