The rise of our digital landscape has seen not just the development of technology, but also the introduction and dominance of new industries. The gaming industry, in particular, has risen above most other forms of entertainment, with some major releases pulling in more revenue than summer blockbuster movies.
Perhaps the most surprising contributor to the gaming industry’s success is the prevalence of mobile titles. Ever since the introduction of Snake on late 1990s Nokia cellphones, developers have pushed boundaries to bring ever more rich and playable experiences to the most ubiquitous piece of technology in our society today.
So, what are some of the contributing factors to the growth of this section of the video games market? Why are they making such a distinct impact? What are the likely next advancements to support gaming on the move? Let’s take a closer look.
The Preferred Platform
When discussing the popularity of gaming, it’s usually the big-budget console titles that get the attention. However, mobile gaming is a staple sector of the industry — one recent report found that the mobile games market brought in a higher percentage of total industry revenue than PC and console games combined.
So what’s driving this popularity?
One of the issues with console and PC gaming is the cost involved. They can be prohibitively expensive for a significant portion of the population. However, a far greater portion of the populace has a smartphone or tablet device that is capable of the graphic and processing power needed to run games. This has created a more inclusive space for gaming, which in return has spurred demand for more mobile titles.
- Developer Confidence and Diversity
The accessibility and wide demographic also happens to make it a solid investment for developers — as well as an exciting industry to explore. It’s worth noting, too, that mobile game production is generally lower cost, as is distribution through the App Store or Google Play. This means smaller startups and indie developers have as much ability to contribute to the marketplace as large studios. This results in a proliferation of titles, developers, and audiences in a way that not only boosts the market but improves overall diversity in gaming.
A major influencing factor on mobile gaming is the steep curve of technological advancement. From a hardware perspective, the move to smartphones was the most significant step up for gaming. Rather than relying on the limited functionality of keys, touchscreens opened control methods to include tapping and swiping — direct interactions. The removal of the keypad also expanded the screen room for more complex and engaging visuals.
Processing power has also been a vital factor in mobile gaming’s momentum. To put it into stark comparison, the latest smartphone models tend to run on octa-core central processing units (CPU), while many of us are still using laptops with quad-core technology. This is necessary because even the most basic smartphone has to be able to process multiple graphics-intensive apps, camera functions, and still operate as a phone. However, in much the same way that PCs can be optimized for games, tablets and smartphones are being made with chipsets targeted at gamers, with the memory and processing speeds to handle 3D graphics. That said, the majority of developers aren’t targeting the high-performance mobile users, tending to shoot toward the mid-range to capture the widest audience.
It’s important to note that the technological advances that have brought us to this point are not strictly limited to hardware, but also developers’ approach to coding. While initial smartphone apps were developed in native languages such as Java for Android and Objective-C for Apple’s iOS, over the last several years this has developed into a less platform-locked approach. Today we see games being developed most commonly in web languages: Html and CSS. However, multiplatform game engines, particularly Unity3D are being used to ensure accessibility across not just mobile devices, but also consoles and PCs. This has been successful in co-operative games where each player might be using a different type of device, like the stand-out lockdown hit of this year, Among Us.
Where Are We Going?
Games on all platforms are becoming more ambitious as demand and technology develop. As we move toward the future, what are likely to be the key elements that cause shifts in how hardcore and casual gamers alike engage?
Some will include:
The potential for more visually complex gaming on mobile platforms is very much dependent on whether phones can display these elements. We are increasingly seeing the development of folding screens, and this holds some potential for gamers. The Samsung Galaxy Fold can unwrap from a regular smartphone-sized screen to become closer to a tablet device; this can be useful for displaying finer details and more immersive content.
One of the key challenges that the progression of mobile gaming faces is that of battery life. Graphics and interactions-heavy applications eat electricity. This leads to many mobile gamers playing while plugged into main outlets, which also puts devices at risk of damage from unexpected surges; it’s one of the reasons many of us have taken to operating with surge protectors. The future of mobile gaming is likely to address this issue. We can expect the continued development of batteries with larger capacities and shorter charging times. We can also expect to see radio charging technology, removing the need to be tethered to charge and play at the same time.
The fifth generation of mobile networking capability is expected to be a huge boost for mobile gaming. It represents the ability for users to be free of lags or interruptions to their internet service. It also enables fast downloads of large amounts of data. This means that developers will be able to produce more data-rich games, and gamers will benefit from uninterrupted cooperative or competitive play with more players than they would previously have been able to.
Mobile devices are a key part of our lives. They have also made an impact on gaming, proving to open doors to more diverse players and developers alike. As we move into the future, the technological advances that help keep smartphones a key part of our existence are also likely to offer advantages to the continued development in this field of entertainment.