Mobile gaming is by far the biggest video game market globally, and the revenue made is utterly mind-blowing – we have come a long way when it comes to games that we can play on a mobile phone from the early days of Snake on the Nokia.
It has never been a better time to be a smartphone user, and every new release of a device packs more processing power and more features into our phones – it has been said that today’s smartphones have more computing power than NASA did when it sent astronauts to the moon. We might not be launching spacecraft from our pockets, but we are connecting with people around the world through social media, taking professional quality photographs, watching blockbuster movies and binge-worthy TV shows, and playing casino slot games – all with a bit of plastic and metal in our pockets.
According to Statista, the global market revenue for mobile gaming will be $173.6 billion in 2023, and that is set to reach $220.7 billion by 2027. About 25% of the global population plays games on their mobile phones, and that number is expected to reach 2.3 billion users by 2027.
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Snake and Numerical Keypads
Millennials will remember when mobile phones finally became small enough to be useable and cheap enough to be in reach for most people. This was the generation of the unbreakable Nokia – and the first ‘proper’ mobile game. Snake was created for the Nokia 6110, and this deceptively simple game became an instant hit.
Simple graphics controls that matched the numerical keypad and an easy-to-understand set of rules made Snake not only the first mobile game but the first game that could be described as hyper-casual (more on this later).
With the addition of WAP and Bluetooth, Snake and similar games suddenly became multiplayer-compatible, and developers began to understand that there was a real market here.
One of the biggest ‘proper’ games to come to mobile phones at this time was Asphalt GT by Gameloft, and for the ‘90s and early ‘00s, games were downloaded via premium rate text message or paid for through your phone bill.
The Smartphone Revolution
The iPhone really changed the game, and the launch of the apps in 2008 brought developers and players together for the first time. Suddenly, game creators could cut out the middle man and sell games directly to players, avoiding the cuts taken by publishers and mobile operators.
All sorts of computer programs and businesses began creating apps that could be downloaded to smartphones, and with Android and iOS, there was a huge range of different markets available. Games were just a part of this, with apps created for entertainment among the top-grossing in all the years since.
The introduction of Hyper-Casual Gaming
Hyper-casual is a bit of a buzzword in gaming, but the premise is that these are the games that don’t need a long time to play, don’t take much to learn, and are usually simple in design and storyline. Casino games are a prime example here; you can play slots with free spins and no deposit, which don’t require too much of your time, rather than a game with a long storyline. This is ideal for people with busy lifestyles.
The first real example of this is Angry Birds, first released in 2009. Flinging birds at pigs in various terrains is not a world-changing idea, but the execution of the game and the simplicity made it a roaring success and set the standards in gaming for years afterward.
Games that rely on real-time actions can be a bit long to play, but Farmville and similar games made it work by getting social media contacts involved. You could send your Facebook friends money and help them unlock things, ask them for help, and visit their farms – and this made the social aspect of games on smartphones more interesting – and led to things like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans (which as a game was earning more than $5 million a day in 2014).
Innovation in smartphone technology is mirrored in the games that you can play, and the exciting addition of AR meant that, as players, we can interact with games using our real-world surroundings – and nothing shows this better than Pokémon Go. Within a month of release, the meteoric success of this game meant that it had 100 million players globally within a month of it’s release.
Cross-Platform and Multiplayer
Today, the buzz for gaming is around cross-platform abilities. Gone are the days when you would have to have the same console as a friend to be able to play together – or the even further back times when you would have to be in the same room, hoping they had an extra controller. Today, you can jump on a game of Fortnite with your friends using console, PC, Switch, and your smartphone. This ability has had a great surge in popularity during the pandemic and shows no signs of slowing down.
Games for Kids
The younger generation is no strangers to a digital world, and many developers are working actively to encourage children to become avid mobile gamers using platforms like Roblox. Aimed at kids, Roblox is a whole world of different games in the 8-bit style familiar to Minecraft fans, where children can play and interact with others safely – really preparing them for the eventual move into other mobile games.