Once upon a time, gaming on mobile phones was an extremely limited affair, and one that failed to match the quality or appeal of the games on offer in arcades and games consoles. While mobile games slowly increased in sophistication over the years, it wasn’t until the launch of the iPhone and the advent of a new generation of apps on iOS and Android in the latter part of the 00s that mobile gaming began to carve out a respectable niche for itself in the games industry.
To date, the most popular types of games played on smartphones are simple, casual titles that employ simple puzzle mechanics and physics effects to create a satisfying and accessible gaming experience. Yet alongside these, developers have been actively seeking to increase the number of direct game console ports onto these mobile operating systems, with early noteworthy examples of this trend being Rockstar’s port of Grand Theft Auto III to iOS and Android in 2011, Square Enix bringing its Final Fantasy series to mobile from 2010 onwards. Even classic gaming experiences such as poker have become increasingly popular on mobile devices due to the on-demand nature and ease-of-access offered by this format, especially in contrast to traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives.
What is behind this ongoing uptake in smartphone gaming? For one, a range of market factors have come together to make smartphones more affordable and accessible, with cheaper data plans and lower cost components meaning more people than ever can afford the type of smartphone hardware capable of supporting high quality gaming. With smartphone ownership up to a record 82% of the global population, players unlikely to invest in dedicated gaming hardware are far likelier to access games through their smartphone. What’s more, with nearly 1 million games to choose from in the app store there’s something for gamers of all preferences to enjoy. This picture is even more stark in developing economic regions, with a report by DFC Intelligence finding that respondents from South East Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are 1.5x likelier to to use their smartphone as their exclusive gaming device.
Triple ‘A’ Gaming
In recent years, smartphones have become powerful enough to run direct ports of certain modern games that were once the exclusive province of home games consoles. Titles such as Genshin Impact and ARK: Survival Evolved are among the first games to experience a simultaneous launch across home games systems and mobile devices. Additionally, the development of cloud gaming services such as Microsoft’s XCloud and Google Stadia now make it possible for even low powered devices to enjoy top tier titles providing they have access to a sufficiently high speed internet connection.
With smartphones now able to participate in the types of gaming experiences once reserved for dedicated hardware, a new generation of gaming smartphones have begun to emerge to accommodate this development. These devices, such as the Lenovo Legion Duel 2 and the upcoming Asus ROG Phone 6, are designed from the ground up to optimise mobile gaming. To achieve this they pack in large, high resolution, low latency displays, alongside large internal batteries and top tier specifications. Many also feature on-board internal cooling fans, such as those found in gaming laptops and computers in order to limit the risk of thermal throttling during extended play sessions. Most also offer ergonomic solutions, from additional on-board buttons, to attachable peripheral game controllers modelled after those found on the Xbox Series X/S or PlayStation 5. The arrival of such optimised gaming devices is indicative of the health and future of the smartphone gaming community.
Over the past few years, mobile-only Esports competitions, such as the PUBG Mobile championship, have sprung up to accommodate a new generation of dedicated competitive smartphone gamers. Such developments will go a long way in validating the position of mobile within the games industry and lead to developers bringing ever more investment and focus into optimising their games for smartphones into the 2020s and onwards.