The mobile gaming market is estimated to be worth $420.39 billion by 2026. As the industry is expanding and conquering greater heights, it is noteworthy that its inception is fairly new. The first mobile game was Tetris, built for the Hagenuk MT-2000, and released in 1994. Mobile games made a home in phones with “Snake” released in 1997 for the Nokia 6610. Since then, the style and design of mobile games have undergone an astounding makeover.
Tetris and Snake ran on graphics that employed individual pixels to propel the game. Along with the evolution of smartphones, mobile games turned suave–graphics and visuals that lured players to stay hooked coupled with easy interactions. However, until the release of touchscreen phones in 2007, most mobile games were run-of-the-mill Match-3 games. Addictive and entertaining? Yes. Fresh and avant-garde? No. The touchscreen phones opened a new avenue for audiences to browse through games—it empowered them to access a universe of new games by perusing through an app store!
In 2009, Rovio Entertainment caused waves across the globe by releasing one of the best mobile games the world had seen: Angry Birds. It was made available on the App Store and the PlayStore. It was fresh and exciting, with its adorable and angry birds causing havoc using their physics-based slingshot mechanism. Mobile gaming moved from portrait to landscape, giving way for more UI and more aspects to the game itself. By 2010, Farmville and Candy Crush grew rampant; but users truly became acclimated with landscape gaming with the release of the renowned Clash of Clans. It demanded that the users play in landscape mode and use two hands! The way players interacted with mobile games had changed. With a carefully deliberated UI, the screen’s perimeter was furnished with options for the players to use at their discretion.
Although the game was intended for tablet gaming, it received an overwhelmingly positive response from smartphone users. The new face of UI/UX for mobile games was widely accepted—design took the lead to drive the growth of the industry. Since then, mobile games have oscillated between landscape and portrait modes; giving users an endless library of games to choose from.
The next wave of change brought in a new age of technology. Pokémon Go utilized Augmented Reality: explore the real world in an endeavor for pokémon and catch ‘em all! The game’s design was adapted to integrate real-world surroundings while simultaneously enchanting the player through their screen. Pokémon Go roped in 45 million players in a single day! It also garnered 500 million downloads within the first 3 months of release. The game got people glued to their phones, foraging for the mystical creatures using their phone’s camera that could only be seen on their screen.
As aforementioned, the mobile gaming industry was strictly confined to games specifically built for tablets and mobiles. Games designed for PC and consoles were incompatible with smartphones; the makers of the games found it beyond their purview to bridge the lamentable gap. PC and console gamers belonged to an exclusive club; regular folks or “noobs” were impermissible. The consumers of the PC and console games were dominated by males who had access to hi-tech equipment and high-speed internet connections. Things could go on this way for only so long. The accessibility of smartphones and mobile games multiplied furiously; gaming giants had to realize the untapped mobile gamer market. While smartphone users were well-equipped with the likes of what they’d seen so far, the game (pun intended!) begged for an overhaul. It was time for the exclusivity to melt and take the shape of an all-inclusive gaming revolution: cross-platform gaming.
Cross-platform gaming increased the pressure on design teams. Earlier, visual and game designers had the liberty of space and functionality of a PC or a console. In order to port their well-established multi-functional games to mobile phones, involving a hefty amount of work. The method in which the player would interact with the game would have to be entirely revamped. Besides lining the perimeter of the device with UI, designers had to strike a balance to ensure most of the screen space remained untouched, for the player to experience the game itself. It warranted new rules. UI had to be simple and intuitive, only displaying essential information. The most used tools of the games needed to be at the forefront and easily accessible. UX had to be straightforward without compromising on the experience i.e., the experience the player witnessed had to be in the same range as the PC and console games.
Games like Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and PUBG Mobile were able to rise to the challenge and made their way into smartphones far and wide, automatically diversifying the games’ user base.
Cross-platform gaming additionally gave rise to a plethora of social mobile games—games that deliver features akin to or linked to social media! Social mobile games monetized and benefitted through building a strong community for their users. It increased engagement time and ad revenue. Some crucial features that this genre of mobile games provides:
Messaging and voice chat–stay connected to fellow players and teammates
Leaderboards and activity feed–the status and skills level of each player are displayed
Social media integrations–show off skills across multiple apps
Push notifications–stay hooked to the game and perpetually connected
Communities and factions–embodying the feeling of being a part of something larger than oneself
Mobile gaming met its latest evolution with esports. Alongside traditional esports, mobile esports is snowballing to make its mark. In 2022, the most watched mobile game, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang amassed a whopping 331.47M total number of hours watched.
The growth in technology and the ability of design to adapt games to provide an enjoyable experience to users have made modern mobile gaming vastly different from what it used to be. With the boom of the ed-tech industry and gamification of well, almost everything, the design of mobile games promises further sophistication. Games have already witnessed AR and VR but now, metaverses are available on mobile phones. With metaverse gaming making entering the mobile gaming world, social games will have an unprecedented level of immersion. The metaverse will allow users to play to earn, with fully functional economic systems and portable game resources. The future of mobile gaming is bright and houses universes of games within itself!
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