A friend’s girlfriend recently declared that she had never played a video game and had no idea – or interest – in what they were about. “But you play Candy Crush?”, the boyfriend countered. “Yeah, but that’s not a video game.”
There was once a time when gaming was solely for gamers. It was an exclusive club coveted by those who held a membership, and derided by those who didn’t understand it. Barriers were rarely crossed, games and the devices designed to play them were designed by gamers for gamers. Genres would come and go as each new generation brought a tide of nascent technology that pushed the realms of video game development into exciting and unexplored territories. But it was all very black and white – the borders were defined and rarely crossed. You were either a gamer or you weren’t. And that suited everyone.
But canny business folk within the games industry realised that in order to increase the bottom line, the customer base would need to expand, and thus gaming as a medium evolved to compensate. It was Nintendo’s little white box that threw the door open to a new audience of gamers. The Wii, with its novelty motion controllers and broad range of software that appealed to mums and dads looking to get fit, right up to a game of archery with the grandparents. Barriers were dropped and a new wave of players/customers dubbed ‘casual gamers’ by the media became hooked on interactive entertainment.
Eventually Nintendo realised that its core audience had deserted and in a 360, the Japanese gaming giant’s attention switched. But what now for the legions of ‘casuals’ turned on to video games? Enter the mobile phone.
In the beginning
There was once a time when owning a Nokia 6110 and playing the pre-installed Snake on a monochrome screen was seen as the pinnacle of mobile phone technology. Yes, 1997 would prove to be a defining year in mobile gaming. Tetris had featured on a phone three years earlier made by Danish company Hagenuk, but Snake on the 6110 was where it was at, and the simple dots and lines maze-style game became the essential companion on every commute. Utilising the 6110’s built-in infrared port, users could even play the first mobile multiplayer games of Snake. The first step had been taken and before long, simple card games and even basic shooters chased out the 20th century.
A new decade
The next big step in mobile gaming came with the introduction of wireless application protocol, or WAP technology. This meant that users could now download basic text adventure-style games and enabled support for multiplayer. From here, the levy broke and the implementation of new operating systems would see the beginning of more complex games in colour coming around the turn of the century. Following the cycle in the early ‘80s, where arcade games began to be ported to console and home computers, the big publishers sat up and took note, and before long basic console ports began to arrive.
A bold step
Seizing the moment, in 2003 mobile giant Nokia threw a ton of resources into developing the, if nothing else, well-named N-Gage, a gaming and phone hybrid that featured local multiplayer via Bluetooth and multiplayer over the Internet. Designed to compete with the Game Boy Advance, despite some big franchise support such as Tomb Raider, the N-Gage failed to engage with the gaming public, partly due to its high price and awkward control system, and it became a commercial failure. However, as a concept it was ahead of its time.
Apple takes a bite
Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, sparking a new dawn in mobile gaming. Its 3.5-inch touchscreen gifted developers a blank canvas with motion control and custom-built interfaces opening the doors to unlimited creativity. The following year the App Store was released, a digital distribution platform designed specifically for downloadable software for the iPhone. It initially launched with 500 apps but now the number sits at over two million. Utilised by major studios to put out mobile versions of major franchise games, the App Store has also given indie developers on smaller budgets a platform to trade – and in some cases succeed beyond wildest expectations. Angry Birds, released in 2009, is one of the most downloaded games of all time and was developed by Rovio, a studio that only employed four people at the time of release.
But it wasn’t just Apple that capitalised on the wave of mobile game interest. In 2008, Google entered the race with Android Market to support the ever growing list of smartphones to use the Android OS with apps. Rebranded as Google Play Store in 2012, today there are over three million apps on the platform.
Today, the growth of mobile gaming is exponential. Look around on any journey and you’ll see folk of all ages silently entranced by the game at their fingertips. The range of gaming extends to just about every interest, catering for a myriad of different gamers from casual to core. And at the helm, studios of all sizes compete for eyes. We’ve come a long way from that monochromatic snake.
FACTS AND FIGURES
• The world has 3.2 billion smartphone users. 2.2 billion play games.
• In 2019, mobile gaming accounted for 46 per cent of the global market.
• It was worth an estimated $AU 99 billion.
• The mobile gaming market is expected to be worth $93 billion by 2022.
• Almost 60 per cent of mobile gamers are aged over 34.
• 63 per cent are female and 37 per cent male.
• In the US, mobile gamers play on average 23 minutes a day.
* Stats sourced from NewZoo and MediaKix