Mobile gaming, whether on smartphones or tablets, is big business. It’s estimated that last year the sector saw sales of $61.7 billion, up from $54.7 billion in 2018 . A separate projection expects that figure to grow to $77bn this year – a colossal sum which would see mobile account for almost half (48%) of total global gaming revenue.
Games have been key content for many users even before the arrival of smartphones but in the early days they were largely confined to simple efforts such as the iconic Snake or ports of classic arcade games such as Pac-Man which could run on the low specs of the day.
The arrival of the smartphone allowed developers to become more ambitious and bring more graphic-rich and complex titles to our morning commutes and soon an array of shooter, racing and puzzle games were filling up the various app stores and creating a new generation of casual gamers.
As mobile devices have become more powerful, developers and studios have stepped up their efforts with the mobile release of games and brands which were previously playable only on PC and consoles.
By the time the iPhone was three years old it was playing host to titles such as Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, soon to be followed by 10th anniversary ports of Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto Vice City.
Since then iPad and iPhone owners have gained a full version of Civilization VI, the latest incarnation of Sid Meier’s legendary god game.
The franchise’s regular entries had historically been restricted to the PC and Mac, though developers Firaxis Games had tried to branch out to mobiles and consoles with 2008’s underwhelming Civilization Revolution and its recent and still lacking sequel.
Unlike those efforts, Civ VI’s iOS release wasn’t a scaled-back, lite version restricted to a subset of the franchise’s usual game modes and concepts, but a fully-fledged porting of the title complete with a premium price-tag of $60.
Smartphone owners have also seen the arrival of titles such as Fortnite and Call of Duty: Mobile, which hit app stores last October and quickly became the largest mobile game launch in history with 148 million downloads.
This rise in the availability of major titles has been made possible by the emergence of devices with gaming-centric features such as advanced cooling, high screen refresh rates, plenty of RAM, the very fastest processors and support for Augmented Reality, necessary for titles such as Pokémon Go.
Handsets such as the Razer Phone 2, ASUS ROG and iPhone XR regularly score highly in lists of the best gaming smartphones, though of course their top-tier features also make them great for other processor-heavy uses such as pro level stills and video photography.
But buying such powerful phones isn’t the only way to play major games on the move.
Last year Google launched its Stadia service which allows gamers to play AAA titles designed for PC and consoles on a host of devices, including mid-tier mobiles such as the firm’s own budget-friendly Pixel 3a, without the need to own a games console.
It does this by carrying out all of the processing on Google’s servers rather than on the player’s device. As well as removing the need to have a powerful mobile, this approach also allows players to move between devices without losing any in-game progress.
This approach brings a number of obvious benefits to gamers, but of course it relies on the user having a reliable data connection in order to play Red Dead Redemption 2 on the morning train.
For this reason, cloud-based services are likely to exist alongside more traditional on-device gaming rather than replace it any time soon, meaning handsets makers are going to be churning out high-specced, game-centric handsets for many years to come.