From Snake to Flappy Bird: The Rise of Mobile Gaming

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Over the last few years, mobile games have become a significant staple of popular culture around the world. Games like Angry Birds, Pokémon Go, and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood are incredibly popular, to the point where even individuals who would never consider themselves gamers have probably played at least one of those titles for hours on end.

While mobile gaming may not necessarily be replacing the more traditional video gaming platforms, there is certainly something about smartphone titles that attracts players. Arguably the most obvious of these reasons is their accessibility. After all, as long as you have access to a smartphone or tablet, you can download almost any game you like and play to your heart’s content whenever and wherever you please.

Mobile gaming, including freemium titles that require no money at all from the player to purchase or play, brought in a total revenue of $36.9 billion back in 2016, an 8.5% rise in revenue when compared to 2015. For the first time in history, mobile gaming generated more money than PC gaming, an astonishing feat considering the enduring popularity of the PC platform.

More recently, this year’s report from Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report, the company that provided the 2016 information, revealed that the mobile gaming industry’s legacy continues to thrive. The report states there are 2.2 billion gamers around the world expected to generate $108.9 billion by the end of 2017, with mobile gaming remaining the most lucrative sector. Mobile gaming has grown by an astonishing 19%, rising to $46.1 billion and claiming 42% of the total gaming market. Additionally, the report predicts that by as early as 2020, mobile gaming will cover over half of the total games market.

Even platforms that are equally as modern as mobile games have entered the fray, with many web-based sites creating companion apps to meet customer needs. For example, one of the UK’s leading online bingo sites Sun Bingo has created an app for customers who prefer mobile gaming over visiting the browser-optimized site or who simply don’t have the luxury of gaming from a desktop. The site manages to fit all its 75, 80, and 90-ball experiences into the smaller package, in addition to a range of slot machines and scratch cards.

These statistics are clearly very impressive, but it is important to note that mobile games were successful long before the invention of smartphones as well. In fact, journalist and former editor of PocketGamer Keith Andrew has stated in the past that mobile games were “healthier” before iOS and other smartphone systems were introduced. “[The audience] was happy to pay $3-5 for a game and a larger portion of those working on mobile titles were turning a profit” Andrew explains, noting smaller developer numbers in the past.

So, where did it all start?

For almost as long as there have been mobile phones there have been mobile games. It all began with preloaded or embedded titles using monocrome, matrix graphics that were controlled by the handheld devices buttons. Perhaps the most well-known of these games is Snake, which was introduced on the Nokia 6610 in 1997.

Following the introduction of Wireless Application Protocol, also known as WAP, mobiles were finally able to connect to the Internet thus changing the industry forever. As the 1990s came to a close, development company Unwired Planet finally managed to create a microbrowser that was instantly picked up by Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia. Unfortunately, WAP was still quite primitive and so good client-server games hosted online were few and far between. It would be a few more years before the Internet and mobile gaming came together properly, but thankfully Nokia came to the rescue again, introducing the world to the Nokia 7110 complete with WAP and Snake II.

In the early 2000s, camera phones with color screens as well as increased download capabilities and storage space entered the market. Mobile games that utilized these improvements swiftly gained popularity in Japan, leading to a variety of puzzle and virtual games that used built-in cameras, many of which would go on to inspire the US market. Again, Nokia took the reigns and attempted to create a dedicated mobile gaming platform named N-Gage, though it did unfortunately fail.

It wasn’t until 2008 when Apple launched the App Store that Nokia’s original dream became a reality. Due to technological developments, consumers were able to access, download and store hundreds of mobile games on their devices. Of course, other brands followed suit and before you knew it mobile games had reached an entirely new level.

These days, it would be extremely difficult to find someone with a smartphone that doesn’t have at least one game saved to their device and, as the industry continues to thrive, that task will only become less realistic. So, what are your favorite mobile games or are you one of the few that has managed to avoid the appeal of Flappy Bird or Bubblewitch?  Let us know in the comments below.