Mobile gaming has been gaining a larger audience at a faster rate than than that of consoles. Playing quality games in the palm of your hands is no longer a luxury, enjoyed only by the stereotypical gamer. Your everyday smartphone is now a competitor in the serious game department, and has already won over the masses of those that wouldn’t describe themselves as gamers.
Before we get into it, however, let’s look back on the landmark events that led to today’s innovations. The Milton Bradley Microvision was released in 1979, and was the first handheld system with a 16-by-16 pixel black-and-white screen and a handful of games. This, and a few smaller systems, would inevitably enjoy little success until the introduction of the infamous Game Boy by Nintendo ten years later. It combined great technical specs with a fantastic game library which maintained its popularity through the years, making it the longest running console in history. Eventually, the numerous Game Boy variations and the introduction of Sony devices into the business left the market saturated with quality handheld systems. Then came the system shock to the mobile gaming world known as the iPhone. Before this, the only phone games were either extremely simple – such as Snake – or had a subscription fee (and were still poor quality). The App Store made games a one time purchase, and provided an outlet for independent designers to get their ideas out to the masses. The iPhone also boasted impressive graphics and a touch/tilt interface that could accommodate a wide range of control styles.
When it comes to the serious handheld systems, there are two main systems on the market today: the Playstation Vita and the 3DS. The Vita is Sony’s successor to the popular PSP, and the system people most often associate with serious gaming as it has a library that includes games like Uncharted and Call of Duty, and sports more processing power, RAM, and a higher definition display, leading to better graphics. The handheld comes with built in Wi-Fi or 3G, and has a fancy little touch pad on the back to enable any kind of control scheme companies may decide to implement into their games. The 3DS, on the other hand, is more geared towards casual or younger gamers not necessarily interested in the “latest and greatest”. It comes complete with built-in Wi-Fi, 3-5 hour battery life, and 2 3MP cameras, one on the front and one on the back – all features that it shares with the Vita. Where the 3DS wins out, however, is having Nintendo’s legendary game library, providing both internal memory and a free 2GB external storage unit (the Vita doesn’t have internal storage and you have to get external storage separately, with the cheapest being a 4GB that’ll run you $20), and, one of the company’s main selling points: glasses-free 3D. All these features make both systems more attractive to their respective audiences. Their reign, however, has the possibility of being very short lived when one takes a look at what is around the corner.
Cellphone games of today are focused on a new audience: the average citizen. Developers don’t expect you to sit down and spend hours at a time playing, but instead pick the game up when you’re bored or passing time in your day-to-day life. The shining example of this concept is the infamous Angry Birds. The concept of the game is simple; get revenge on your enemies through an elaborate means of slingshot-fueled-suicide-murder. The key to what makes the game successful is its simplicity and organization. The different bird types add small amounts of variety to the action, but the basic gameplay is simply pulling the sling shot back at different angles and velocities to hit targets. The levels are split into small sections consisting of a single area needing to be cleared. Separating the game into these bite-size pieces allows users to pick up the game and feel that they have accomplished something in the short time that they spend playing. The price of the game reflects its simplicity, being sold for a dollar, with the company who created it making 106 million dollars in gross revenue from sales in 2011.
Other applications on cell phones are meant to enhance the console gaming experience by working together with the gamer’s home systems. EA does this with a lot of products by releasing full-length games on the iPhone, and having the actions you take have an effect on your in-game experience on the console. They actually have a very interesting application called Mass Effect Data Pad for use alongside the game Mass Effect 3, where you can see Bioware social media, access the codex (a massive encyclopedia of what’s what in Mass Effect), raise your in-game galactic readiness and even receive messages from the characters in the game as you progress through the story. Microsoft intends to take this idea one step further by – instead of simply enhancing your experience – making your cell phone a part of your console. To this end, they have released the free program Xbox Smartglass, which allows your phone to be used as another means of interacting with your game. A lot of Microsoft games have have already had the program incorporated, with big names like Halo 4 using the program to instantly update your stats, and Forza Horizon going so far as to make it an alternative GPS.
The future of cell phones is even more impressive than its already successful past. Sony brings a cell phone called the Xperia to the table, which they claim has a 1080p 5 inch screen with 3D capabilities and a quadcore 1.6 ghz processor that rivals the processors on some computers. Green Throttle, on the other hand, hopes to replace that Xbox in your life with the phone you already have, by replicating the console experience. The idea is to give your phone one of the things that make many people prefer consoles more: a controller. Using the companies software, developers can create their games around an already established control scheme, allowing them to focus more on the game’s quality than the user interface.
Mobile gaming has always operated behind the scenes compared to its successful console brethren, but that could be changing as technology and audiences start to favor the handheld devices more. Every day, people are getting in on the trend and causing the demand for quality games on the mobile platform to skyrocket. The industry giants who have dominated the handheld system market for so long have enjoyed the comfortable position of having almost no competition to contend with but each other. That age is over, and hopefully this will compel the companies involved to make more high quality games, and the market will be brimming with good content. The world is changing and mobile gaming looks to be one of the few industries keeping up.