For decades, engaging with interactive entertainment meant taking one of two avenues, playing on consoles or computers. With the popularisation of the smartphone following the launch of the iPhone in 2007, this began to change. What used to be a niche market on older mobile devices soon became an unstoppable force, to the point where the mobile market often outpaces traditional forms of access today.
More than a simple option or alternative, the ubiquity of mobile gaming fundamentally reshaped the way the gaming market operates. Taking a look at how this market arrived and grew over time, we want to investigate the effects which continue to influence to this day and try to determine what this might mean for the future of interactive entertainment.
All Hail the iPhone
Though we’re personally mixed on how much we like Apple products, there’s no denying that they’re done a great deal to popularize certain technologies. This was the case for the iPod when it released in 2001, bringing the already existing but underrepresented MP3 players to the mass market. A similar outcome resulted from the popularity of the first iPhone when it hit shelves in 2007. Like the iPod, the iPhone didn’t do anything especially new, despite Apple’s claims, but it did introduce the technology to the mass market, going on to sell more than 73 million units.
This success did a lot to raise the Apple brand’s profile, but more importantly, it ushered in what would become the age of the smartphone. All of a sudden, mobiles weren’t these clunky and limited devices anymore, becoming less simple communication machines and more multifaceted tools and entertainment systems.
As a platform, the iOS store streamlined game and app acquisition to a new level. Instead of jumping through hoops and a confusing install process, the iOS store made everything easy, even for the most technophobic of users. With the arrival of this market, demand skyrocketed, and this demand led to a massive increase in supply.
Titles Setting the Stage
As soon as the mobile app market became a lucrative venture, the interactive entertainment industry took notice. What followed was a rush of developers trying their hands, to see what worked with mobile systems and what succeeded. Perhaps the earliest and most well-known breakout hit of this era was Bejewelled, a simple match-three game that played well with early touch controls.
Later, games like Angry Birds and Clash of Clans would make their mark, with hundreds of millions of downloads and profits that would eventually reach into the billions. In a period of just a few years, smartphone titles became some of the most popular in the world, and the existing interactive entertainment landscape would eventually take note.
Spreading out into related markets, contemporary casino games like the Fishin Frenzy slot on BuzzBingo illustrate just how far this market has come. At their base, these games rely on the same bonuses that apply to the desktop version, but in addition, they also represent the best of what makes mobiles great. Easy to control, quick to access, and simple to understand, pick-up-and-play titles like these now dominate the market, demonstrating a near-flawless mix of old and new. Of course, not all games are as well suited to mobiles as casino games are, and this is where complexities start to raise their heads.
Give and Take
In 2023, we’ve now reached a point where the largest traditional video game developers are taking notice of what mobiles can bring. Therein lies a challenge, in that most traditional games face some significant challenges in moving to mobile devices. These challenges primarily revolve around input and processing speed.
Processing speed is one of the less troublesome, as highly saleable game engines like Unreal have long lent themselves to mobile devices. Turn down the graphics, customize what you can, and games like Fortnite and PUBG have made enormously successful jumps to mobile systems.
Control issues are more problematic. Here, moving from a controller with a dozen buttons or a keyboard with many more to a device with limited touch controls can be an extremely troubling pursuit. This, more than anything else, can act as the cornerstone which best reflects mobile’s influence on interactive entertainment.
Some of the largest games today are those which take a broad multiplatform approach. This doesn’t mean just consoles and PC anymore, it also means making games able to cross the boundaries into the mobile space. In making this jump, games have to be able to shift their controls to mobile systems, which can be impossible for titles that require complicated inputs.
For this reason, there is an increasing number of multiplatform titles that are built from the ground up to revolve around the possibilities of simple controls. The best recent example of this would have to be Genshin Impact, a highly-styled anime game from developer miHoYo. Built on the Unity engine, this game is available for Android, iOS, Windows, PS4, PS5, and, eventually, the Nintendo Switch. To ensure playability, this meant focussing on the simplest system first and then expanding features out for more powerful or input-capable devices.
Friend or Foe?
Whether or not the effect that mobiles have on simplifying the biggest games is a good thing depends highly on subjective opinion. For some players, games have become overcomplex over the years, to a point where they’ve forgotten their roots as they try desperately to evolve the interactive entertainment experience. For these players, the effect of mobile success is a good thing, representing a return to the streamlined origins of gaming.
On the other hand, some players have grown attached to the way games have evolved. The players appreciate the complex nature and challenges of the modern market. For these users, mobiles can represent a real threat for certain genres, where they consider a dumbing down of series and titles to be a knife in the back.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer for whether or not the simplifying effect that mobiles can have is a good or bad thing. Really, the development simply represents an inevitability of the market, where some series will evolve to suit mobiles, and others will go another route. The only thing we do know for sure is that the modern gaming landscape is big enough for everyone, where diversity continues to be king, so everyone can be happy.