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The History of Mobile Gaming

5th Jul 2016 by mFortune

It’s impossible to watch the commercials on television without seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger promoting the latest mobile game Mobile Strike.

Clash of Clans has regularly sat atop of the Most Popular apps list since its release.

We’ve all found ourselves well and truly addicted to Candy Crush Saga at some point or another and in the early days of the iPhone we all went crazy for Angry Birds.

It’s safe to say, we’re all pretty addicted to mobile gaming.

In fact, if you glance around your office at lunchtime or nose at people on the bus or train, chances are you’ll see people glued to their phones, desperately trying to reach the next level on their latest favourite game.

But where did it all start?

Here, we take a look at the earliest games that fuelled our obsession.


The birth of mobile games

Mobile games can be traced back to the earliest mobile phones, but didn’t really take off until 1997.

That’s the year that Nokia launched, what is arguably still the most famous mobile game in the world, Snake.

The Nokia 6610 was the first phone where you could play Snake, and since then it’s been estimated that over 400 million copies have been shipped worldwide. Not bad for a few squares moving across a screen!

Snake was so popular and is so iconic that even today you can get this game on your phone. No bells, no whistles; just the game you used to know and love on a fancy phone. And that tells you something about just how much of a big deal this game is in mobile phone history.

This was all well and good, but as technology grew more sophisticated mobile games needed to catch up – and fast – to meet the growing demands of the public.

Mobile gaming: Generation 2

Here’s where things get a little technical – bear with me!

Wireless Application Protocol (or WAP for short) is technology that, for the first time, allowed mobile devices to connect to the Internet. This meant a small web browser could be built into phones, connecting you to a server through which you could transfer data to your phone.

The World Wide Web of 1999 was still in its infancy, so the simple monochromatic graphics of WAP-based games went down a treat.

In October 1999, Nokia released their first phone with a WAP browser, the Nokia 7110, and with this came the updated Snake II.

With internet connectivity becoming more and more sophisticated, and phone technology developing all the time, every mobile phone release saw more and more games ready-built into devices. Soon, we were all playing on the move.

In 2003, Nokia – who up until this point really were the front-runners in the mobile gaming industry – decided to bridge the gap between phones and console with the launch of the N-Gage. Despite being something of a failed experiment, it heralded the beginning of a new age for mobile gaming.

The birth of the smart phone

Handsets such as the BlackBerry and Nokia N5 introduced 3D graphics, sophisticated interfaces and extensive networking capabilities. Soon, games on your phone were not only enjoyable to play, but much more visually – and technologically – impactful.

Things changed again in 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone.

The touch-screen capability took mobile gaming to dizzying heights, harnessing the power of motion control. Not only that but the improved graphics and internet connectivity made built-in mobile games a real joy to play.

Smart phones really were a pivotal moment in the history of mobile gaming.

These phones brought the console gaming experience to the small screen and took away the hassle of carrying around a hand-held console like a Nintendo GameBoy. Suddenly, anyone and everyone could be a gamer.

And that really was just the beginning.

Getting ‘Appy

Perhaps the biggest factor in the iPhone’s success as a gaming platform was the App Store.

Launched in 2008, users could download just about any game imaginable. Some were free, some cost a few pence, but the App Store put thousands of mobile games at our fingertips. From classics like Space Invaders to franchises like FIFA, the birth of the App Store was a pivotal moment.

It also gave indie developers a chance to bring their games to the masses.

Angry Birds sold over 100 million copies in its first year alone.

And the growth of mobile gaming isn’t slowing. Let’s take a look at some of the facts:

  • Cumulative spend on mobile casino games in Apple’s App Store rose by 55% in the twelve months from November 2013 taking the value of the sector to $2.7 billion
  • The digital gambling industry is expected to exceed a value of $100 billion by the end of 2017
  • Mobile usage has overtaken desktop and is continuing to rise
  • By 2018, it’s estimated that 164 million people will use a mobile device to access online gambling

Gaming on your mobile phone has come a long way since the heady day of Snake in the 1990’s. Touch-screen interfaces and powerful internet connections have helped it become one of the fastest growing sectors of industry in the world.

What’s next?

Mobile gaming is growing more and more sophisticated by the day.

As both games developers and mobile phone companies compete to bring the most immersive, interactive and innovative games they can to devices, customers are becoming more demanding. They want bigger and better experiences. They won’t settle for mediocre.

Demand isn’t lessening either. It seems like every week there’s a new ‘must-download’ game that leaps to the top of the App Store chart. And when companies are paying big bucks for names like Arnie to appear in their adverts, it’s a sure-fire sign that this really is only the beginning.

As for what the future holds for mobile gaming, the possibilities are endless.

Virtual reality for mobile is growing, and there are already a number of games and apps that bring their content to life. We’re living in a really exciting time for the industry, so tear yourself away from Clash of Clans and see what’s coming.


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