Roman Semiokhin: The Evolution in Mobile Gaming

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From its minimalistic, pixelated origins in the late 1990s, the mobile games market has morphed into one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, entertaining half the planet –over three billion players– worldwide.

With its lower development costs compared to traditional console and PC gaming and the massive revenues it generates from apps, mobile has dominated the global gaming landscape since 2015, when global mobile game revenues eclipsed console game revenues for the first time. Fast-forward to 2023, and Apple and Google, who control the two primary mobile app download markets, saw $40bn in revenue from games globally in the first six months of the year, accounting for nearly 30% of consumer app spending.

Mobile gaming’s roots can be traced back to the release of Tetris for the Hagenuk MT-2000 and Snake for the Nokia 6610. A watershed moment for the sector came in 2007 with the debut of Apple’s iPhone. The device enabled developers to create a more sophisticated and visually cutting-edge mobile gaming experience, far surpassing the more basic and simple low-resolution games of its predecessors.

Further advancements in hardware and touch-screen interfaces, as well as the introduction of app stores that provide centralised locations for users to discover and download new games, gave rise to a vibrant mobile gaming scene and the emergence of new, lucrative business models.

Free-to-play titles with in-game purchase options such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush became viral sensations and successfully blurred the lines between casual and hardcore gamers. This is thanks to their simple gameplay mechanics and ability to attract gamers of all ages and skill levels. Mobile casinos have also carved a niche for themselves, demonstrating the sheer variety of mobile gaming.

Multiplayer games that leverage the power of social interaction, like Clash of Clans and Pokémon Go, have also gained major popularity. Pokémon Go, which celebrated its seventh anniversary in June 2023, is notably one of the earliest examples of an augmented reality mobile game that transcends the digital realm. The game uses GPS technology to allow players to catch Pokemon in real-world locations and became a worldwide hit upon its release in 2016.

Besides pioneering AR gaming, Pokémon Company is also renowned for leveraging innovative mobile gameplay to foster player wellbeing. While Pokemon Go encourages walking, Pokémon Smile aids oral hygiene, and the recent release of Pokémon Sleep incentivises users to sleep longer.

The rapid advancement of mobile graphics in recent years has led to cross-platform gaming that transcends devices. This is not only increasingly vital for players seeking flexibility and convenience in their gaming experiences but also expands audience reach for developers – representing a major leap in the games industry.

Looking ahead, there are several trends shaping the next phase of mobile games. Blockchain technology is making its way to the industry, with non-fungible-tokens (NFTs) being used as in-game items or being traded between players, creating new monetisation and engagement opportunities. Meanwhile, investors at the Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz are predicting that games could be the form of entertainment that is ‘most impacted’ by generative AI.

Cloud gaming, which is already making waves in the PC world, is now transforming the mobile games landscape by allowing players to access a vast library of games without the limitations of storage or processing power.

Roman Semiokhin is a serial entrepreneur and committed philanthropist with significant experience in the mobile esports sector, which offers a new avenue for competitive gaming. There’s also talk that console manufacturers are eyeing the mobile sector. PlayStation’s recent collaboration with cloud gaming service Backbone on a mobile phone controller attachment hints at future console game development with mobile play in mind. There are also reports circulating that PlayStation has made several key hires for its mobile branch this year.

As we witness record-breaking smartphone ownership worldwide and continuous technological advancements in AI, AR and VR, the future of mobile gaming looks bright. Yet, as we move towards a new spatial computing paradigm, such as Apple’s Vision Pro, which is set to launch in 2024, we must prepare for the inevitable potential disruptions in this thriving market.

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