Mobile Gaming: From Zero to Hero in Twenty Years

Back in 1997, Nokia took a daring decision that changed the world: it included “Snake”, a version of the 1976 arcade game “Blockade”, in the software of one of its mobile phones. The game programmed by Taneli Armanto became a staple for the Finnish manufacturer – introduced with the Nokia 6110, one of the most successful mobile phones ever built, made it on several models of the company, including its 3110 “reboot” launched in 2017.

The decade that followed the release of the Nokia 6110 saw the incredibly fast development of mobile phones. The camera phones released in the years to come were better-suited for running games than their monochrome predecessors, the first downloadable games emerged, and the first PDAs were released – these were aimed especially at businessmen but they had the prerequisites for running a few games as well. Still, mobile gaming didn’t start becoming “relevant” in the context of sales and revenues until the smartphones as we know them today were released.

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iPhones and Androids

The iPhone was not a revolutionary product when it comes to its hardware but it did trigger a major evolutionary jump in the way people consume entertainment on the go. The introduction of the “App Store” as a simple, accessible online software marketplace was a key factor in the growth of mobile gaming – especially after its competitors followed suit. The incredible growth of mobile usage has led to the growth of mobile gaming, too.

The first games released on the iPhone were simple games making use of the phone’s large touchscreen. In time, mobile games have become more complex. Some of them conquered the world – like Candy Crush, which has become one of the most lucrative mobile franchises of all-time – others disappeared without leaving a trace.

Mobile gaming today

Mobile is the only platform that covers pretty much every demographic. There are now close to 3.5 billion active smartphones in the world, and most of them have at least one game on them. These games rarely sell – they rely on in-app purchases and ads to generate revenue. And this system works very well, well enough for mobile to become the most lucrative branch of the global gaming industry. Actually, mobile gaming now generates more revenue than PC and console gaming combined. According to the latest report released by gaming intelligence specialist Newzoo, mobile games generated around $68 billion in revenues in 2019. Apple’s iOS, dominant in North America, is responsible for almost half of this revenue (the rest is generated by games in the Play Store and various other mobile app marketplaces).

Back when mobile gaming was at its beginnings, it was often dismissed as irrelevant. Two decades later, mobile gaming is the biggest cash cow of the gaming industry – a branch that will continue to grow fast in the coming years.

Robyn Matthews started writing about technology when she was far too young and hasn't stopped. She spends most of his time obsessing over computer software and hardware, and loves talking about herself in third person.