The year is 2016, and the future is not what we thought it was.
Yes, we may be anticipating virtual reality headsets to hit the stores later in the year, with excitement reaching peaks we hadn’t seen since the days of Nintendo’s Power Glove and Virtual Boy accessories in the ‘80s. We have seen Microsoft and Nintendo try their hand at controllers used with movement in 3D space, but while one of those experiments was commercially successful (hint: it was the one made by the Japanese giant affectionately known as ‘the Big N’ by fans), neither were particularly useful to developers or players at actually improving the end-user experience.
What looms on the horizon for virtual reality experiences, genuinely new user interfaces that excite people, are things like the Oculus Rift, or the many competitors it has spawned in the form of HTC’s and Valve’s brainchild, Vive, or the console conglomerate Sony’s own Playstation VR accessory, which can be used with the Playstation 4. And yes, it can be argued that these are the future of videogame experiences.
We have yet to see what the ever-innovative Nintendo, known for its penchant for experimenting, will unveil with its announced but not well-understood upcoming system, codenamed NX console. It might be a more of a commercial flop like the touchscreen controlled Wii U was, or it might be a resounding success like the series of DS releases have been. One thing is likely, though, and that is that they will continue to build on the success of their strong brand recognition and, critically, their overwhelming mobile console penetration.
Which goes to the larger picture: the immediate and distant future of gaming lies in the mobile market. Even taking VR into account, it’s pretty obvious that smartphones and VR are quite compatible. Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR actually use your smartphones to provide a VR experience – and this trend will surely continue. Let us take a look at what you need to know to get the most out of your mobile gaming experience right now.
Follow the Numbers
The statistics are clear, and no, they do not lie. More and more people than ever before are using mobile platforms as their consoles of choice. This applies especially to smartphones. One cursory look at the app stores for the two biggest app ecosystems out there, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play store, demonstrates the overwhelming saturation of apps that are devoted to mobile gaming.
Sony recognized the fact that people were dying to play games on the go while they waited for the bus or sat on their morning commute on the subway, and this was in spite of the fact that touch controls for more traditional genres like platformers or racers were touch-and-go, at best. So naturally, they released a line of phones that was powerful enough to play emulated software from their previously successful PlayStation X console, while critically having physical buttons to control the action.
Meanwhile, this shocking number tells you everything you need to know: of the $110 billion in revenue projected to be made from software in the year 2018, a staggering $45 billion piece of that pie will come from mobile gaming. Compare that to the already large $29 billion in revenue that mobile gaming generates today of a total of $88 billion in total revenue from software, and that represents a market share increase from approximately 33% to 41%. This cleanly leaves revenue generated from console games in the dust, as that particular piece of the puzzle is on a downward trend.
Obviously, a huge factor in the success of mobile games is the fact that it is just plain convenient to have a console that already was in your pocket on the go; smartphones are Swiss army knives in terms of utility, and one of their many disguises is as a gaming platform. Additionally, it is perhaps the sheer variety of new releases and new kinds of software that is helping driving this growth. In the smartphone world, you have your big releases that see mainstream TV ads as much as the next big Call of Duty release for mobile games like Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, or Game of War (a commercial that features top shelf, recognizable talent such as Kate Upton). These are traditional mobile games, simple in concept, touch-controlled, cartoony graphics that are easy on the eyes. They conform to a new paradigm of mobile game.
Then you have games released from traditionally major PC and console developers like the port of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, a digitized table-top card game, borrowing lore and colorful cast members from its hugely successful Warcraft series. Furthermore, there are apps that similarly take in-person experiences of things like gambling at a casino, and make them equally viable and digitally remote. Online poker saw its large boom in the early 2000s, but with the proliferation of mobile devices and market penetration of apps, we see brands such as PokerStars release and diversify apps that aim to push the envelope in terms of fun and convenience of playing a series of poker variants with multiple users. That industry alone has shown just how people have made the transition to mobile, with brands offering more and more to lure gamers to their apps. And of course we’ll likely see further progression.
What is on the horizon for mobile gaming? Well, we are already starting to see the worlds of virtual reality meld with the world of mobile gaming and apps. What seems to have started out as a joke at Google headquarters, quickly became reality when the Google Cardboard was released as an actual product that could hold your phone only inches from your face, while a simulated dual-screen setup gives you the sensation of being in a 3D theatre with dynamic perspectives controlled by how the user moves her head and the direction she is facing.
Also, there are new tablet/laptopesque platforms emerging. You have the Razr, a super high end tablet. You have the Nvidia Shield which can be used as a standalone console, or can take advantage of streaming technology from desktop or laptop computers that use a Nvidia GPUs. This combines the fidelity of a PC gaming experience with the convenience of a mobile platform. Finally, we live in a day and age where mobile phones with full HD or higher resolutions displays can be screencasted onto larger LCD and plasma televisions, taking a mobile gaming experience and plastering it on the big screen for a comfortable, 1080p or 4K play session.
All these new gadgets aside, the smartphone is where it’s at. According to Statista’s recent Digital Market Outlook report, mobile game revenue is expected to reach $31,303.28 million by 2020. Indeed, the future of gaming is here to stay, and it is most likely already in your pocket. You just need to embrace it.