How Mobile and Other New Technologies are Impacting the Gaming Space
Almost as long as this world has had people on it, those people have sought to amuse themselves with games. Backgammon is one of the oldest known board games in existence, dating back more than 5000 years. More than 500 years ago, children tossed marbles for the first time. Just a couple hundred years ago, ladies in corsets and gentlemen in knickers passed their time with parlor and table games, and just a couple of decades ago, you or someone you know used all the force in their lungs to blow the dust out of their Super Mario nintendo cartridge.
Since the 1970s, the history of gaming can be told as a story of advancing technology, as progressively more advanced computers and communication systems transformed what was once a wholly analogue space. But traditional (non-electronic) gaming has never gone away, and changes to the gaming market have been driven by more forces than simply new tech.
Accessibility of gaming through ubiquity of devices-in-pockets
The advent of the smartphone triggered an explosion in mobile gaming. Gaming was possible on dumb-phones (those fun flippy guys we all had before iPhones and Androids) but smartphones changed the game forever…pun intended. It used to be that users had to purchase a certain hardware, and dedicate time to playing a certain game, capping out the market at those willing to invest time and money. Get your games on a smartphone, though, and your market expands to include anybody with a few minutes to kill between meetings.
What matters is not just that a mobile platform now exists, but that it happens to be a device so many people already have for reasons unrelated to gaming. It’d be like everyone buying a kitchen table with a Scrabble or Monopoly board already built into the center. It’s an obvious boon for people who make and sell games.
The effect of smartphones on gaming overall
When the internet became a thing we all suddenly had access to in our homes, game developers began to realize the convenience of distributing games digitally. That was the end of the cartridge. It wasn’t long after that the smartphone made its appearance, and smartphone gaming has, in turn, triggered huge changes in the business of game development. The industry overall, from mobile to console to PC, is an industry that now works on a 2-year development cycle as opposed to the older 7-year cycle, where innovation and the next! big! new! thing is hunted (and expected) almost every year, again and again.
Since smartphones, new building platforms emerged that allowed people without complex coding knowledge to create games. These games could be produced by fewer people in shorter time frames. Console developers followed suit by opening online stores where indie game developers could sell their wares, and this broke open the market. It also largely eliminated the processes of packaging and distribution, which makes the whole affair of creating and selling a game less complicated and expensive. This ushered in a whole flock of small, innovative developers that didn’t need the level of funding that used to be the price of entry into the industry. This movement pointed toward the internet’s original utopian ideals—a free and open internet where everyone had a chance. But that’s a story for another article.
The PC market changed dramatically as well. Gaming on PCs was a market that used to change gradually over time, but Marissa Delisle, a Marketing Specialist at Digital Turbine explains that to keep up, “Console manufacturers [had to] utilize high-performance architecture and components to drive multi-player games that span multiple continents, in an effort to deliver high-quality graphics to HD and 4k displays in real time while keeping game latency to a minimum.” That’s an industry-changing mouth-full.
The advent of the smartphone also made popular the idea of the in-app purchases—a concept with which many are now aware of and reliant upon. Entire business models are built on the ideas of downloadable content and paid level-ups that permit access to more….more content, more games, more tools within a game, more whatever it is you’re selling, or, alternatively, fewer ads. These concepts were brought into the mainstream by smartphones game developers looking to maximize profits.
The idea of gamification, it’s also worth noting, was probably born from the popularity of gaming on smartphones. We’re so deeply attracted to the serotonin-adrenaline response of gaming, and the convenience and intimacy of those responses as delivered through the personal mobile device, that these strategies become effective marketing strategies. Things like rewards and points systems, applied outside of game-specific apps, make daily activities shopping and calorie-tracking and banking feel like games. To some degree, anyway.
Where today’s emerging technologies are expected to take gaming
Because the pressure is on in the gaming industry, developers are vying to come up with the next big thing.
Virtual reality (VR) is the thing everyone’s been talking about for awhile now, but its widespread appeal and accessibility still remains in question. VR games require the purchase of specialized hardware, so they exist more within the console gaming space than in mobile. Relatively few people have made the plunge yet, but VR could still become dominant in its niche with some upgrade to the technology, and making it more accessible to different budgets. GQ wonders if VR gaming could be over before it started, but pcmag.com still made a best of VR headsets list last December just before the big holiday buying season. So everyone feels a bit let’s-wait-and-see.
Augmented reality (AR) had it’s biggest and most promising success so far in Pokemon Go, which was all the rage, and is still making millions of dollars per week. Just after its release in 2016, AR was “set to transform gaming,” but it hasn’t really done so yet. There are enough AR games out there to have a 25 Best AR Games of 2017 list, but aside from Pokemon Go, it hasn’t hit the mainstream the way makers had hoped. AR’s future, in fact, might be in applying the technology to other industries like architecture and construction, other design industries. It might also have smart medical applications.
Multi-screen gaming is not new, but the concurrent rise of social media, smartphones, and cloud computing means that more people now expect gaming to be a social experience unlimited by the players’ personal location. Cloud-based games, games designed to be played on a big screen and a little screen simultaneously, and games designed to move fluidly from one device to another could all have a major effect on the market, as could movement toward more open-source gaming.
Games can still guide us in our quest to own our own mobile space
Not everyone loves what mobile has done for (to?) video games, but one thing is still true: more people are playing games more often than probably ever before in history. Whether it’s the emotional escape that numbs our overwhelmed minds, the energetic release of in-game violence, the satisfying ka-ching of achievement when we’ve succeeded at some task, the collaborative quality of a multiplayer universe, an enjoyment of the art of the environment, or the graceful dance of gameplay, gaming still rules the mobile landscape and chances are, its success will always have something to teach the rest of us.