Half a decade ago if you mentioned gaming on a small-screen handset, there is a fair chance that most people would have thought you were referring to playing a game like Snake or a supremely watered down, sprite-like version of FIFA. Yes, the concept of playing games on the move was around even then, but those who wanted to do so seriously invested in portable consoles such as the Sony PSP, Nintendo, GBA or DS.
Gaming on handsets was considered to be the last resort of someone with nothing better to do to kill time. Handsets at that time did not pack in large screens, had relatively slow processors and limited RAM, and game developers preferred making titles for consoles and computers.
Fast forward to today. Portable consoles are having a rough ride and mobile gaming is, well, serious business. Be it on phones or the rapidly growing tablet market, people are just playing more on the move. And this is not a niche segment, unlike the portable console one — even relatively low-end phones are being sold with games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.
Specs, connectivity and games
There are many reasons for this sudden rise in popularity of gaming on mobile devices. As in many cases, it was Apple who got the ball rolling with the large screened, easy to use iPhone in 2007, but it was the company’s introduction of the app store the next year that really set the momentum. Prior to that, mobile gaming was not exactly the greatest experience — you had very few games and even getting those used to be a pain, as one had to either depend upon a service provider’s poorly designed WAP portal or scour the Internet for options and hope they were compatible with one’s handset. However, with the arrival of the App Store, users suddenly had a place from where they could download software easily.
Other platforms such as Android and Windows Mobile were quick to cotton on to the idea and suddenly getting games was not as difficult for those wanting to play them on their phones. Developers too responded with better titles as they knew exactly where their target audience was coming from and were assured revenues. And, of course, there was the little matter of hardware – it just kept getting faster and better and capable of handling richer graphics and more innovative gameplay. In 2007, the idea of any phone having a 4.0-inch display and 1 GHz processor was considered ludicrous (and expensive!). Today, you can get a phone or tablet with a 1 GHz processor capable of handling HD media for less than Rs 10,000. What’s more, as most phones today come with 3G and GPRS connectivity, you can easily play games not just against the machine but also against your friends located in other parts of the world — Words With Friends is a prime example. And with cloud integration, you could actually start a game on your phone, and then continue it on your tablet! The result: spectacular growth in the mobile gaming market, which is expected to become an $18 billion dollar business by 2014 —even the Indian mobile gaming business has been growing by almost 200 per cent for the past two years and is expected to touch $450 million in 2013.
RIP consoles and gaming PCs?
In fact, so rapid has been the growth of mobile gaming that many are expecting handsets and tablets to replace consoles and PCs as primary gaming devices. Sounds far-fetched?
Well, consider the fact that a number of titles such as Shadowgun and FIFA 13 for Android and iOS devices come with very high-quality graphics, and also are simply easier to play on a handheld device — there is no need to connect the device to the TV, no messing up with disks or hefty downloads, and no gamepad to worry about. And there is the cost factor — a new console title will set you back by something in the vicinity of Rs 2,000-3,000, while a new title on your tablet or phone is likely to cost around Rs 600.
What’s more, a number of titles that were the preserve of consoles and computers are now slowly making their way to mobile devices. While some of these like Myst, Tales from Monkey Island and Max Payne are a blast from the past, there are more recent titles like Bastion and Lara Croft: Guardian of Light that have made their way to portable devices too. They cost a fraction of what they did on PCs and consoles. And in a sublime irony, we now see PC and console owners clamouring for, and getting, titles that were initially designed for mobiles – Angry Birds and Contre Jour being prime examples.
As a game developer confided to us, “The math is simple: almost everyone today has a phone. Very few people have consoles. Guess who we are going to focus on?”
The hardcore gaming crowd might hate us for saying it, but today when you say “gaming”, more people think “Angry Birds” than “Call of Duty” (which is also making its way to tablets and handsets). No, consoles and PCs are not likely to fade away, but more people now play games on their handheld devices while travelling by train or bus than they do in a room wired to TV.
The gaming baton has not been passed yet but it is definitely in transit. 2013 might see it finally arriving in mobile territory.