The mobile sector is the fastest growing area in the gaming industry. Gaming in mobile is distinguished by a small share of premium titles, high prevalence and unique technical features. In this post, we will discuss what exactly led to the current state of the mobile gaming industry, as well as look at its features that prevented it from repeating the path of PC and consoles.



The history of the development of mobile gaming

First mobile games

Video games appeared on mobile devices in the mid-1990s, ten years after the first cell phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, entered the market. By that time, engineers had managed to significantly reduce the cost of the device, making it quite common, and in addition, consumers learned new manufacturers, and competition increased. Video games inside the phone were originally one of the functions of attracting buyers

It’s hard to say which phone was the first in the world to receive a built-in game. There are three contenders – Siemens S1, IBM Simon and Hagenuk MT-2000. All devices went on sale in 1994, although some pre-release samples were presented earlier.

According to rumors, the developers of Siemens S1 abandoned the built-in video game due to their reluctance to patent it. However, instead of completely removing it, they simply hid it. When entering a secret combination, users could play Klotz – an analogue of “Tetris”.

IBM Simon Personal Communicator is considered the first smartphone – the device combined the functions of a phone and a laptop, and it was also possible to play Scramble (tags) on it.

The Hagenuk MT-2000 boasted a pre-installed Tetris. In addition, it became the first mobile phone with an antenna built into the body and Soft Key technology (buttons were not tied to one specific command and could change their purpose).

This marked the beginning of the first stage in the development of mobile games. Some of them have even received cult status, such as Snake (“Snake”). It first appeared in 1997 on the Nokia 6110 and became one of the symbols of the Finnish company.



Gameplay of the J2ME version of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory | Source: Splinter Cell: Tactical Espionage /

Battle of iOS and Android

Large-scale changes came in 2007 – Apple released the iPhone. A year later, HTC Dream, the first Android smartphone. The new devices were not only distinguished by powerful hardware and a convenient environment: they had their own platforms for distributing content – the App Store and Android Market (Google Play).

These digital stores have made it much easier for developers and publishers to reach consumers and helped to break through to independent developers who previously found it difficult to compete with major publishers.

The premium distribution model of games did not take root on the mobile platform, giving way to the shareware model. By now, there are almost no major publishers that offer one-time titles without ads and microtransactions. Most of the premium niche is occupied by indie, ports and multiplatform. By condition as of September 2023, 3.5% of paid apps on Google Play, and 7.7% on the App Store.

The reason for this, as always in business, was the economic appeal of free-to-play. Looking at the data analystsShareware games are invariably in the top of the most downloaded and profitable mobile titles. It is far more profitable to sell a thousand loot boxes for $ 1 than ten copies of a game for $ 10. At the same time, only information about user spending is usually in the public domain. In addition, free-to-play titles often contain ads, which can make up a significant portion of a publisher’s income.



Asphalt 9: Legends Gameplay on iPad Pro | Source: doreimOnde /

Features of mobile gaming

Technical equipment

For the foreseeable future, PlayStation, Xbox and PC will invariably beat portable platforms in the power race. It is easier for them to create components, as well as combine and cool them.

Because of this, even the most hi-tech and beautiful mobile games do not hold up to console titles. On the other hand, this state of affairs is beneficial for indie. Games of independent developers can rarely boast of demanding graphics, and in the mobile segment they stand out favorably against the background of free-to-play – there is deeper gameplay and almost no paywalls (donation is needed to continue the game).

Form factor

Phone cases and their components have had a huge impact on the development of mobile gaming. Phone displays limit the design of both levels and interface. Complex mechanics do not benefit from the control system either. Touchscreens have greatly expanded the potential of mobile devices, but they are not without their drawbacks. For example, with such a display, there are only two buttons – “tap” (press) and “swipe” (sliding press).

Of course, the functionality is expanded due to double tap, multitouch or different swipe directions. But this is often not enough for a large-scale game. A partial way out of the situation is virtual buttons and sticks, but they take away part of the already small useful screen surface.

On the other hand, the sensor helps to implement unique mechanics – Fruit Ninja would hardly have gained such popularity if it had originally been released on other platforms. In addition, many modern smartphones support gamepads, which practically eliminates all the disadvantages of this category.



Pokemon GO Trailer | Source: The Official Pokémon YouTube channel /

Mobile pro-gaming – e-sports and gaming smartphones

One of the most famous game phones the pre-Android and iOS era was the Nokia N-Gage. Released in 2003, the device was more of a console to make calls from than a phone to play on. They even released exclusive games for N-Gage, but this did not bring much success to the gadget. The high price, incomprehensible positioning, controversial engineering and design decisions led to a commercial failure.

Now some manufacturers periodically release gaming smartphones. They are distinguished by powerful hardware by the standards of the category and additional functionality – trigger buttons on the case, screens with increased hertzovka and powerful cooling systems.

In terms of cost, the new models of gaming smartphones are comparable to the new generation consoles (Xiaomi Black Shark 3 – from ₽44 thousand) or even gaming PCs (Asus ROG Phone 3 – from ₽80 thousand). Despite this, the devices are, judging by the press releases, a success. The first batch of Asus ROG Phone 2 (10 thousand devices) dismantled in a little over a minute, and new models appear every year, as is the case with other lines. Still, gaming smartphones remain niche products – Razer Phone one year after release sold out with a circulation of 68 thousand devices.



Arena of Valor Trailer | Source: Arena of Valor /

Arena of Valor also entered in the top 10 disciplines in terms of the number of prize money won at tournaments in 2019. Athletes received a total of $ 5.8 million per season – more than players in Rainbow Six Siege.

If we talk about the number of spectators at tournaments (excluding residents of China), then the best of the disciplines in 2019 became mobile “royal battle” Free Fire. World Series 2019 Rio was watched by an average of 1.2 million people – more than the 2019 LoL World Championship and The International in Dota 2. By the way, it was at this competition that the team from Chechnya took second place. The Free Fire tournament – Free Fire World Cup with 643 thousand average audience also closed the top 5.

In terms of peak online, Battle Royale lost to the 2019 LoL World Championship and Fortnite World Cup 2019 Finals. Nevertheless, she was able to bypass The International in Dota 2 – 2 million versus 1.9 million.

But despite the fact that mobile disciplines collect quite a lot of views, their prize money is significantly less than that of PC disciplines. In Dota 2 or Fortnite, one tournament can be played several times more than in mobile disciplines for the entire season or even for the entire period of their existence.

However, many large organizations are already interested in mobile esports. Natus Vincere, Fnatic, Team SoloMid and other clubs have PUBG Mobile units. Asian companies have a much larger industry presence. For example, EVOS Esports, one of the top 6 esports brands in the world, owns multiple rosters for Arena of Valor, Free Fire, Mobile Legends and PUBG Mobile.

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