The History of Mobile Video Games: Part III
It’s time to wrap up our journey across the history of mobile gaming: from Nokia’s flops to Pokémon Go!, joins us while we explore the ups and downs of the industry in this last chapter.
Mobile games were set: developers had the tools to develop, they had a platform which was ready but still evolving and now they also had the market to sell to. In the year 2000, 97 million people were subscribed to a cell phone plan in the US and in 2003, that number went up to 148 million. In the same time period, 44% of households with mobile phones in the UK quickly grew to 76%.
Brands like Nokia, Motorola, Siemens and Sony Ericsson, had their comfortable market share in the mobile phones business, but Nokia decided to branch out and expand itself to compete outside of this market, becoming a direct competitor to portable games, after all, they already had a platform for games on the move.The N-Gage felt like the obvious step forward, a console that can make phone calls or a cell phone with AAA games sounds great and it was…well, in theory, it was. In practice, the N-Gage was not a good looking or very practical cell phone, its price was unable to compete with the Game Boy Advance, even with all its extra features, and the nail in the coffin would be the announcement of both PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS, less than a year after launch, both with better 3D visuals, a recognized video-game brand and a lower price-tag, by 50 and 150 US dollars, respectively. The N-Gage and its successor, the N-Gage QD, would not be trend-setters. It failed because its technology was ahead of its time, but it showed the world that having AAA 3D games run on a mobile phone was possible.The next big step in the mobile games market would come in 2007, Apple, at this point in time, was very successful, with their computers as the main commercial competitor to Microsoft’s Windows and their iPod brand being the biggest MP4 brand in the market, yet it was a fraction of what it is today. The iPhone was described then by Steve Jobs as “an iPod, a Phone and an internet communicator”, it was “not a smartphone” because those are “complicated to use” and the iPhone was meant for everyone, making it perfect for mobile games.
Not long after the release of the iPhone, Google would release their response, the Android was developed by the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of firms from different fields mostly related to mobile phones, with its biggest contributor being Google. It was the open source version of what Apple was doing with the iPhone, the Linux to their OS X.
During 2008, both these Operating Systems would release their own stores, App Store and Google Play, on the iPhone and on Android, respectively. This would prove to be the most groundbreaking moment in mobile games history, the point that would turn the mobile games industry from the ugly duckling of the games market to its most profitable part. The constant connectivity meant that mobile game developers could profit off of advertising, finally they had a way to distribute their games free of charge to the consumer and still make them profitable for them, and this was important because, the fact that it was free would allow people to try a game about killing pigs by throwing frowning birds at them, a game about making fruit salad using a ninja sword, a game about running, avoiding obstacles and picking up coins in a subway and another one in the ruins of a temple, but even games destined to succeed, whether for being inspired by recognized and successful mechanics, like Candy Crush, or based on renown franchises, like Pokémon Go, would benefit massively from this system. For comparison, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, released in November 2014, plus Pokémon Sun and Moon, released in November 2016, sold, together, nearly 30.5 million copies worldwide throughout the following years. Pokémon Go, released in July 2016, managed to get 45 million players….in one day! It reached 500 million downloads within the first 3 months of release. The range of users, the ease of use of the store and the free-to-play systems would be the foundation on which mobile games would thrive more than ever and even now they are not even close to their full potential.
The close future seems to be console games on mobile phones through cloud services, but only time will tell whether pure mobile games will keep thriving and evolving or they will be out played by games made for consoles. Mobile gaming has had a rich history of constant evolution, missteps, creativity and, in the end, success, regardless of what the future means, I’m glad I played Snake all those years ago and I’m glad I have a device able to effortlessly run Crazy Taxi in the palm of my hand.
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