The Future of Mobile Gaming

by in General | Aug, 23rd 2020

Mobile gaming is a big deal these days, but what about its future? Some call it the next big thing; others, however, are pointing out its inherent limitations as the main reason it’ll never reach its presumed potential. Still, if we view the way things have developed thus far, we can easily extrapolate a couple of key takeaways and come up with a few interesting conclusions.

Regardless if you’re a fan of mobile gaming or not, it’s hard not to be blown away by its current state and the sheer amount of revenue it’s been raking in over the last couple of years. The outlook is, without a doubt, quite bright, but a few crucial things need to happen before we can truly enjoy the future that’s currently being advertised.

Mobile gaming is flawed. There’s just no other way to put it. We all want complex games. Yet, we’re limited to playing them on fairly small devices which heavily impacts the overall gaming experience. And even if you have an extremely large phone, a good chunk of it will remain obstructed because of your thumbs. So, a six-inch phone doesn’t have six inches of usable screen real estate. Secondly, the games we’ve all played over the years were by no means impressive. They were almost always rather abysmal. Our phones weren’t that strong hardware-wise and developers (rightfully) shied away from any grandiose and ambitious projects. This meant that while there were many well-known franchises, almost all of them were wasted on simplistic titles that barely provided entertainment.

That’s a big reason why mobile gaming got a bad rap in the first place. The phones we had lacked in power, so complex, layered titles were out of the question.

But things changed over time and in quite dramatic fashion. The best phones on the market today are extremely powerful. Some pack, even more, processing power than a Nintendo Switch. Combine that with better tools for game development and a slew of enticing reasons for developers to come aboard (most of which revolve around revenue). You get a recipe for success.

Where are right now, in regards to mobile gaming, and whether it’s viable enough as a way to game?

If you have a strong enough phone and want top-notch gameplay, you’ll find a bevy of exquisite titles that are either unique to the platform or ported over from PC or consoles. Certain sacrifices had to be made, but overall, mobile gaming has never been this entertaining.

At the time of this writing, you can play titles like Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra, Teamfight Tactics, Fortnite (and not a dumbed-down variant, mind you), Pokémon GO, PUBG, Mario Kart, Super Mario, Stardew Valley, Call of Duty, and a metric ton of mobile-only games like Monument Valley, Clash Royale, etc. And the thing is, this is just the beginning. In a couple of months, this list will become more impressive with a full-fledged Diablo along with League of Legends Wild Rift.

Imagine that we’ll be able to experience Diablo and League while waiting in line at the supermarket or on the bus ride home. Now sure, they might not be 1:1 clones, but they’ll be darn close. Heck, Wild Rift even improves on League in multiple ways, so it’s a case of “you win some you lose some.” Either way, its biggest downsides won’t make it any less entertaining.

Let’s focus on the most interesting aspects that will impact the future of mobile gaming.

Developers Are Aboard

You can have the best hardware imaginable, but without developer support, it’s all in vain. Fortunately, everyone and their mother realized that there’s quite a lot to gain in mobile gaming as a whole, with microtransactions raking in more revenue than anyone thought was possible. Our phones already have a ton of CPU and GPU power, so all that’s left is for top-tier developers to do what they do best.

Fortunately, such a trend is already happening. Even though developers are still trying to wrap their heads around the inherent limitations of the platform, they’ve already accomplished incredible things in just a couple of years.

It’s the Approach that Matters

The best games on the market right now came from studios that took said limitations and designed around them. Take Niantic, for example. Pokémon GO is one of the most popular games in the world. It combines certain features of our phones not found in any other gaming platform or device. You can’t take your Switch out in the world and hunt for Pokémon, nor could you have done such a thing with any portable console in the past. Some might still prefer the OG gameplay that became so popular with those legendary GameBoy releases. Still, a case can be made that Pokémon GO improves on the formula in almost every way. After all, you’re quite literally walking around looking for Pokémon.

That’s hard to beat.

Most titles and genres can’t transfer in 1:1 fashion and that’s fine. This means there are huge limitations right from the very get-go, but if approached correctly, it can also be an opportunity that can benefit developers greatly. Having such a specific (albeit powerful) device means developers often have to think outside of the box. Whether or not they find success often hinges around their approach and whether or not they were able to “crack” the challenge at hand.

Specs Galore

Today’s phones are simply mind-blowing hardware-wise, and they’re only getting better and better. Granted, most of their features in 2020 are somewhat superfluous, but at least you’re getting the latest and greatest tech for your hard-earned money.

Nowadays, gaming phones have screens that refresh at 144 Hz, with an equally impressive touch sampling rate (the number of times the screen can register touch input per second). Some of them even have AMOLED screens, giving you insanely accurate color reproduction that’ll make your mouth water. They’re equipped with beastly processors that allow you to multitask at any given moment. You can play and record your gameplay all at the same time while also having a dozen other apps open. Just in case you want to scroll through Instagram, reply to your friends, or watch a tutorial through picture-in-picture.

The Asus ROG Phone 3, for example, comes with up to 16GB of RAM along with HDR10+ support and retina-burning 650 nits of maximum brightness. The latest and greatest phones also come with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, giving their users faster and more energy-efficient ways to connect. Gaming over Wi-Fi often gets a bad rap (with good reason), but the technology is finally catching up to consumer needs. Some phones (like the Asus one mentioned above) even have built-in cooling solutions. They’re not particularly potent, but they’ll ensure higher clock speeds over prolonged periods. It’s nothing to scoff at if utilized correctly! This does feel like “innovation” for its own sake rather than an actual necessity, especially given how there are but a few mobile games that can push today’s strongest phones and “make them sweat.”

Regardless, portable gaming consoles pale in comparison. The sheer number of things we can do on our phones at any given time is just mind-blowing, and with games becoming better and better, there’s quite a big reason for optimism when it comes to mobile gaming as a whole.

The Control Conundrum

A big problem that affects mobile gaming (and its future) revolves around controls or lack thereof. The control scheme that’s currently universal and present on any phone is almost exclusively touch-based. Now, if you’re playing something like Hearthstone, then that’s not a bad thing, but for anything more concrete, more fast-paced, and precision-reliant, having only virtual buttons at your disposal is what nightmares are made of.

Some mobile gamers take things to the next level by purchasing game controllers and connecting them via Bluetooth. This is a good workaround, but it means you’ll have to invest even more money, and with phones becoming exceedingly expensive, that might be a bit too much for budget-conscious consumers.

Fortunately, gaming phone manufacturers are aware of this inherent problem and try their best to come up with a solution. They’re limited in what they can do, but progress has certainly been made. Things like haptic triggers on the side of your phone can function as two or even four “buttons.” This isn’t a concrete alternative to physical controls, but it’s a step in the right direction. These zones can trigger any area on your screen, therefore, playing the same role as physical buttons.

If everyone had a gaming controller along with their phone, mobile gaming would be far more developed than it is right now. That’s the number one thing that’s stopping developers from going all-in. The revenue is there. Everyone is a potential gamer seeing how they carry their phones with them every day, but without physical controls, there is only so much that a developer can do.

Still, progress has been made. Someone will come up with an ingenious solution sooner or later.

A Positive Outlook

Everyone wants in on the mobile gaming hype train. Companies are trying to find new and previously unexplored avenues for financial gain, and they’re fully aware that there’s quite a lucrative future in mobile gaming. Heck, the fact that Blizzard decided to create a mobile-only Diablo, a franchise known for having the most hardcore of hardcore fans, tells you all you need to know. They’re willing to endure the overwhelming public backlash because they know they’ll ship an entertaining product bound to pay off. They might not tap into the age-old Diablo fan’s wallet, but they’ll undoubtedly find new ones with relative ease.

And they’re not trying to skimp out on the Diablo-like features either. Blizzard and NetEase are truly focused on providing players with the tried and true hack-and-slash dungeon crawler experience, regardless if it’s on a mobile phone or not. Developers are starting to realize that there are multiple ways of bringing their beloved franchises to an entirely new and unexplored category of devices. We, the gamers and end-consumers, are bound to benefit from it.

There’s a big reason for optimism, and while the lack of physical controls isn’t something, we’ll ever truly get over, at least we’ve started finding (relatively) acceptable alternatives. Mobile gaming is here to stay, and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring.


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