How mobile gaming drove the industry forward

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The mobile gaming industry generates revenue of over $40.6 billion worldwide and the market has grown in the U.S. by 50% over the last seven years. As the technology became more sophisticated, apps were developed to take advantage of the advances. That brought live streaming and synchronised multi-player game formats that are now a staple diet for content creators, and mobile games can now provide entertainment rivalling that available on static consoles like the PS Vita.

But which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Without the advances in mobile technology, the gaming sector would surely not be enjoying such a surge in popularity and impressive market growth. However, it is precisely the fact that the mobile gaming market is as popular as it is that many advances in our mobile devices occurred in the first place. The inexorable rise in demand for games helped stimulate the rapid development of faster processing, better graphics and reliable wireless technology.

Mobile gaming statistics

The most extensive markets for mobile gaming in the world are China and Japan with the U.S, coming third. The three countries represent 46% of the global revenue for gaming using mobile media.

While we may think that there is an impressive library of games available for the Vita if we include the PSOne and PSP legacy titles (not to mention the forgotten PlayStation Mobile games) giving it in excess of 1,500 games on hand for us eager gamers, across the leading App Stores for iOS and Android there are around 800,000 gaming apps and, to put that into context, it represents around a third of the total apps market. However, revenue from the iOS App Store from gaming is estimated to generate around 75% of annual revenue. It makes the PS Vita look like a small drop in the ocean and sadly its no wonder why many developers have either left us behind or put Vita ports of games behind that of mobile devices.

Zen Studios are a perfect example of this. Development of one of our favourite games here at Vita Player – Zen Pinball 2 – has ceased now (as has work on the PS3 version) so they can focus on modern platforms with the more advanced PinballFX 3 yet all of the new tables being released are still being made available for Android and iOS gamers. While Zen’s official reason was that of technical capabilities, was it really a hardware decision, or more a financial one?

Mobile Gaming vs. Video Gaming

Mobile gaming currently accounts for 42% of total annual gaming revenue and is more lucrative than either console or PC gaming. The market share is expected to increase to 50% by 2020.

Unlike video gaming, the mobile games market is more balanced regarding age and gender. Where console games have traditionally been marketed toward men with an overabundance of sports, first person shooters and violent fantasy games, mobile games apps have a much wider appeal, even if many games are generic and are based around the free-to-play business model, something that is rarely used on console games and has only been seen a couple of times on the Vita, most notably with Fat Princess: Piece Of Cake and Run Sackboy, Run.

Why is mobile gaming so popular?

The increase in gaming across mobile devices is mainly due to availability and affordability. Three out of four adults in America own a smartphone while just under half of all homes have a console. This basic principle of base device ownership naturally gives mobile gaming an advantage, as not even the world’s biggest selling console ever (the PlayStation 2 which sold 160 million units in its lifespan) can match the userbase offered by smartphones.

Taking things further, developers also have an instant means of delivery for their content and with game sizes being considerably smaller than that of their console counterparts it is much easier for gamers to download them on the go without the worry of impacting on their mobile data allowances. For us Vita owners who choose to buy games on the go we either have to contend with limited 3G connections with slow download speeds or connecting to wi-fi hotspots and hoping that we can stay connected long enough to download the average game. And that doesn’t take into account one other very important factor… that developers who release their games on app stores make many of their titles available to play for free.

The result is a diverse range of games that are available to download on demand which satisfies a market that has previously been lost to the traditional gaming sector. Mobile gamers come from a wider demographic that breaks age, gender and class boundaries. In fact, it is estimated that 62% of smartphone users download a game to their devices within a week of getting their new phone.

Types of mobile gaming

Most games played on a mobile device come from the puzzle genre, and around 58% of users have installed an app of this kind. However, action and simulation games are a growing market representing 40% and 28% of downloaded games and both are seeing growth in 2017.

Sports gaming is also a developing market and one that links to a wider industry that is pushing the development of this genre. Betting on sports via an app is a growth market and offers convenience to customers that are on the move.

Even retro gaming is big business now with publishers like Sega getting on board re-releasing a vast assortment of titles from their back catalogue from all of their consoles, wanting to take the initiative away from those who have been emulating consoles on their phones for many years and bringing legitimacy to old school gaming. It’s only a matter of time before Nintendo follow suit and we see official releases of classic home console and arcade titles.

What is mobile gaming doing to advance the Mobile Industry?

Mobile devices have traditionally been limited by their screen size and quality of graphics in terms of the kind of games they can offer. For this reason, the gaming industry has been at the forefront of pushing the development of new technology to enable their games to be played on small devices.

By pushing the limits of what devices are capable of, the mobile gaming market supplies the demand for more stable technology to support their apps. As a sector which generates the majority of income across app stores, mobile giants Apple and Google have had to sit up and take notice of the need for advanced platforms. Both companies invest huge amounts into the development of their products which in turn stimulates growth across the whole mobile sector.

In contrast, handheld consoles like the Vita and Nintendo DS have had very little to challenge them technically. While Nintendo opted to see what functionality and technology was needed to delivery the games they wanted to offer at a price point they wanted to charge for their consoles knowing that their customer base were focused on gameplay, Sony took a different approach. Having successful home consoles with the PSOne and PS2 left Sony wanting to offer gamers the same raw console power in their hands so by the time the PSP hit the streets the performance was there to deliver the gaming power of a PS2 in a handheld device. At the time it was just what the market was looking for and the console was able to hold its own against Nintendo.

The PS Vita was a different matter altogether. The same intention was there – a portable equivalent of a home console – but the software failed to materialise and while Nintendo continued with their “gameplay first” ethos, smartphone technology progressed, Vita games have stagnated and mobile devices have entrenched themselves for gamers even more. With the right support the Vita could have been so much more and had a bigger part to play than it currently does.

The future of mobile gaming

Mobile gaming is still a growing sector and is expected to generate around $65 billion by 2020. The industry is expected to take advantage of new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, improved asynchronous play across social media, and to offer more games with free to play/free to start incentives.

Traditional game developers for both the PC and console markets such as eSports are expected to embrace the change to a mobile environment and further broaden the range of games offered on mobile.

Whether the mobile gaming market will slow down or not, what is true is that the demand for mobile gaming has never been higher and, while the revenues continue to grow, technology will need to meet this need. Sadly, this is another area where this PS Vita has now missed the boat and won’t be able to play catch-up and is another sign that it’s in the closing stages of its mainstream lifespan, some five years after its launch.

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