Video games may be a comparatively young form of media, but their success has already seen them overtake films in terms of sheer revenue. Similarly, the advent of mobile gaming has seen immense success, advancing revenues at a rate which even exceed their traditional video game counterparts. With this industry continuously growing each year, and mobile technology becoming an indispensable part of our modern lives, it is now on a trajectory which could eventually place its earnings even above those of the hugely established and well-enjoyed television sector.
How is it that we reached such a point with mobile gaming, where have the major contributing factors come from, and what might we expect from this form of gaming in the future?
From Humble Beginnings
The original mobile phones were obviously very different from what we have today. While many understand that these tended to be large and unwieldy, not many are aware of just how extreme these cases could be. In the mid to late eighties, these could easily be the size of a briefcase, capable of little more than making calls. Over time these would evolve into the simple monochromatic displays so well illustrated by the early Nokia family, and then finally into the form of large and full-color touch-screen devices.
Photo: Kevin Steinhardt
What users of these early entries did not or could not anticipate was the potential that these rapidly advancing devices held in the area of mobile gaming. At first, written off as a mere curiosity with games like Snake, these exploded into one of the most popular forms of digital entertainment on the planet. In the year 2000 the mobile game market was worth effectively nothing, yet in 2018, the market worth sits at around $137.9 billion. This is an increase in size of over 10% in the last year alone.
Tying into this is the television industry, which has had a place as a primary media source in our homes decades before mobile phones became commercially viable, while television revenue still manages to exceed that of the mobile gaming market, with the US industry alone currently being worth $157.48 billion, this is an industry in decline. In fact, television has been struggling over the last few years with the advent and proliferation of online entertainment and other forms of digital media, with revenue falling 8% over this time last year. Will it soon be overtaken? Time will tell.
Casual Games Bring Serious Profit
It was difficult for industry speculators to come to a conclusion on how exactly the mobile games market would take shape, due in no small part to the uniqueness of the device's control input. Early designs like the Nokia N-Gage attempted to bridge the form of traditional handheld gaming devices with the function of modern mobile phones, though these were met with lukewarm appreciation. Instead, users and developers had settled on touch-based systems, and these would necessitate different types of games to best take advantage of the input limitations.
Photo: Andrew Currie
This meant that the games would tend towards the casual rather than the hardcore. While hardcore gamers have derided this on many occasions, the average gamer absolutely loved the short and sweet nature of the casual gaming market, noting it was a perfect fit as an occasional time-sink whenever the player had a free moment. Games like Clash of Clans would become runaway successes, challenging even the biggest names in traditional video games with their financial success.
Support from Gambling
One of the oldest forms of entertainment, gambling, is a rare case of one of those industries that come from ancient beginnings, yet has constantly impressed with its ability to update itself with the newest developments of each age. From gambling on the riverboats of New Orleans to the flashy lights of Las Vegas, gambling has remained at the forefront of human consciousness, ever since its inception.
While there were many businesses which overextended and struggled with the early age of internet business, online casinos managed to thrive, bringing with them a level of convenience and variety that even the best physical casinos could never hope to match. Once the processing power of mobile devices had reached a level where they could offer proper and safe versions of these online games it was only a matter of time before this sector became a significant contributing force to both the growth of mobile phones as a form of technology, and for the overall revenue stream.
Today, modern mobile services offer the same range of games users expect from their desktop and laptop counterparts, bringing with them live casinos games, jackpots, and a wide range of slots, just to name a few. Since 2009, the online casino industry has grown from a market size of $20.51 billion to $52.96 billion today, with an estimated 164 million users currently engaging this sector from their mobile devices. As for how large the mobile gambling industry could eventually grow to become, we don’t actually know, as it still pushes forwards into new and unexplored territory.
Into the Future
Perhaps the most recent development to make major waves in the area of mobile gaming is that of augmented and virtual reality. While the processing requirements of these systems would usually require a full desktop system, the enormous increase in the power of mobile devices has helped eliminate this obstacle. In recent years, these have gone from mobile curiosity to a viable form of entertainment and artistic expression, and this is a market which is poised to take its place as a significant entertainment force.
Room for Two
While mobile gaming is on a definite upward path, and traditional television is on a downward one, we would not ever expect the former to replace the latter. There will always be a place for television entertainment, and while developments like internet shows and the failure of television to adapt to the desires of an evolving market will mean that mobile gaming will inevitably surpass television revenue, it will never replace the media as a whole. Chances are good that the future development of mobile devices and their continued advancements may take the winds out of the sales of traditional video games and gaming consoles, but that is an article for another day.