Though the opponents might change, the story of the video game industry has been largely defined by the battle for supremacy between the latest consoles.
In the 1990s it was all about Sonic v Mario. Today, the Xbox One X brands itself as “the world’s most powerful” console, while Sony promises “incredibly immersive gaming worlds” through Playstation VR.
But over the past few years, mobile gaming has entered the fray. It currently accounts for about 40% of the £800m video game market and by 2020 it’s expected to surpass the halfway mark.
Rovio, the Finnish company behind Angry Birds, reached 3.7 billion downloads across all its games last year, while Pokemon Go, Niantic’s popular augmented reality game, hit 65 million monthly users.
And 2017 also saw games being the most downloaded type of app in both Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
Image: Designers at Space Ape say more and more people want to play games away from home
But smartphones have been around for a while, so why the recent boom? Industry watchers say it’s down to a number of different factors.
“The Asian market is having a big effect on the West,” says Craig Chapple, senior editor of Pocket Gamer. “A lot of the trends you see there in terms of game design and monetisation have started spilling over here because they’ve had the free-to-play model for a lot longer than we have.
“The first device they go to for games is mobile, whereas in the West it’s traditionally been console and PC.”
In fact, the world’s largest game company is Chinese. Among other things, Tencent specialises in mobile games and its revenues are double that of Sony’s.
Image: Mobile games are popular in eSports
Its most popular game, the multiplayer fantasy mobile title Honor of Kings, has 200 million players in China alone.
The company bought another Finnish mobile games maker, Supercell, in 2016, which itself owns a 62% stake in British-based Space Ape games.
The London company is one of the UK’s leading mobile game developers.
“When I first got into the industry in 2010, mobile gaming basically didn’t exist in a meaningful sense,” says Space Ape co-founder Simon Hade.
“The hardware was really restrictive so it was hard to make an engaging experience. The approach to development and players’ expectations have really changed.”
The rise of mobile is also changing the profile of your average gamer. What was once the territory of die-hard fans is becoming a place for casual enthusiasts thanks to the pick-up-and-play nature of the technology.
“We all spend a lot of time out and about and more often than not we want the experience of playing games when we aren’t at home,” says Lisa Capaleto, a designer at Space Ape.
A lot of people don’t have the time required to play a console or a PC game. They don’t want to dedicate so much time to it. So we need to cater to people that want a short session.
“We need to think about people that or on the tube, or on the bus, or even in the toilet. They just want a two-minute session for a little kick, which changes how we design games.”
Celebrities are also cashing in on the market, with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and even Gordon Ramsay all having their own smartphone games.
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Meanwhile, the competitive gaming scene is also welcoming the rise of mobile-only tournaments.
So it could be the future of the games industry lies not in our living rooms, but in our pockets.