This article is brought to you by contributor Jessica Oaks. Hope you enjoy!
The History and Advancement of Mobile Gaming Graphics
Looks matter, which may be why mobile gaming’s rise to the top was such a long and arduous process. The success of the Game Boy and then the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP clearly demonstrated that gaming on the go was a dream shared by many. In fact, the desire for mobile multi-player mobile gaming actually fueled the development of the essential ecosystem that eventually made today’s smartphone performance possible. But while the interest was there, mobile’s rise to dominance in the 90 billion dollar video game industry might never have happened. The main thing standing in the way of a full-scale mobile gaming revolution was the games themselves.
It’s not that people didn’t want to go mobile. The relative popularity of Nokia’s original Snake game – arguably awful in the looks department – is proof that many of us were interested in what our phones could do beyond talk and text. Smartphones clearly had potential as gaming devices, even if matching Nintendo DS standards seemed like a herculean task. Quality improved and the first notable downloadable content for phones hit the airwaves in the year 2000. There were games like DOOM RPG and Asphalt Urban GT, and as crunchy as their graphics were they must have seemed revolutionary.
Real revolutions take time, however, and no one was trading in those PSPs for cell phones just yet. At the same time some early adopters across the pond were playing with virtual pets in something resembling 3D, proving to tech companies and marketers around the globe that downloadable content was a sustainable model that could potentially make money. One of those tech companies was Apple, which launched its App Store in 2008. We now know that launch marked a turning point in the world of video games. Mobile still had a long way to go but from that moment on playing video games required nothing more than tech you already had in your pocket plus a couple of bucks.
Mobile gaming as an industry was growing, but more slowly than one might expect based on its popularity in the present. Post-2008 there was a growing market of people walking around with more than enough computing power in their pockets to handle most of the available games. On the developer side there was a newly open and democratic market for third-party game designers to distribute titles directly to players. The App Store was filling up fast – going from tens of thousands of games to millions in an eye blink – so why would it have been inconceivable to suggest that mobile gaming might kill the console just a few short years ago?
The answer is looks. The devices on the market were not up to the task of supporting multifaceted, graphics heavy titles. In the battle between length of play, speed and appearance, developers were sacrificing visuals to focus on fun because player engagement netted more downloads. Consider Angry Birds, which began life as a flop but became one of the most successful mobile games ever despite its simplicity. Or maybe because of it. Like Super Mario Bros. way back when, Angry Birds brought new demographics into the world of games – just in time for mobile gaming to hit a new peak.
Leaps in mobile tech that included a new lineup of advanced graphics processing units meant that it was possible to run titles comparable in both look and feel to sixth gen console games on mobile. Video games became the go-to amusement for millions of new players, including fresh and fast-growing demographics like adult women. Choosing games didn’t have to mean choosing between graphics, length of play or speed because you could have all three.
Not that the average player – now less likely to be a teen boy than a teen boy’s mom – would need all three all the time. Slower-paced cerebral and visually rich titles (like the award-winning Monument Valley) are more attractive to the youngest players as well as the oldest. But for the serious gamer who might not have otherwise looked up from his or her controller long enough to download an app, there’s suddenly a lot to think about.
Some bloggers and tech influencers have already claimed that mobile technology has reached console standards, though it’s more likely that three to five years will pass before that actually happens. But whether the future is now or true parity won’t be achieved for a few years, it’s hard to deny that the future will be a mobile one. Even better graphics plus VR, 3D and more speed are coming and fast. Nvidia’s Tegra K1 processor was put to the test at Google’s I/O 2014 event, giving us a taste of horsepower heretofore unseen in mobile.
Of course, most players don’t and won’t give a device’s processing power much thought. And so we’re back to looks. There will always be console (and PC) devotees and chances are that these self-proclaimed serious gamers will always find something derisive to say about the quality of mobile gaming. The players who will drive mobile’s ultimate ascendency will be those who look at all of the gaming options out there and recognize two very important things. First, that mobile already offers a beautiful gaming experience that will only get more amazing as time marches forward and second, that everything they need to play is right there in the palms of their hands.