How Mobile Phone Technology has Changed Online Gaming

Mobile phone technology has not just changed online gaming; it could be said that it is largely responsible for online gaming as we know it. While mobile technology cannot claim to be the reason why gaming is so popular, mobile phones are undoubtedly responsible for the sheer scale and accessibility of the games we now take for granted.

Back in the day, in the beginnings of the video games age, anyone who wanted to play a half-decent game on a screen needed to get themselves to an arcade. Youth clubs and senior high school common rooms might have a Space Invaders machine if you were lucky. However, wherever you were, it was pay-per-play. Because it was impossible to practice without spending vast sums of money, video gaming remained a niche attraction. 

The first home consoles appeared in the 1970s. The most famous one was Pong which saw a square 2D ball being batted back and forth between two paddles. Looking at it through today’s eyes, it looks incredibly primitive, but it was the start of something truly remarkable. After that, home consoles became more sophisticated, and by the time Sega launched their MegaDrive and Nintendo NES, home gaming was in color, and the graphics were close to arcade standards. 

However, gaming was still a solitary hobby. The games were purchased on cartridges that slotted into the consoles – there was no chance of playing any games online. The internet was still in its infancy, and the connection was by painfully slow dial-up modems. To be online, you had to unplug your landline. There was no opportunity to use the phone and the internet simultaneously unless you had the luxury of two landlines. 

It is common knowledge that when mobile phones were first introduced, they were so big that no one thought they would ever catch on. The first Motorola phone weighed in at over 2 lbs. It was hardly something to slip into your pocket and walk around with. However, phones got smaller and smaller, and by 2000 28% of American households owned a mobile phone. This number soared to 68% by 2005. 

The popularity of small phones also had another plus. They had started as devices to talk on, but the first text messages were sent in 1992. Phones moved from being simply communication devices to promises of home entertainment in our pockets. Nokia phones in 1998 came preloaded with Tron’s Snake. While simple in the extreme, it paved the way for the mobile gaming experience we now know and love.

Mobile phones were no longer mere communications devices, they had simple games, and you could listen to music. The introduction of the Blackberry in the early 2000s allowed businessmen and women to send and receive emails on the go! However, the game-changer was the introduction of the iPhone.

The iPod was already in existence, and people used it for music and simple games. With slick graphics and animations, console and computer gaming had come on leaps and bounds. Games came on discs and increased access to the internet through the 90s, and the early 2000s saw gaming becoming a less solitary hobby. In 2003 the digital storefront Steam was launched, allowing gamers to buy and review games online. Upload and download speeds were still painfully slow, but the beginning of mass participation games was just around the corner.

2004 saw the launch of World of Warcraft – it became the first massively multiplayer online phenomenon with over ten million active subscriptions. Gaming became a significant part of the mobile experience when Apple launched the App Store in July 2008. 

Initially, the games played on iPhones differed significantly from those played at home. The consoles and computers had superior processing power and connectivity. So to play top sports-simulations or find the best live casino or first-person shooter, the go-to place was a home-based desktop system. The games on iPhones were simpler and designed specifically for phones. Flappy Bird was the big hitter of the time, and everyone was flinging birds left, right, and center.

The Game Centre feature of the iOSA operating system was officially phased out in 2016 but then reintroduced. From this part of the operating system, players can connect with friends and organize online multiplayer games. Android and Google phones have similar functionality. There is now little distinction between games played on desktop or in a mobile environment. This is primarily due to phones’ massively improved processing power and 4 and 5G connectivity. In addition, fiber optics allow players superfast internet speeds, and everything you want to watch and play can be streamed to you

The most recent massive change has been cloud-based gaming. This could only become a reality when the connectivity speeds were accessible for almost everyone. There was no longer a requirement to have massive storage on the device. In 2019 Google introduced Stadia. It was a cloud-based gaming service that allowed people to play games without a console.

As most of these changes come about incrementally, sometimes we do not realize what incredible changes there have been over a relatively short time. For example, not so long ago, we were delighted we could control a badly pixelated 2D snake! Now online gaming is estimated to be worth $196 billion, and 45% of that comes from the mobile market.

Passionate about design, especially smartphones, gadgets and tablets. Blogging on this site since 2008 and discovering prototypes and trends before bigshot companies sometimes