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Mobile gaming was once a work of science fiction. The thought of being able to enjoy video games without being tethered to a desk seemed like an impossible dream. In the early 1980s, the technology required to make video games small enough to be carried around simply didn’t exist.
Sure, there were some handheld gaming devices you could buy, but these were simply a set of LED lights that illuminated and went out in different sequences, depending on your inputs. They also limited you to a single game mode.
Things would change in 1989 when Nintendo released the Game Boy. This battery-operated, 8-bit computer had a monochrome dot-matrix display that ran at a resolution of 160×144 pixels and a processor that ran at just 4.19 Mhz. However, that was enough for the Japanese company to make some of the most iconic video games ever made, including Super Mario Land 2, Pokémon, and Tetris.
Over time, Nintendo and Sony have created other iconic portable consoles, including the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable, but the need for these has waned in the last 10 years as smartphones have become the dominant device for gaming on the go.
Gaming on smartphones started out quite simply in the 2010s, with titles like Angry Birds, Temple Run and Fruit Ninja. However, in more recent years, the gulf between mobile games and their larger console and computer cousins has been narrowing. Today, Fortnite, Minecraft, and even poker games can be played on big and small screens with cross-platform functionality and most of the same features available on every device, allowing players to play against their friends regardless of the device they are using.
We’ve come a long way in three decades, but what can we expect from mobile gaming in the future?
There should be nothing too surprising with this one. Smartphone displays have been improving with every new generation. They’re now capable of displaying video in full high definition and the introduction of AMOLED technology has improved color clarity and brightness.
The most recent trend is for manufacturers to increase the refresh rates of their smartphone screens. For gaming, this means a smoother picture and an increased frame rate.
In the coming years, we’re likely to see more of the same. Although we won’t get smartphones with the ray-tracing technology found in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, graphics will continue to get better and better.
Virtual reality gaming is something that companies in the industry have been trying to get right for years. Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in 1996, only to remove it from sale a few months later after poor sales and a lot of criticism.
Now though, virtual reality hardware is capable of displaying 360-degree video in high definition without needing to be plugged into a power source or computer. We’ll likely see VR playing a bigger role in smartphone gaming as the technology is adopted more broadly.
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Perhaps the biggest change in smartphone gaming in the coming years is going to be from streaming services. Like Netflix and Spotify in the video and music spheres, game streaming services allow users to play titles without having to have them installed on their computer or smartphone.
They achieve this by offloading all of the complicated calculations to the platform’s servers and then simply stream the outputs to the smartphone. Just like with video streaming services, the image quality is reduced should the quality of the internet connection degrade in an attempt to avoid buffering.
The most well-known service is Google Stadia, which makes it possible to play AAA games on compatible Android smartphones. This means even titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2 can be enjoyed from a smartphone.
The rollout of 5G mobile technology will also help improve the quality of mobile game streaming. Its low-latency properties mean that lag is reduced, something crucial for a good gaming experience.