Big, fast and fun: The future of mobile gaming

OCT 04, 2022

Back in gaming’s stone age (read: the 1970s), the first electronic handheld gaming devices were heralded as miracles of portable play. Think Mattel Football with its lines of LED lights and blarp-bloop sound effects or Simon, that candy-colored hunk of bleating plastic. The following decade brought the wonders of the handheld games that used cartridges to let users play different titles. That technology continued to advance through the 1990s and 2000s, with improved graphics and faster gameplay. That’s also when early cellphones started getting their own games—and a few people even played them, despite the small screens, fiddly controls and lackluster graphics.

Then came a watershed moment for mobile gaming. In the mid-2000s, smartphones stormed onto the scene and eventually let people take higher-fidelity games wherever they went. What’s more, the systems allowed users to download new games at the touch of a button for just a dollar or two, whereas previous handheld gaming consoles used cartridges that cost upwards of $40 apiece. The result? Birds got angry. Candy was crushed. And a gaming subset that once had been dismissed with a chuckle by serious gamers found remarkable success.

How remarkable? Newzoo’s 2021 global games market report estimated that the mobile category accounted for 52% of overall gaming revenue in 2021, more than PC and console games combined. But while what has happened to mobile gaming over the past 15 years might seem surprising, several seismic shifts are promising to reconfigure mobile gaming even more profoundly than the smartphone revolution.

A key driver of these changes? Supercharged performance, thanks to a combination of the high speeds and low latency that 5G networks can offer, and mobile-edge computing (MEC), which moves data processing to the edge of the network—and closer to users—to reduce response times and potentially provide access to far more processing power than what’s native to the user’s device. The combination could change the way gamers think of mobile vs. console gaming by fundamentally changing the kind of experiences anyone thought possible on mobile.

With that in mind, here are five advances that mobile gamers can look forward to.

1. Full games on the go

Say goodbye to the “lite” mobile versions of your favorite console games. Game developers are using mobile edge computing to bring high-powered game streaming to mobile phones. By processing graphics in the cloud, MEC can deliver experiences your phone might not manage on its own. We’re talking true AAA games on your phone with no downloads. Today, Verizon subscribers can join Xbox All Access and connect to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to stream games directly from the cloud, and this trend is likely to become more widespread in the coming years.

2. Smarter characters

Having 5G and MEC doesn’t just provide the opportunity for better graphics—it also allows developers to work with more complex scenarios. This means the potential for more interesting and dynamic games, photorealistic scenery, and more unpredictable and lifelike nonplayable characters (NPCs) and enemies. The technology can also turbocharge player matching and network performance to create better online experiences for mobile gaming as time goes on.

3. 5G-powered gaming at home

For decades, bringing broadband internet into your home meant bringing it in over wires. Now with 5G, wireless broadband isn’t just available, it could be preferable for many people. Where available, Verizon’s 5G Home Internet can bring blazing speed to your home internet connection thanks to 5G Ultra Wideband.

4. More streamers

Game streamers now broadcast video game sessions to thousands or even millions of people. Some are the best players in the world. Others offer cracking commentary. Still more spin improvisational stories in shared environments such as Minecraft or Roblox. It’s estimated that streaming grew more than 20% between 2020 and 2021 alone. By 2023, the audience for game streaming is projected to top 1 billion people. As games continue to be ever more visually appealing—and as the young millennials and zoomers who grew up watching streams age into jobs, careers and money—streaming is expected to continue to grow in popularity with both viewers and producers, and the smooth, low-lag viewing on the go that 5G can provide will likely be an important driver of that growth.

5. More players and better games

There are more than 3 billion gamers in the world, and mobile gamers make up more than half of them. It makes sense: There are far more phones in the world than game consoles, and everyone who has a phone in their pocket is now a potential gamer. Why does that matter to players and to the industry? More gaming activity generates more revenue (an estimated $93 billion was spent on mobile games in 2021). More money means more opportunity for developers. More developers means more games and more competition in the market. More competition means not just more but better games. With the number of gamers growing at more than 5% per year, it could mean a lot of great games coming your way.

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