The Battle of The Gaming Devices

Ninth generation video game consoles have been receiving swathes of PR fanfare, but the last few years has seen the (comparatively) modest smartphone make its own significant dent in the gaming universe. We ask if the end is looming for mains powered, TV reliant machines and if the throne might be usurped by the little black rectangle that doubles as your alarm clock?

Mobile gaming has come a long way since the humble beginnings of Snake on the Nokia 3310. In fact, Nokia attempted to capitalise fully on the gaming potential of their phones with the release of the Nokia N-Gage in 2003. Features such as a landscape gamepad orientation and 2.1” TFT display, the intent was there to make an impact on the gaming market. But because of a lack of game development and some design flaws, the N-Gage was a commercial failure, and it never began to threaten game dedicated devices such as Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance.

Technology has always been a limiting factor for gaming to be taken seriously on phones. Recent advances in processor, graphics, and memory hardware and, importantly, the reduction in size of these components, allowing them to fit in portable handsets has heralded a new era in mobile gaming.

The battery life in particular was a selling point of 2018’s iPhone XR and one thing that turned the heads of mobile gamers. The Samsung Galaxy S8 was one of the first Samsung devices to have a dedicated ‘game mode’ which limits background activity on the phone to allow games to run as seamlessly as possible as well as turning off those ‘rage-quit’ inducing notifications.

The days of console enthusiasts and hardcore gamers looking disparagingly at mobile games have gone. Mobile gaming, especially on smartphones, offers a casual experience for users to enjoy on their lunch break or while waiting for the bus, as well as offering more in-depth titles.

Consoles on the other hand have the processor muscle to offer truly blockbuster, immersive experiences with the peripherals (gamepads, virtual reality (VR) headsets and microphones) to match. All of this can be enjoyed on high-definition widescreens while chatting to your friends.

With the technology now allowing for it, mobile gaming has seen a huge increase in popularity. One impressive area of on-the-go gaming is the recent success of online casinos and mobile poker providers. Casino games and in particular poker tournaments have found a perfect synergy with smartphones, attracting over 100 million players worldwide.

Mobiles have been adapted to cater for poker and casino games, with updated software making it particularly easy for poker players to swipe across and play at multiple tables in one sitting.

Meanwhile other games topping the download charts include:

1. PUBG Mobile
Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, a hugely successful title in the battle royale genre, began life as a PC/console title and now boasts over 1 billion downloads as of March 2021.

2. Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go is perhaps the best example of mobile gaming utilising its strengths. 1 billion players have taken to the streets to capture a rare Vulpix or sniff out a Snorlax. The augmented reality concept of Pokémon Go, simply could not exist in any other format.

3. Clash of Clans
A ‘freemium’ (free to play with a premium charged for additional features) mobile strategy game from Finnish developers Supercell pits real players against one another to battle their respective villages and steal resources.

4. Fruit Ninja
Player’s slash and dice falling fruit and attempt to not let a single banana get past unscathed. Where some games struggle with the absence of tactile buttons, Fruit Ninja uses the touchscreen of smartphones to great effect.

5. Angry Birds
One of the first mobile games to break through and now responsible for an entire franchise including two feature length films.

6. Flappy Bird
2013’s Flappy Bird became an overnight sensation and indie Vietnamese developer Dong Nguyen claimed he never did any promotion.

There are many ports or adaptations of successful video game franchises from PC/console to mobile, PUBG, for example. Triple-A title game developers have been unable to ignore the growing opportunities of mobile phone games.

The history of handheld game consoles only proves to highlight consumer’s desire to be able to game while out and about. Here are some noteworthy entries from the archives:

Nintendo Game & Watch (1980)
The grandfather of handheld gaming devices and the forerunner to the system that changed the portable gaming landscape, the Game Boy.

Nintendo Game Boy (1989)
The icon that is the Nintendo Game Boy arrived in 1989 and shaped childhoods the world over. It’s green dot-matrix screen still makes cultural ripples even to this day.

Sega Game Gear (1991)
With its impressive (at the time) performance and backlit colour screen, battery life was an issue for Sega’s Game Gear. The Game Boy could run for 30+ hours on 4x AA batteries, the Game Gear could manage a paltry 3-5 hours on 6 of them! It made the unit bulky and incredibly expensive to run unless you had some good rechargeable’s.

PlayStation Portable (PSP) (2004)
The PSP was Sony’s attempt to shake up the otherwise uncontested handheld gaming market, dominated by Nintendo’s Game Boy. Being a 7th generation console, it was in competition with the Nintendo DS. The PSP was also the precursor to the less popular PlayStation Vita.

Nintendo DS (2004)
154.02 million units worldwide make the Nintendo DS the most popular handheld gaming device ever produced. But these numbers pale into insignificance to the number of smartphones (all capable of gaming to some degree) sold even per year. Does that make the smartphone the new undisputed king of mobile gaming?

Nintendo Switch (2017)
The Switch is a hybrid console meaning the tablet can be docked to be used as a home console or mounted between the controllers to be used as a portable device. Nintendo also launched the Switch lite a year later, a dedicated portable version of the switch. The Switch was well received, critically and publicly and has been lauded as the culmination of nearly 40 years of Nintendo’s work.

Oculus Quest (2019)
Even the recent VR hype hasn’t escaped portable adaptations. Oculus, a big name in the world of VR released the Quest in 2019 which ran software under an Android operating system.

Mobile gaming success has not occurred at the expense of consoles. The growth of mobile specific titles is evidence of the platform finding its own place in the field. Meanwhile, the console wars rage on and their total market size shows no evidence of diminishing.

Consoles aren’t going anywhere, for the time being at least. Ninth generation consoles support technology that mobile devices cannot get close to and the gaming experience offered reflects that, yet, at the same time, mobile gaming certainly isn’t going anywhere either.