Forget About Consoles, Mobile Gaming Is Now The Favorite
It would have been hard to imagine several decades ago that users would be using their phones for playing games. Early mobile phones (i.e. cellular phones) were heavy, clunky and complicated devices that had a small LCD screen. They were designed primarily for voice communications, like a mobile two-way radio unit.
Things changed with the rise of the smartphone. You now have Internet, text messaging, apps, videos, music and games along with voice features. The iPhone may have started the trend, but it was surely not the first of its kind. Other vendors tried, but they were not able to come up with the device Apple created. It provides a color screen that engages the user, and provides a graphical environment with an intuitive user interface. You use your fingers to navigate, type and select options on screen.
Over time, smartphones became more premium products that offered high-end features. You now have faster and higher refresh rates, superior imaging quality from OLED touchscreens and higher resolution displays. While we may think smartphones are still small device, it is a lot different when you are using it to engage with content. That includes playing video games. Mobile gaming emerged with interactive games that incorporate augmented reality like Pokemon Go or fun to play battle games like League of Legends Mobile.
Smartphones Are Handheld Computers
Gaming and computing go hand in hand. In this case the phone has evolved into more than just a simple communications device. The smartphone ushered in a new generation of multi-purpose devices that can process voice, text and video data.
The phones that people are using in the Information and Digital Age is basically a handheld computer. It has also become an ideal platform for video games. There are an estimated total of 6.5 Billion smartphone users worldwide (Statista 2022 data based on subscriptions) and growing. Of that percentage, there is a significant chunk that consists of mobile gamers.
This has enabled the mobile gaming market, with easy to play casual games. This genre in gaming includes boardgames, card games, puzzles, word games and first-person shooters. It has a very diverse demographics, from young to old (male and female), it makes the market even larger. Casual mini-games make up 78% of all mobile game downloads (Store Intelligence), while generating 23% in total revenues.
The mobile gaming market is expected to hit $218 Billion by 2030. The casual games genre has been the most popular. It is easy and fun for most users, increasing their engagement. Game companies and advertisers have taken note of this to their benefit. This is of course a reason for ad spends, due to the enormous addressable market of casual gamers.
Another 20% of the mobile gaming market consists of core games. This attracts a more serious gaming group who focus on multiplayer and battle royale scenarios. These games are primarily on consoles and PCs. According to a study, core gamers spend the most time playing online (55% longer than other gamers). This requires somewhat more skill than casual gaming, with eye-and-hand coordination being vital. Gamers who excel in these games can also compete on a professional level (e.g. eGames).
The core game genre consists of RPG and adventure type games, where the gameplay can be more engaging thus requiring more time to play. The larger demographic tends to be younger males. This genre also generates the largest revenue stream at 66% of consumer spend according to research from Data.ai (State of Mobile 2021). These are in-game purchases like accessories, skins and collectible items that are a specific part of the game.
Console vs. Mobile
Console gaming requires the actual device (i.e. console) like an xBox or PlayStation, along with peripherals (e.g. gamepad, joystick, etc.). You need an Internet connection to play other gamers and to download games to the console. It also requires a display like a TV or monitor. You get the best of most things with a console. High-end graphics from a GPU, amazing resolution from large screen displays and even fastest speeds from a broadband Internet connection.
Mobile requires a smartphone (or tablet) which many users have. Smartphones include Internet access, so all that users need to do to play games is either download the app from the App Store (iOS users) or Play Store (Android users). You won’t get as much performance compared to consoles, since mobiles were not designed that way. Consoles use components (CPU, memory, storage) that consume plenty of energy to deliver the best performance, which is not ideal for battery operated smartphones.
When it comes to price, consoles and mobiles can be pretty much at the same range. Consoles can actually be cheaper since they cost less than $1,000 (retail price). A typical flagship smartphone from Apple or Samsung can be greater than $1,000. Most mobile users have a smartphone that falls between an entry level and flagship range, so it is just like buying a game console. Consoles may also be more expensive overall, since game titles require purchase. Many mobile games are actually free to play, so that is even better for most gamers.
The major difference would have to be regarding which is more versatile and available (i.e. versatility and availability). This is where mobile has the advantage, since you can bring your smartphone anywhere with you and game as long as there is an Internet connection (e.g. Wi-Fi, 4G LTE or 5G network). Consoles were meant for home entertainment systems, so you cannot take it on the go. If you wanted to play a game on the bus, you cannot bring your console obviously. You can bring your smartphone, and for most people this is their source of entertainment on the go.
When it comes to performance, without a doubt consoles still outperform mobiles. You get better graphics and even response times with consoles using a fast Internet connection. Gaming on a mobile is not really about performance but more about being able to game whenever and wherever you want without the clutter of wires and cables.
Back in 2018, a survey found that 42% of gamers prefer mobile to consoles or PCs. In 2022 it has changed significantly in favor of the mobile gaming market. Perhaps the changing market preference was a shift brought about by the COVID crisis and the economy. With inflation reaching all time highs (8.6% in 2Q of 2022), purchasing a console would be less likely since it also requires purchasing games. Mobile gaming was cheaper and mostly free, and available since many people have a smartphone.
COVID led to many restrictions and lockdowns that forced people to stay at home, where their only source of information and entertainment was their mobile device. Many people got into gaming at around this time between 2020 and 2022. This shows in data that mobile gaming revenues have surpassed that of consoles and PCs combined. Game developers also took the opportunity to build more mobile games as more people have smartphones than a console or PC.
Console versus mobile is not an apples to orange type of comparison if you look at the market. There are people who prefer to use their smartphone for everything, including gaming. This is a market segment that has no plans to purchase a console anytime soon. Consoles may offer the best performance, but mobiles are more versatile since they can be used anywhere a user goes.
Mobile devices will get better over time, so consoles are not going to be the best performers forever. The integration of mobiles with other devices will be another game changer in the industry. A console may become a thing of the past once mobiles can perform like consoles and use external displays as their primary screen. This gives mobile gaming a lot to look forward to.
(Cover Banner Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio)