A mobile game
is a video game
played on a mobile phone
or handheld computer
. This does not include games played on handheld video game
systems such as PlayStation Portable
or Nintendo DS
The first game that was pre-installed onto a mobile phone was Snake on selected Nokia models in 1997. Snake and its variants have since become the most-played videogame on the planet, with over a billion people having played the game.
Mobile games are played using the technologies present on the device itself. For networked games, there are various technologies in common use. Examples include text message (SMS), multimedia message (MMS) or GPRS location identification.
However, there are non networked applications, that simply use the device platform to run the game software. The games may be installed over the air, they may be side loaded onto the handset with a cable, or they may be embedded on the handheld devices by the OEM or by the mobile operator.
Mobile games are usually downloaded via the mobile operator's radio network, but in some cases are also loaded into the mobile handsets when purchased, or via infrared connection, Bluetooth or memory card.
With the creation of the cell phone, one was easily impressed with the mere fact that the phone required no cables, but towards the end of the 20th century, cellular phones started to modernize, and people wanted more out of their cell phones.
With the introduction of the "candy bar" style cell phone, the appearance of a cell phone as well as its features and calling capabilities became a lot more important to people. Cell phone games were among the many new features that could be expected in this new type of cell phone.
Old cell phone games were pretty low tech. The games were usually animated with black squares. Some of the most common cell phone games were "snake" and "brick". Unlike today's modern cell phone games which usually have to be purchased, these games came pre-installed on the cell phone.
When the "camera phone" was introduced to the public, cell phones started to become a lot more common and a very big trend. The storage and graphic capabilities on these new phones were a lot better than the older "candy bar" style phone, which meant that higher quality games could be created for use on cellular phones. This of course also meant that companies could make a profit off of these games.
Cell phone games are not as big of a success as they were thought to be because using a cell phone keypad as a controller is much different than any video game console. Also, the games available for cell phones are usually relatively short.
Today, cell phone games have come a very long way. Their graphics are about the same as you would expect on a 4th or 5th generation game console (which may not seem like a very big improvement yet is considered one because the game is being played on a cell phone). Cell phone games now tend to take up a large amount of memory on cell phones, which is part of the reason why they still aren’t too popular. Still, certain games such as "Tetris" and "Solitaire" are somewhat popular cell phone games.
Total global revenues from mobile games were estimated at $2,600 million in 2005 by Informa Telecoms
Mobile games are developed using platforms and technologies such as Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian OS, Adobe's Flash Lite, DoCoMo's DoJa, Sun's J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition, recently rebranded simply "Java ME"), Qualcomm's BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), WIPI, iPhone or Google Android platforms. Other platforms are also available, but not as common.
Java is the most common platform for mobile games, however its performance limitations lead to the adoption of various native binary formats for more sophisticated games.
Common limitations of mobile games
Mobile games tend to be small in scope and often rely on good gameplay over flashy graphics, due to the lack of processing power of the client devices. One major problem for developers and publishers of mobile games is describing a game in such detail that it gives the customer enough information to make a purchasing decision. Currently, Mobile Games are mainly sold through Network Carriers / Operators portals and this means there are only a few lines of text and perhaps a screenshot of the game to excite the customer. Two strategies are followed by developers and publishers to combat this lack of purchasing information, firstly there is a reliance on powerful brands and licences that impart a suggestion of quality to the game such as Tomb Raider
or Colin McRae
and secondly there is the use of well known and established play patterns (game play mechanics that are instantly recognisable) such as Tetris
, Space Invaders
. Both these strategies are used to decrease the perceived level of risk that the customer feels when choosing a game to download from the carrier’s deck.
Recent innovations in mobile games include Singleplayer, Multiplayer and 3D graphics. Virtual love games belong to both of singleplayer and multiplayer games. Multiplayer games are quickly finding an audience, as developers take advantage of the ability to play against other people, a natural extension of the mobile phone’s connectivity. With the recent internet gambling boom various companies are taking advantage of the mobile market to attract customers, Ongame the founders of PokerRoom developed in 2005 a working mobile version of its poker software available in both play money and real money. The player can play the game in a singleplayer or multiplayer mode for real or play money. As well, the MMORPG boom seems to hit the world of mobile games. According to their website CipSoft has developed the first MMORPG for mobile phones, called TibiaME. SmartCell Technology, a mobile applications developer, is in development of the first cross-platform MMORPG called Shadow of Legend. Shadow of Legend will have the ability to play on both a PC and a mobile device.
Games played on a mobile device using localization technology like GPS
are called location-based games
. These are not only played on mobile hardware but also integrate the player's position into the game concept. In other words: while it does not matter for a normal mobile game where exactly you are (play them anywhere at anytime), the player's coordinate and movement are main elements in a Location-based game
. The best-known example is the treasure hunt game Geocaching
, which can be played on any mobile device with integrated or external GPS
receiver. External GPS receivers are usually connected via Bluetooth
. More and more mobile phones with integrated GPS
are expected to come.
Besides Geocaching, there exist several other location-based games which are rather in the stage of research prototypes than a commercial success.
Multiplayer Mobile Games
A Multiplayer mobile game
is often a re-branding of a multiplayer game
for the PC or Console. Most mobile games are single player mobile games
perhaps with artificially intelligent
opponents. Multiplayer functionality is achieved through:
- * Infrared
- * Bluetooth
- * GPRS
- * 3G
- * WiFi
- * AI
- * MMS
- * Wireless LAN
Older mobile phones supporting mobile gaming have infrared
connectivity for data sharing with other phones or PCs. This connectivity is not practical as any disturbances in the infra-reds line of sight could cause loss of connection, hence this technology was never really used in mobile games.
Bluetooth multiplayer games
Mobiles are connected through a wireless protocol called Bluetooth
using special hardware. The games are designed to communicate with each other through this protocol to share game information. The basic restriction is that both the users have to be within a limited distance to get connected. In this type of connection the game mode can only be one to one or two players more like a peer to peer connection between two PCs.
WAP / GPRS / UMTS / HSDPA multiplayer game
connection which is common among GSM
mobile phones can be used to share the data globally. Developers can connect a mass number of mobile games with a single server and share data among the players. Some developers have achieved cross platform games, allowing a mobile player to play against a PC. WAP and GPRS best supports turn based games and small RPG games. (Most of the counties have a weak GPRS speed in their carriers. In these types of games
, the game communicates with a global server which acts like a router
between the mobile phones
. Faster connections like UMTS and HSDPA allow real time multiplayer gaming though speeds will still give some level of lag. Currently, there are a lot of multiplayer mobile games entering the market.
3G and WiFi
allows in most cases realtime multiplayer gaming and is based on technologies faster than GPRS. Wi-Fi is often used for connecting at home. Not every mobile device allows games to use the wifi connection.
Mobile games can be distributed in one of four ways:
- Over the Air (OTA) - a game binary file (typically BREW or JAVA) is delivered to the mobile device via wireless carrier networks.
- Sideloaded - a game binary file is loaded onto the phone while connected to a PC, either via USB cable or Bluetooth.
- Pre-installed - a game binary file is preloaded onto the device by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
- Mobile browser download - a game file (typically Adobe Flash Lite) is downloaded directly from a mobile website.
In the US, the majority of mobile games are sold by the US wireless carriers, such as ATT, Verizon, Altel, Sprint and T-Mobile. In Europe, games are distributed equally between carriers, such as Orange and Vodafone, and off-deck, third party stores such as Jamba, Jamster, Kalador and Gameloft. Third party, off-deck game stores have not yet taken off (as of 2007) in the US, as the US based carriers use a 'walled garden' approach to their business models.
The popularity of mobile games has increased in the 2000s, as over $3 billion USD worth of games were sold in 2007 internationally, and projected annual growth of over 40%.
Mobile Community Games
Some companies, e.g. Cellufun
, have started to come up with unique community games made for mobile phones like Call of the Pharaoh
, which won "Best Mobile Game"
at the Global Mobile Awards 2008. In these games, players use their cellphones to access a community website where they can play browser-based games with thousands of players. This type of game works well on a limited platform like mobiles, because they do not require a lot graphical content. The essence of the game consists rather of the interaction between a multitude of participants. The fact that most users always have their cell phone with them make possible new kinds of games.
- MobileGamesDb - The independent open database of mobile games worldwide