Mobile game

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A mobile game is a video game played on a feature phone, smartphone, smartwatch, PDA, tablet computer, portable media player or calculator.

The first game on a mobile phone was a Tetris game on the Hagenuk MT-2000 device from 1994.[1][not in citation given][2]

Three years later Nokia launched the very successful Snake, starting in December 1997.[3] Snake and its variants, that was preinstalled in all mobile devices manufactured by Nokia, has since become one of the most-played video games and is found on more than 350 million devices worldwide.[4] A variant of the Snake game for the Nokia 6110, using the infrared port, was also the first two-player game for mobile phones.

Now, mobile games are usually downloaded at app stores as well as via the mobile operator's network, but in some cases are also embedded in the handheld devices by the OEM or by the mobile operator when purchased, via infrared connection, Bluetooth, memory card or side loaded onto the handset with a cable.

The first downloadable content was introduced already in 2000. Many new WAP-enabled phones allowed new games to be downloaded. However, mobile games distributed by mobile operators remained a marginal form of gaming until the Apple App Store was launched in 2008. App Store, that was the first store operated directly by the mobile platform holder, significantly changed the consumer behaviour and quickly broadened the markets for mobile games, as almost every smartphone owner started to download mobile content.[5]

Mobile games are played using the technology present on the device itself or over the mobile cloud.


Towards the end of the 20th century, mobile phones began to modernize. With the introduction of the "candy bar" cell phone, mobile phones' capabilities significantly improved. With these technological advances, mobile phone games also became increasingly sophisticated.

Older cell phone games were not as expansive or popular as games for consoles since the hardware for the early mobile phone was not suited for high-color screening or sounds beyond differently pitched beeps. These games were also usually animated with shaded squares (e.g. Snake) due to their limited graphical quality. Unlike today's cell phone games, which usually have to be purchased, these games came pre-installed and could not be copied or removed.

With the advent of the camera phone cell phones became more common. The storage and graphic capabilities of these phones were better than the older candy bar style phone which meant higher quality games could be produced. This also meant that companies could now make a profit off of the games because of their superior quality. Some early companies utilized the camera phone technology for mobile games such as Namco and Panasonic. In 2003 Namco released a fighting game that used the cell phone's camera to create a character based on the player's profile and determined the character's speed and power based on the image taken; the character could then be sent to another friend's mobile phone to battle. That same year Panasonic released a virtual pet game in which the pet is fed by photos of foods taken with the camera phone.[6]

In the early 2000s, mobile games gained popularity in Japan's mobile phone culture, years before the United States or Europe. By 2003, a wide variety of mobile games were available on Japanese phones, ranging from puzzle games and virtual pet titles that utilized camera phone and fingerprint scanner technologies to 3D games with exceptionally high quality graphics. Older arcade-style games became particularly popular on mobile phones, which were an ideal platform for arcade-style games designed for shorter play sessions. Namco began to introduce mobile gaming culture to Europe in 2003.[6] In the present day, Japan is the world's largest market for mobile games.[7] The Japanese gaming market today is becoming increasingly dominated by mobile games, which generated $5.1 billion in 2013, more than traditional console games in the country.[8]

Nokia tried to create its own mobile gaming platform with the N-Gage in 2003 but this effort failed mainly because, at the time, the convergence of a cell phone and a handheld gaming platform did not mix. Many users complained of having to talk on the phone 'taco-style' by tilting it sideways in order to speak and hear. There were hardware issues as well, and though some quality games came out, support for the platform was anaemic.

In Europe, the downloadable content was introduced by the “Les Games” portal from Orange France, run by In-fusio, in 2000. Before the mobile games were usually commissioned directly by phone manufacturers, but now also mobile operators started to act as distributors of games. As the operators were not keen on handling potentially hundreds of relationships with one- or two-person developers, mobile aggregators and publishers started to act as a middleman between operators and developers that kept the revenue share of the developers of minimal.[5]

The launch of the Apple App Store in 2008 radically changed the market. First of all, it widened consumers' opportunities to choose where to download apps; the application store on the device, operator’s store or third party stores via the open internet, such as GetJar and Handango. The Apple users, however, can only use the Apple App Store, since Apple forbids the distribution of apps via any other distribution channel. Secondly, mobile developers can upload applications directly to the App Store without the typically lengthy negotiations with publishers and operators, which increased their revenue share and made mobile game development more profitable. Thirdly, the tight integration of the App Store with the device itself led many consumers to try out apps, and the games market received a considerable boost.[5]

Consequently, the first commercially highly successful mobile games emerged soon after the launch of the App Store. The initial version of Angry Birds developed by Rovio Entertainment, for example, was released on iOS in December 2009.

Today, smart phone and tablet games have come a very long way. Their graphics are about the same as you would expect on a 6th 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).[citation needed]

Calculator games[edit]

Clone of Tetris being played on a TI-83 Plus
A fan-made game similar to the game Portal.

Calculator gaming is a form of gaming in which games are played on programmable calculators, especially graphing calculators.

An early example is the type-in program Darth Vader's Force Battle for the TI-59, published in BYTE in October 1980.[9] The magazine also published a version of Hunt the Wumpus for the HP-41C.[10] Few other games exist for the earliest of programmable calculators (including the Hewlett-Packard 9100A, one of the first scientific calculators), including the long-popular Lunar Lander game often used as an early programming exercise. However, limited program address space and lack of easy program storage made calculator gaming a rarity even as programmables became cheap and relatively easy to obtain. It wasn't until the early 1990s when graphing calculators became more powerful and cheap enough to be common among high school students for use in mathematics. The new graphing calculators, with their ability to transfer files to one another and from a computer for backup, could double as game consoles.

Calculators such as HP-48 and TI-82 could be programmed in proprietary programming languages such as RPL programming language or TI-BASIC directly on the calculator; programs could also be written in assembly language or (less often) C on a desktop computer and transferred to the calculator. As calculators became more powerful and memory sizes increased, games increased in complexity.

By the 1990s, programmable calculators were able to run implementations by hobbyists of games such as Lemmings and Doom (Lemmings for HP-48 was released in 1993;[11] Doom for HP-48 was created in 1995[12]). Some games such as Dope Wars caused controversy when students played them in school.

The look and feel of these games on an HP-48 class calculator, due to the lack of dedicated audio and video circuitry providing hardware acceleration, can at most be compared to the one offered by 8-bit handheld consoles such as the early Game Boy or the Gameking (low resolution, monochrome or grayscale graphics), or to the built-in games of non-Java or BREW enabled cell phones.[13]

Games continue to be programmed on graphing calculators with increasing complexity. A new wave of games has appeared after the release of the TI-83 Plus/TI-84 Plus series, among TI's first graphing calculators to natively support assembly. TI-BASIC programming also rose in popularity after the release of third-party libraries. Assembly remained the language of choice for these calculators, which run on a Zilog Z80 processor, although some assembly implements, have been created to ease the difficulty of learning assembly language. For those running on a Motorola 68000 processor (like the TI-89), C programming (possible using TIGCC) has begun to displace assembly.

Because they are easy to program without outside tools, calculator games have survived despite the proliferation of mobile devices such as mobile phones and PDAs.

Industry structure[edit]

Total global revenue from mobile games was estimated at $2.6 billion in 2005 by Informa Telecoms and Media. Total revenue in 2008 was $5.8 billion. The largest mobile gaming markets were in the Asia-Pacific nations Japan and China, followed by the United States.[14] In 2012, the market had already reached $7.8 billion [15]

Different platforms[edit]

Main article: Mobile software

Mobile games are developed using platforms and technologies such as Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian, Adobe Flash Lite, NTT DoCoMo's DoJa, Sun's Java ME, Qualcomm's BREW, WIPI, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 or Google Android.

Java is the most common platform for mobile games, however its performance limits lead to the adoption of various native binary formats for more sophisticated games.

Unity 3D is rapidly becoming a trendy technology to develop mobile games. It's a solid tool for beginners and also for users who do not have many resources at their disposal to hire people for game development.[16]

Typically, mobile games use one of the following business models: pay-per-download, subscription, free-to-play or advertising. Until recently, the main option for generating revenues was a simple payment on downloading a game. Subscription business models also existed and had proven popular in some markets (notably Japan) but were rare in Europe. Today, a number of new business models have emerged which are often collectively referred to as “freemium”. The game download itself is typically free and then revenue is generated after download either through in-app transactions or advertisements; this resulted in $34 billion spent on mobile games in 2013.[17]

Common limits of mobile games[edit]

Mobile games tend to be small in scope and often rely on good gameplay rather than 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. Most of the mobile games are built around a particular theme or have a specific story line. 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 screen shot 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 licenses 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 or Poker. 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.

Limits for the growth of the mobile games industry[edit]

According to Mobile GameArch project, the main obstacles hindering the growth of the mobile games industry in Europe are the following in 2013:[18]

  • Lack of unified protection of minors systems: At the moment, all relevant mobile platform holders have their own protection of minor systems.
  • VAT regulation must not lead to double taxation: The double taxation has emerged from different approaches on the taxation of virtual goods within games in Europe.
  • The Pan-European licensing for music should make it easier to use European music for European mobile content.
  • Game developers should be able to bill for the content using local payment systems instead of being forced to use credit cards that are not available for all globally.
  • The European copyright framework should secure that we do not lose early European digital cultural heritage published through mobile stores.
  • Game developers should follow standards development and be ready to contribute: Developers have had many examples of damages and costs due to lack of standardization or monopoly of propri-etary solution, e.g. in the game engine domain. Especially standards on payment solutions integration are needed and mobile cloud-based games need definition of management of application components, surrogate discovery, and security.
  • Developers need to be better informed on and more influential in hardware and operating systems development processes.
  • Overviews for evaluating APIs are needed.
  • Developers lack insight into how analytics providers process and retain their data.
  • Middleware and game engines brings the risks of lock-in and lock-out.
  • Unified production formats are needed for tools and APIs to be synchronized across platforms.
  • The mobile consumer’s awareness of available games is low.
  • Developers must make informed decisions on what global market areas to address and how to reach them.

Location-based mobile game[edit]

Games played on a mobile device using localization technology like GPS are called location-based games or Location-based mobile games.[19] 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 mobile game.

A well known example is the treasure hunt game Geocaching, which can be played on any mobile device with integrated or external GPS receiver.[19] External GPS receivers are usually connected via Bluetooth.[clarification needed] More and more mobile phones with integrated GPS are expected to come.[citation needed]

Besides Geocaching, there exist several other Location-based mobile games, such as BotFighters, which are rather in the stage of research prototypes than a commercial success.

Multiplayer mobile games[edit]

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, Wi-Fi, AI, MMS, or Wireless LAN connection.

Some "community" based games exist in which players use their cellphones to access a community website where they can play browser-based games with other players. Such games typically have limited graphical content so that they can run on a cellphone, and the games focus on the interaction between many participants.

There are several options for playing multiplayer games on mobile phones: live synchronous tournaments and turn-based asynchronous tournaments. In live tournaments, random players from around the world are matched together to compete. This is done using different networks including Game Center, Google+, Mobango, Nextpeer, and Facebook.

In asynchronous tournaments, there are two methods used by game developers centered around the idea that players matches are recorded and then broadcast at a later time to other players in the same tournament. Asynchronous gameplay resolves the issue of needing players to have a continuous live connection. This gameplay is different since players take individual turns in the game, therefore allowing players to continue playing against human opponents.

This is done using different networks including OpenFeint and Facebook. Some companies use a regular turn based system where the end results are posted so all the players can see who won the tournament. Other companies take screen recordings of live players and broadcast them to other players at a later point in time to allow players to feel that they are always interacting with another human opponent.


Older mobile phones supporting mobile gaming have infrared connectivity for data sharing with other phones or PCs.


Some mobile games are connected through 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. A bluetooth device can accept up to 7 connections from other devices using a client/server architecture.


A GPRS connection which is common among GSM mobile phones can be used to share data globally. Developers can connect mass numbers of mobile games with one server and share data among the players. Some developers have created cross platform games, allowing a mobile gamer to play against a PC gamer. WAP and GPRS best supports turn based games and small RPG games. (Most counties have a weak GPRS speed in their carriers. In these types of games, the phone communicates with a global server which acts as a router between the mobile phones. Faster connections like UMTS and HSDPA allow real time multiplayer gaming. More multiplayer mobile continue games entering the market with an increasing connectivity.


3G allows in most cases realtime multiplayer gaming and is based on technologies faster than GPRS.

LTE and Wi-Fi[edit]

LTE allows very fast data rates combined with low stalls and is based on technologies faster than 3G. Wi-Fi is often used for connecting at home.


Mobile games can be distributed in one of four ways:

  • Over the Air (OTA) - a game binary file (usually 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.

Until the launch of Apple App Store, in the US, the majority of mobile games were sold by the US wireless carriers, such as AT&T Mobility, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. In Europe, games were distributed equally between carriers, such as Orange and Vodafone, and off-deck, third party stores such as Jamba!, Kalador and Gameloft.

After the launch of Apple App Store, the mobile OS platforms like Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone, the mobile OS developers themselves have launched digital download storefronts that can be run on the devices using the OS or from software used on PCs. These storefronts (like Apple's iOS App Store) act as centralized digital download services from which a variety of entertainment media and software can be downloaded, including games and nowadays majority of games are distributed through them.

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%. Ownership of a smartphone alone increases the likelihood that a consumer will play mobile games. Over 90% of smartphone users play a mobile game at least once a week.[20]

Many mobile games are distributed free to the end user, but carry paid advertising: examples are Flappy Bird and Candy Crush Saga. The latter follows the "freemium" model, in which the base game is free but additional items for the game can be purchased separately.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hagenuk history". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  2. ^ Andreas Elmenthaler (Elmi). "Hagenuk MT-2000 with Tetris". Archived from the original on June 17, 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  3. ^ "Snake is born:a mobile gaming classic" (in Dutch). Nokia. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  4. ^ "7 Nokia World Records That Will Blow Your Mind". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  5. ^ a b c Behrmann M, Noyons M, Johnstone B, MacQueen D, Robertson E, Palm T and Point J (2012). "State of the Art of the European Mobile Games Industry" (PDF). Mobile GameArch Project. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  6. ^ a b Hermida, Alfred (28 August 2003). "Japan leads mobile game craze". BBC News. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Jackson, Clete (October 1980). "Darth Vader's Force Battle". BYTE. pp. 50–54. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Librach, Hank (February 1981). "Hunt the Wumpus with Your HP-41C". BYTE. pp. 230, 232. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "Lemming Games". 1997-04-06. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  12. ^ "Le projet Doom". 2001-01-07. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  13. ^ Eric Rechlin. "HP 48 Arcade Games". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  14. ^ "Global mobile game industry turnover reaches $2.6 billion by 2005". 2005-05-19. Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  15. ^ "The State of Mobile Game Development". Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  16. ^ "Unity 3D Game Development: Advantages & Disadvantages". Retrieved 2014-09-15. 
  17. ^ This simple pricing strategy has driven the phenomenal growth of mobile gaming
  18. ^ "Roadmap" (PDF). Mobile GameArch project. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  19. ^ a b von Borries, Friedrich; Walz, Steffen P.; Böttger, Matthias, eds. (2007), Space Time Play, Basel, Boston, Berlin: Birkhäuser Verlag AG, ISBN 978-3-7643-8414-2 
  20. ^ Kathy Crosett (2011-03-18). "Mobile Game Marketing to Increase | Marketing Forecast from Ad-ology". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 

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