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What’s Driving the Mobile Gaming Tidal Wave?

64-bit, greater frame rates and a medal tournament at the 2022 Asian Games are some of what’s coming.

Joe Rozek Headshot
Posted on 16th March 2022 By Joe Rozek, Developer Relations, Arm
Mobile Devices Mobile Gaming
Reading Time: 7 mins
What’s Driving the Mobile Gaming Tidal Wave?

Since the dawn of 3G and its then astonishing leaps in bandwidth and speed, mobile devices have become the default go-to device for the most popular applications. The camera phone debuted in 2000. Now, over 93 percent of the 1.4 trillion plus photos taken annually are captured on phones and tablets. Mobile devices account for 58 percent of all IP traffic (up from 6 percent a decade ago) with over 90 percent of Internet users regularly logging on with smartphones. Social? It’s a mobile experience 80 percent of the time.

And now, you can add gaming to the list of mobile-first activities.

Mobile games accounted for over half ($90.7 billion) of the $175.6 billion spent on digital gaming in 2021, a first according to Newzoo. 50 percent of revenue ($88 billion) comes from Asia while the fastest-growing markets are Latin America and Africa. Mobile gaming is now over 4x larger than the take at the box office ($21.6 billion). The only place where mobile still seems to be behind PCs and consoles is eSports, the sprawling global tournaments that draw millions of viewers and millions in prize money. But that too will flip in a few years, says Andy Dinh, CEO of prominent eSports team TSM.

AAA gaming on mobile devices

It is also incredibly democratic. Newzoo estimates that 2.8 billion out of 3 billion total gamers play on mobile platforms with options ranging from multiplayer AAA games originally developed for PCs and consoles (PUBG Mobile) and mobile-first hits (Subway Surfers) to contemplative titles like Shoji. Five mobile gaming titles have achieved over one billion downloads.

AAA gaming on mobile has the benefit of cross-compatibility at no cost to the game content or players’ experiences. Genshin Impact, winner of the 2021 best mobile game award at The Game Awards, competes with console titles in terms of immersive gameplay and graphics capabilities and can be played across different platforms and devices.

The majority of the game development process can be automated, lowering the cost of developing a mobile version and also providing a consistent and seamless gaming experience across different platforms.

More powerful processors, higher quality displays

What’s driving mobile gaming growth? More powerful processors, bigger and higher resolution displays, and technologies for making a single battery charge last longer are all helping narrow the gap between the console experience and smartphones. In some markets, like China, it is common for smartphones to be the primary gaming device, helping to drive mobile gaming growth. And of course, there is a growing collection of AAA gaming content on mobile.

MediaTek’s flagship Dimensity 9000 SoC, for instance, is focused on the next-generation of premium smartphones, with better, more advanced gaming experiences at the heart of its pitch. The chipset’s push for elite mobile gaming performance is reflected in the adoption of the latest Armv9 CPUs, including the extreme performance Arm Cortex-X2 CPU, three high-performance Arm Cortex-A710 CPU cores and four Arm Cortex-A510 CPU cores for efficiency. Then on top of all this, Arm’s Mali-G710 GPU introduces a range of mobile graphics features that allow for premium shading, textures and lighting, even helping MediaTek’s push for ray tracing for mobile (You can check out ray tracing gaming content on Oppo’s new premium smartphone, the Find X5 pro, which is built on the Dimensity 9000, on Arm’s booth—S756—at GDC 2022).

Advances in hardware APIs, optimization tools

Software developers, meanwhile, are porting their 32-bit games to 64-bit, a quick shift that can boost performance by 20 percent and frame rates by over 16 percent. Publishers are taking advantage of advances in hardware APIs and optimization tools, like Adaptive Performance (another feature that will be displayed at Arm’s GDC booth), that effectively let games dynamically adapt and improve their content, and also thread the power/performance balance on an individual basis Arm has its own optimization and performance analysis tools, like Mobile Studio, that means developers can ensure maximum performance and efficiency in their gaming applications, so nothing goes to waste.

But we also work with Unity – used by 75 percent of the world’s game developers – to optimize the gaming experience via new features like adaptive performance, which is being displayed through Arm’s own internal gaming production, “The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Arm”, featuring Dr. Arm, a character from our highly successful Mali Manga comics for developers.

Click to read The Arm Manga Guide to the Mali GPU

And, of course, you can’t ignore 5G and the cloud. Just a little over two years ago, there were only 17 million mobile users on 5G. By 2022, over one billion will be linked over 85,000 5G networks. 5G’s high speeds mean that CGI-like experiences in tandem with the cloud can be experienced on mobile devices, leading potentially to immersive, glitch-free gaming and better battery life at the same time.

But perhaps more important than technology, mobile games are—wait for it—mobile, which changes when and how people play. Consider the success of Pokemon GO. It started as a bit of April Fool’s Day fun in 2014. Nintendo and Niantic released it as a game in 2016 and for many, it was their first experience with augmented reality (AR).

Pokemon GO: A runaway success story

The most fascinating part of the success, however, was the social aspect. Thousands of players gather for the biggest Pokemon GO events and smaller ones can be found across the globe at any time, and the results have been utterly unexpected. When COVID-19 hit, Niantic tweaked the rules and enhanced the technology for play during lockdown. 2020 revenue surpassed $1 billion, the biggest year to date. The company recently released its Lightship AR development kit and announced it would make its maps for layering AR elements onto reality available to third parties: expect more titles from more companies soon.

New hardware will also likely emerge. Imagine a pursuit espionage game live-action game where the interface is no longer a phone but instead a VR headset, like the Oculus Quest 2 that has already shipped 10 million units, or, looking ahead to the future, a pair of AR smart glasses. Security and privacy protocols, however, will be absolutely necessary, especially protecting mobile devices and the gaming app and assets. Otherwise, the backlash against players whose personal information—or up-to-the-moment location—gets hacked or inadvertently released will be rightfully enormous. Making sure security is a priority for mobile games will put minds at ease and ensure integrity in gameplay for the billions of gamers worldwide.

Another area that seems ripe for mobile gamification is sports. As noted above, esports is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, with the live streaming of events drawing millions of views worldwide. While not as advanced as PC and Console, mobile eSports are already drawing millions of players. In fact, PUBG Mobile will be an official medal sport for the first time at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou.

The convergence of content or live events and gaming?

The explosion of mobile gaming and the ever-increasing performance of mobile platforms will give developers an enhanced sandbox for experimentation. The integration of streaming platforms, like Twitch, into gaming apps is becoming a key consideration for developers, so watch this space!

The mobile gaming tidal wave means any new premium smartphone coming to market needs to tout its gaming prowess to truly flex its performance capabilities. Game developers are taking advantage of this power and performance, introducing a range of new immersive gaming experiences. Thanks to Arm and our silicon partners, everything is in place for yet more innovation in the mobile gaming space.

More performance, more interaction, more players, more socializing, and better graphics. For mobile gaming, the sky really is the limit.

Got Mobile Game?

Visit Arm at GDC Booth #S756 to learn more about the latest innovations in CPUs, GPUs, software tools and other technologies for smartphones, tablets and digital infrastructure from the Arm ecosystem. Learn more about Arm’s gaming solutions on Arm.com.

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