Mobile game

Mobile game
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A mobile game is a video game played on a mobile phone, smartphone, PDA, tablet computer or portable media player. This does not include games played on handheld video game systems such as Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable.

The first game that was pre-installed onto a mobile phone was a Tetris game in the Hagenuk MT-2000 device from 1994.[1][2]

Three years later Nokia launched the very successful Snake on selected models in 1997.[3] Snake and its variants have since become the most-played video game on the planet and embedded in more than 350 million devices worldwide.[4]

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 GPS location identification. The first two-player game for mobile phones was a variant of the Snake game for the Nokia 6110, using the infrared port.

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, via infrared connection, Bluetooth, or memory card.



With the creation of the cell phone, one was easily impressed with the fact that the phone required no cables. However, 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.

Older cell phone games were not as expansive or as popular as console games, as the phone's hardware was not suited to high-color screens or sounds beyond differently pitched beeps. The games were usually animated with black squares. A good example of an early cell phone game is Snake. Unlike today's cell phone games, which usually have to be purchased, these games came pre-installed on the cell phone, and could not be copied off or removed.

When the camera phone was introduced to the public, cell phones started to become a lot more common. 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. This of course also meant that companies could make a profit off these games. Some of the early companies to utilize camera phone technology in mobile games were Namco and Panasonic. In 2003, Namco released a fighting game that uses camera phone technology to create a player character based on the player's profile, and interprets the image to determine the character's speed and power; the character can then be sent to a friend's mobile to battle. That same year, Panasonic released a Tamagotchi-like virtual pet game where the pet is fed by photos of foods taken with a camera phone.[5]

In the early 2000s, mobile games had gained mainstream 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 utilize camera phone and fingerprint scanner technologies to 3D games with PlayStation-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 making attempts to introduce mobile gaming culture to Europe in 2003.[5]

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 anemic.

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. Still, certain games such as "Tetris" and "Solitaire" are somewhat popular cell phone games.

After the integration of 3D APIs into mobile platforms, the mobile gaming world started to launch its own brand games. Real Soccer, Assault Team 3D, Crash Arena 3D, Edge, Labyrinth and Tournament Arena Soccer 3D were the first 3D games who became the sectoral well-known brands. After the huge success of Tournament Arena Soccer 3D by Mobilenter with getting over 35 millions of downloads in only 1 week before World Cup 2010, the 3D game development became the primary area of mobile game development and mobile gaming became one of the most important gaming platforms.

Industry structure

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.[6]

Different platforms

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 7 or Google Android. Other platforms are available, but less common.

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.

Common limits of mobile games

Mobile games tend to be small in scope and often rely on good gameplay more than 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. 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.

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.

Often trivia or quiz games will run out of questions on mobile devices. Some publishers like MobileQs will offer expansion packs to the original game to get around this problem.

Location-based games

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:

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


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 seldom used in mobile 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. 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 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 Wi-Fi

3G 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 Wi-Fi connection.


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.

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.

With the rise of mobile OS platforms like Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Mobile 7, 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.

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.[7]

In recent years,[when?] there has been a move towards mobile games which are distributed free to the end user, but carry prominent, paid advertising.

See also


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