Mobile GamesFRANS MÄYRÄUniversity of Tampere, FinlandThe Expanding Field of Mobile GamingThe International Telecommunication Union(ITU) estimated that there were more than sixbillion mobile phone subscriptions in the worldin 2012. Thanks to miniaturization and the pos-sibility to implement mobile video games, today’smobile games are an increasingly notable andgrowing area of game business and culture.
Anexpanding range and increasing number of gamesare being produced and published for handheldconsoles, mobile phones, and tablet devices.Theexpansionofmobilegamingisnoteworthyalsointermsofquality,asmobilegameshavebecome a site for innovative, new play and gamedesign practices. Many of the novel innovationsthat mobile games have introduced benefit fromthe specific characteristics of the mobile mediaecosystem, including the online digital distri-bution channels, new interface modalities, andsensor capabilities available in modern mobiledevices.Other significant factors in mobile games andgameplayarethedailycontextsandpracticesrelated to mobile application use.
A 2011 studyof more than 4000 Android phone users foundthat the average user accessed some applicationor another on their handset about 50 timesper day, for a total duration of more than onehour daily. The average session from openingan application to closing it, however, lasted only71 seconds (Böhmer et al., 2011). Even thoughaverage gameplay sessions on a mobile deviceare probably longer than that, designing a gamefor the quick and short mobile usage sessionsis different from creating a typical computer orconsole video game.
There are only a few gamegenres that are unique to mobile devices; it ispossible to access most of the popular video gamegenres also as mobile versions. It is importantThe International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society , First Edition.Edited by Robin Mansell and Peng Hwa Ang.© 2015 John Wiley ; Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley ; Sons, Inc.to address mobile games in both dimensions: as”scaled-down videogames,” and as emerging newforms of gameplay, possible only using the oppor-tunities that mobile devices and their mobile usercontexts open up.De?ning a Mobile GameDespite being a common enough term andphenomenon in today’s technologically intensesocieties, it is not necessarily self-evident whatexactly constitutes and defines a “mobile game.”The literature on mobile games is often techni-cally focused, and generally moves directly todiscuss the implementation of games for mobilephones and other mobile devices without clarify-ing the key concept itself (see, e.
g., Hamer, 2007).However, there are multiple different kinds ofmobiledevices,andevenpersonalcomputerscouldbeconsidered”mobile”today,becauseofthe popularity of small and lightweight laptopcomputers. The most common ways of under-standing mobile games nevertheless relate totwo distinct lines of game development andpublishing. The first one is mobile phone gamesandthesecondrelatestohandheldelectronicgamesandvideogameconsoles.Outsidetheconsumer product market there is also importantwork that links mobile games to mobile com-puting and augmented reality experimentation,for example.
Such research has often stimulatedinnovations in consumer electronics and thegame industry. Thisentryaimstodiscussthegamesdesignedfor mobile phones, and while the full treatmentof mobile games needs also to take into accounthandheld video games and many other portableelectronic gaming devices, the history and eco-nomics in these various areas are so differentthat they invite treatment in separate entries.Handheld video games, for example, have muchcloser ties with the major video game consolemanufacturers, while mobile phone game makersneed to take into account the characteristics ofmultiple different kinds of phone models andDOI:10.1002/9781118290743.wbiedcs0142MOBILEGAMESdifferences in mobile operators’ services. Thedistribution of handheld video games throughsales in retail stores is also very different fromthe distribution of mobile phone games, whicheither come preinstalled to the handset, or areinstalled by the user over-the-air (OTA), usingmobile data services. Some phone manufacturershave experimented with add-on memory cards asa game distribution medium, but without majorsuccess.
The Long History of Mobile GamesThe early history of mobile games does not startwith the introduction of the first handheld elec-tronic games in the late 1970s. Rather, there isa continuity that can be tracked from the earlysimple electronic gaming devices such as theMerlin by Parker Brothers (1978) to the earliermechanical toys on the one hand, and to ancienttravelers’ game sets on the other. A deck of gam-ing cards or a small version of a board game areeasy to use while on the road, and the portabilityof such analog gaming devices has no doubtplayed an important part in their evolution andpopularity. There is evidence of traveling dice andboard games being used by the Roman emperorClaudius (10 bce – ad 54; see Joannou, 2007).The idea of playing games while traveling is mostprobably much older than that.The digital mobile game can be identifiedas having at least two roots.
The early arcadevideo games were miniaturized into handheldelectronic games and consequently they actedas precursors for the handheld video gamingconsoles. The second strand of evolution wasintimately linked with the mobile phone as a par-ticular kind of application and gaming platform.In terms of suitability for gameplay, a dedicatedhandheld gaming device benefits from a formfactor and controls that are optimized for gam-ing.
Mobile phones are, in contrast, multipurposedevices; therefore generally, in the design of theirform and keyboard, the phone’s uses (e.g., makingcalls, typing text messages) have been set as thetop priority.In the field of handheld electronic games andhandheld game consoles, Nintendo has been theleader.Originallyaplayingcardcompany,itsfirstmajor success in consumer electronics (after a fewtelevision game systems) was the Game ; Watchseries (1980 – 91). This was a series of devicesthat originally featured monochrome, segmentedLCD screens, each capable of displaying a singlevideo game.
As the name indicates, the devicesalsodoubledasanalarmclock.Whiletheoriginaldevices had a single screen, dual screen (“multi-screen”)gameswerealsopublishedandlatercolorscreens were used as well. It has been reportedthat more than 43 million Game ; Watch deviceswere sold. The series also served as an importantprecursor for the next generations of Nintendo’shandheld gaming devices that became even morepopular. The Game Boy series (1989) was the firstof these (rechargeable) battery-powered gameconsoles. For the US market, the device was bun-dled with a game cartridge forTe t r i s,thepopularpuzzle video game, a combination that was partlyresponsible for the Game Boy becoming adoptedwidely by “casual gamers” as well as by youngvideo game enthusiasts. The handheld form fac-tor also appeared to smooth the gender gap invideo gaming. Nintendo of America reported in1995 that 46% of players on the handheld GameBoy were female, as contrasted to 29% on NESand 14% on SNES consoles (The Gainesville Sun,January 15, 1995).
The cumulative total sales fortheGameBoylineofdeviceshavecrossed200million units. The popular 32-bit handheld con-sole, Nintendo DS (2004 – 07), proved Nintendowas capable of building on top of earlier successeswhile making use of new technologies such ascolor touch screen, wireless connectivity, andbuilt-in microphone.While the evolution of mobile games for hand-heldconsoleshasenjoyedthebenefitsofaratherunified development and publishing environ-ment, that has not been the case for mobile phonegames. Since the 1970s and 1980s, there havebeen many different mobile phone manufacturersin the market, each regularly releasing phonemodels that support diverse feature sets. Suchkey factors as the screen size, keyboard, memory,processor, operating system, as well as wirelesscapabilities all differ, making game developmentfor mobile phone ecosystems a rather challengingundertaking.
The most popular early mobilephone game was a version of arcade gameSnake(1997), which was delivered preinstalled in Nokiahandsets and could therefore be found on morethan 400 million devices (Wright, 2008).MOBILEGAMES3Before the smart phone application ecosys-tems such as Apple’s iOS and its App Storewere launched, there were several competingdevelopment platforms for mobile phone games,including Macromedia Flash Lite, Doja of NTTDoCoMo, BREW by Qualcomm, and Sun’s JavaME. When combined with the early mobileinternet protocol (WAP), such technologies madepossible, in the late 1990s, the over-the-air sale,download, and installation of a game to a mobilephoneviaawirelesscarriernetwork.Also,textmessaging (SMS) was used for implementingsimple games, such as quizzes, where the price ofeach text message was included in the phone bill(De Prato et al., 2010; Feijoo, 2012).
The visibility of such downloadable game con-tent was at the time largely decided by placementof the game on the “carrier deck,” meaning themobile internet landing page the customers sawfirst on the browser of their handset. Without aprominent placement in these operator main-tained listings, it was hard to distribute the game.With the slow data transfer capabilities andsmall screens of the available mobile phones, theoperator listings were usually rather limited; forexample, at one point the US operator VerizonWireless listed about 350 games and its competi-tor Sprint about 250 (Rabowsky, 2009, p. 157).
Most users, however, did not scroll down tens ofmenu screens, and thus placement at the top ofthe deck, along with an immediately recognizabletitle, was critical to success. Tie-in releases basedon popular movie, television, or book franchiseswere therefore popular choices.While mobile “middleware” technologies suchas Java ME continue to be popular in low-endhandsets, such as those which run on Nokia’sSymbian Series 40 operating system, smart-phones have radically changed the face of mobilegames. In 2003 there was an attempt by Nokia tolaunch a dedicated mobile phone based gamingsystem called N-Gage, but the selection of games,prices, and user experience of N-Gage comparedpoorly to those offered by the dedicated handheldgaming consoles such as the Game Boy line ofNintendo. It was the release of iPhone by Applein 2007, followed by the App Store distributionservice in 2008, which had the most powerfulimpact on the mobile software and game ecosys-tems. In 2013, Apple reported that its users haddownloaded more than 40 billion applicationsfrom its App Store, and that the store carried atthat point more than 800,000 mobile applications(“apps”). Other similar digital distribution chan-nels include Google Play (originally launched in2008 as “Android Market”) and Windows PhoneStore (launched in 2010 as “Windows PhoneMarketplace”). All such mobile stores provideusers with access to thousands of applications,some of them free, some paid for.
The rising popularity of mobile applicationecosystems can be attributed to the better qual-ity of mobile games, the better user experienceprovided by touch screen-enabled smartphones,the faster access via mobile broadband (3G and4G networks), and the successful distribution ofmodels provided by other, nonmobile platforms,such as Steam (developed by Valve for Win-dows computers), Wii Shop Channel, Xbox LiveMarketplace, and PlayStation Store. In indus-trysources,itwasestimatedthatthenumberof smartphone users worldwide exceeded onebillion in 2012, far surpassing the numbers of anyother gaming platform, except gaming in personalcomputers. Similarly, the Finnish game devel-oper Rovio reported that their popular AngryBirds franchise of mobile games had reached thecumulative number of one billion downloads in2012.New Directions in Mobile GamingRovio’ssuccessfulAngryBirdsseriesrepresentswell the mainstream world of mobile games devel-oped for contemporary smartphone ecosystems.Based on earlier, trusted gameplay formulas, suchcasual games make efficient use of both the touchscreen interface and the audiovisual strengths ofsmartphones’ processor and memory capabilities.Many of these types of games are first releasedas free downloadable versions, then they temptplayers to upgrade into full, paid versions of theapplications, which – because of the benefitsofscale – canbepricedatanaffordablelevel,sometimes at less than a dollar.
An alternativeapproach, called the “freemium” model, relieson in-app purchases of “premium” features suchas better equipment or additional game levelsthat take the otherwise free game beyond itsbuilt-in limitations. While commercially suc-cessful, such techniques have been criticized by4MOBILEGAMESplayers and developers alike. The low complexityand effortless gameplay that characterize casualmobile games do not necessarily attract dedicatedgamers and some critics consider the moneti-zation strategies employed in freemium gamesas unethical (see, for example, the discussion inwww.gamasutra.com).
In addition to business model innovation,mobile games have also been at the forefrontof some technological experimentation. Thereare modes of play that are only available forgaming on mobile devices, such as locationbased gaming. While there are several decadesof history in mobile and ubiquitous computingresearch, which also includes such game experi-mentation, it was in the early 2000s that the firstcommercial location based mobile games werelaunched. Long before that there had been vari-ous kinds of treasure hunt-style games that laterwere turned into the “geocaching” hobby withthe availability of precise GPS navigation devices(Montola, Stenros, ; Waern, 2009, pp. 32 – 34).The first commercial location based games suchasBotFighters(It’s Alive, 2001) used less precisecell location services and SMS messages to relaygame commands and information between theplayersandthegameserver.
Theaugmentationofphysical, urban environments with virtual gam-ing content has gradually increased, leading tomobile devices used in a rich range of alternativereality games (ARGs e.g., The Nokia Game series,1999 – 2005), pervasive games (e.g.,Can YouSeeMeNow?, 2001) and massively multiplayermobile games (e.g.,Shadow Cities, 2010). Suchcomplex forms of mobile gaming are growing inpopularitybuthavenotreachedanywherenearthe level that casual mobile games enjoy.
Thousands of new mobile applications areadded to the different online application storesevery month, and games are the most popularcategory among their hundreds of millions ofusers. Consequently, the commercial and cul-tural significance of mobile games has greatlyexpanded from their modest beginnings in the1990s. Today, games in mobile devices are seri-ously challenging the PC and console gaming,particularly if tablet devices are included in themobile device category. Mobile gaming is alsobecoming increasingly integrated with popularsocial networks, such as Facebook.
Industryreports point toward the majority of the onebillion Facebook users actively using the servicewith their mobile devices. There is an increasingnumber of mobile games that provide some kindof online social gaming experience, includingcomparing top scores among one’s social net-work, or sending challenges, gifts, or invitationsto one’s friends from inside the mobile gamingapplication. It is also noteworthy that in someindustry studies, a slight majority of mobile socialgamers is reported to be female.Research and the Future of MobileGamingResearch into mobile games has not formed themainstream of contemporary game studies, andthe study of mobile phones has mostly focusedon the communications element rather than onmobile game studies. Nevertheless, there are sev-eral notable strands of research work that relate tothis field.In Europe in particular a few research centershave carried out sustained research work onmobile games. One of the background factorshas been the European Union, which has beenactive in its support of mobile game research anddevelopment. For example, the “Mobile Enter-tainment and Industry and Culture” (MGAIN)research project (2001 – 04) aimed to situatemobile games in the wider context of mobile”content” and entertainment industries, andsuggested that mobile gaming would continueto grow in popularity, alongside other mobileapplications and services, such as those related tomobile music, messaging services, multimedia,gambling, and location based services (MGAIN,2003).
Another large European research project,”Integrated Project in Pervasive Gaming” (IPerG,2004 – 08), focused on the new artistic, techno-logical,andbusinessopportunitiesrelatedtohownewmobiletechnologiesallowtheextensionofgaming experiences in spatial, social, and tem-poral dimensions (Montola, Stenros, & Waern,2009). IPerG produced both scholarship thatmapped out some of the design space and playerexperiences opened up by mobile technologies,as well as several prototype games on emerg-ing gaming subgenres such as mobile treasurehunts, urban adventure games, and massivelymultiplayer mobile games.MOBILEGAMES5The sociology and ethnography of mobilecommunications have also touched upon mobilegaming. The work of Larissa Hjorth is particu-larly noteworthy, as she has carried out substantialwork on the sociocultural dimensions of mobilegaming cultures in the Asia Pacific region. She hasshown how both video games and mobile phonesserveimportantrolesasextensionsofauser’sidentity and as sites of user creativity in people’severyday lives (Hjorth, 2011). In Europe, the EUKids Online project has produced research thatreports children’s use of online technologies inEurope, indicating that gameplay is among themostpopularchildren’sactivitiesonlinetoday,butalso that problematic behaviors such as bullyinghave become common elements in the children’slives (Livingstone, Haddon, ; Görzig, 2012).
InFinland, the Finnish Player Barometer survey hasidentified a significant trend showing an increasein mobile gaming in 2009 – 11, and has pointedout how women and girls play mobile gamesmore actively than they do traditional computeror video games (Karvinen ; Mäyrä, 2011).As the popularity and capabilities of mobiletechnologies continue to increase, it is very likelythat mobile applications and services will growincreasingly sophisticated, with context-awarecapabilities that combine gameplay with otherincentives, such as health, learning, or marketing.Thisisoftenlinkedtotheconceptof”gamifica-tion,” meaning application of game elements innon-entertainment purposes (Deterding et al.,2011). Context-aware gaming integrates into thelogic of games multiple sources of informationincluding calendar data, location, and presenceof, for example, RFID tagged objects, physicalactivity that also includes gestures, body data(e.
g., arousal or stress level), as well as contextualinformation provided by other people and socialnetworks (Tester, 2006). All these pieces of infor-mationcanalsobeusedto”gamify”everydayexperiences and activities, supporting the motiva-tion to have a healthy walk rather than to drive thecar, or to provide an incentive to pick up a specialoffer from a nearby restaurant. The applicationsof gamification in mobile learning (m-learning)are also receiving much interest (Kapp, 2012).
Thepopular location sharing application Foursquarehas been one of the pioneers in applying badges,titles, and other game-like rewards into its userexperience. The ethics and actual benefits ofgamification nevertheless continue to be debated(see, for example, Bogost, 2011).As a category, mobile games have developedinto multiple directions on their own. The conver-gence of gaming platforms is also an importantdevelopment: in some ecosystems, and by usingtechniques such as game streaming, it is nowpossible to change from one type of device toanother and yet continue the same game, whichis a development that contributes toward theboundaries between mobile, console, and PCgames beginning to erode. The key characteristicsof gaming on a small, mobile device neverthelessremain distinctive and unique at their core.SEE ALSO:Online Games; Online Games andBusiness Models; Online Games, Casual; OnlineGames and Children; Online Games and GenreReferencesBogost, I. (2011, August 8)Gamification is bull-shit. Ian Bogost – Videogame Theory, Criticism,Design.
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San Francisco, CA: MorganKaufmann.Rabowsky, B. (2009).Interactive entertainment: Avideogame industry guide.Oxnard,CA:RadiosityPress.Tester, J. (2006).All the world’s a game: The futureof context-aware gaming.
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PocketGamer, December 22. Retrieved from http://www.pocketgamer.biz/r/PG.Biz/A+Brief+History+of+Mobile+Games/feature.asp?c=10618Further ReadingKatz, J. E.
(Ed.) (2008).Handbook of mobile communi-cation studies.Cambridge,MA:MITPress.Frans Mäyrä,PhD,isProfessorofInformationStudies and Interactive Media, with specializationin digital culture and game studies, at the Univer-sity of Tampere, Finland. He heads the UniversityofTampereGameResearchLab,andhastaughtand studied digital culture and games since theearly 1990s. His research interests include gamecultures, meaning making through playful inter-action, online social play, borderlines, identity, aswell as transmedial fantasy and science fiction.