The first mobile game ventured on our screens with the first smartphone IBM Simon Personal Communicator. Prototype IBM Simon device was launched on November 23, 1992, and its commercial variant entered the market on August 1994. Packed with features like calendar and calculator, it also had the world’s first mobile game, Scramble - a puzzle game where the player assembled squares to form a full image.
Soon after the distribution of IBM Simon began, a Danish company Hagenuk Corporation launched the phone Hagenuk MT-2000 which sported the first mobile version of the game Tetris. As you might know, the goal of the game is to arrange four-sided units to form a horizontal line without any gaps. The name of the popular game was derived from the terms ‘Tetra’ and ‘Tennis’, the favorite game of Tetris’ inventor Alexey Pajitnov.
Three years later in 1997, came one of the most popular mobile game of the time- Snake. Preinstalled in monochrome Nokia 6110, this game (together with Tetris) is often mistaken as the very first mobile game. It was programmed by Taneli Armanto, a design engineer from Nokia. Snake rode the popularity of Nokia phones and was the quintessential mobile game of its generation. That said, the limitations of technology of the time meant that mobile users can only enjoy the games preinstalled with their handsets. That changed with the arrival of Wireless Application Protocol or WAP.
WAP is a technical standard that gave mobile handsets access to the internet. WAP browsers not only made downloading games possible but also offered multiplayer games support. Simply put, these basic games featured web pages that displayed text, black and white graphics and enabled users to enter data into the forms. Some popular examples of WAP games were Mines (variation of Mine Sweeper), Gladiator, Snake II and casino games like Blackjack and Roulette.
The next generation of mobile games was dominated by the likes of SEGA and Gameloft. These game studios made use of newer handsets in the market which supported flash and java. The growth in mobile games development was still limited by hardware constraints. Nokia did try a way out in 2003 by launching N-Gage, a hybrid between a phone and gaming console. The device was packed with popular games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Fifa Football and Call of Duty. The device, mocked as ‘Taco Phone’ was, however, a commercial failure. It seemed that mobile games just couldn’t compete with their console rivals from the likes of Nintendo.
This, of course, changed with the arrival of touchscreen smartphones with app stores packed with a plethora of gaming apps. Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and since then mobile games development has never been the same. App stores such as iOS App Store and Google Play provided a large competitive market for big game studios and independent game developers alike. Angry Birds created by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, Subway Surfer by Kiloo Games, Candy Crush by King, Flappy Bird developed by Vietnamese programmer Dong Nguyen, and the list goes on. In 2016, Niantic launched augmented reality mobile game app Pokemon Go which took the world by storm. With the arrival of 4G Mobile network and powerful smartphone processors, we expect more sophisticated mobile games with 3D graphics, Augmented Reality (and Virtual Reality) and Social games. The crux of the industry has always been innovation which makes predicting its future, a bit like shooting arrows in the dark. From Scramble and Tetris to Pokemon Go, mobile games development has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We are waiting for more surprises.
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