Do you remember the birth of mobile gaming? I do. I remember the first time I saw a Nintendo Game Boy. I remember intensely clutching the nearly brick sized device for countless hours playing such classics like Tetris and less-well known titles like Ken Griffey Jr presents Major League Baseball when I should have been doing homework or playing REAL baseball. Over the years and decades to follow, handheld gaming devices got smaller and more powerful, I gave up on being a professional or even amateur athlete, and all the while, cell phones were carefully plotting their domination of the mobile gaming segment.
At first, cell phones did not offer much in the ways of gaming beyond some outdated (but still fun) titles like Snake, a game where you essentially maneuver a line around the screen. Then came the life-changing (for better or worse) device known as the smartphone. All of a sudden, consumers could play colorful and interactive video games without needing to buy and lug around a separate dedicated device. The mobile gaming industry has undoubtedly been growing since its emergence, in both popularity and revenue, with many in the industry predicting mobile gaming to surpass console and PC gaming in the near future.
Why Gaming Smartphones, and Why Now?
I am so glad you asked. Traditionally, mobile games have primarily consisted of simple puzzle or strategy games that do not require much processing power or elaborate controls. However, with the recent launch of hugely popular games like Fortnite and PUBG (currently exclusive to China), there is suddenly a market for smartphones to offer more to gamers beyond traditional consumer-based devices. These games, which are full ports from the console/PC titles, were built around the use of console controllers/PC peripherals and do not translate neatly to the button-less world of smartphones. For proof, one only needs to search Amazon for “Smartphone Joysticks,” to see the plethora of modular clip-on or stick-on contraptions that attempt to emulate the feeling and functionality of traditional console controllers on a smartphone.
While Fortnite was recently launched on Nintendo’s mobile-oriented Switch console, this simple (generalized) truth remains: everyone may not own a gaming console, but everyone owns a smartphone.
So, What is the Solution?
I thought you would never ask. The solution is simple: incorporate the needed buttons and mechanisms for gaming directly into the smartphone itself, without the need for additional add-on contraptions. Two purposefully placed buttons on the outside of the device can act as controller bumpers while mini-joysticks on the opposite side of the phone can act as analogue joysticks. There is room for additional innovation as well. Efforts can be made to strike a balance between sleek designs and controller-like functionality while also working to improve ergonomics and grip, as no one wants to walk around with a full sized controller in their pocket (insert joke here).
What Efforts are Currently Underway to Produce These Devices?
What a good looking question. Currently, only three “gaming smartphones” have been announced. Late last year, gaming manufacturer Razer entered the smartphone market with its Razer Phone, essentially the first “gaming smartphone.” However, the device is shaped and functions much like a typical consumer smartphone, with the main “gaming feature” being a 120Hz refresh rate.
Fast forward to April of this year, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi unveils its Black Shark gaming smartphone. However, like the Razor Phone, the device still looks and acts much like regular smartphone. Xiaomi appears to be a little more gaming-oriented however, touting its “liquid cooling system” for extended gameplay, but more importantly, adding an optional accessory controller that attaches to the side of the device. This solution appears to be a half measure though, as it is essentially the same approach the multitude of thirds party manufacturers have taken by offering modular peripherals.
A Step in the Right Direction
At the beginning of this month, Asus announced its ROG gaming smartphone at Computex 2018. While some of the features like its 90Hz display & custom Snapdragon 845 processor were similar to the performance features touted in the Razor and Xiaomi phones, the Asus ROG phone took a step in the right direction by adding edge sensors that give players two user-programmable AirTriggers, which act as traditional controller bumpers on game controllers. While no Joysticks were incorporated into the device, Asus leaned into the modular accessory concept, including a GameVice controller that adds an analogue stick and additional buttons to each side of the device (similar to the Nintendo Switch) as well as a TwinView Dock - a clamshell accessory that turns the phone into a dual-screen device with a matching 6-inch screen, physical bumper buttons, and front-facing quad-speaker system (similar to the Nintendo 3DS).
As gaming becomes more popular and expands its reach into the mainstream, and as more AAA games become available on the smartphone ecosystem, there is an opportunity for companies to offer the best experience possible for those looking to game on the go. With most things in life, the ideal solution will need to strike a delicate balance. In this case, it is a balance between functionality and portability. If the bottom line is that smartphones aren’t going anywhere and gaming isn’t going anywhere, than the million dollar question is: what company will be the first to effectively bridge the gap?
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