From humble beginnings, mobile gaming is now a multi-billion dollar industry driving the next-generation of smartphone devices and technologies. In 2021, mobile games accounted for over half ($90.7 billion) of the $175.6 billion spent on digital gaming in 2021, according to the gaming market intelligence agency Newzoo. These staggering figures have been empowered by the increasing performance capabilities and advancing features of premium smartphones, many of which are built on Arm technology.
At the same time, the complexity of mobile gaming experiences has advanced significantly in the past 10 years. Thanks to more powerful processors, along with bigger and higher resolution displays, and superior battery life, users can enjoy more immersive AAA gaming experiences on their mobile devices. In fact, a recent Arm-commissioned report from Newzoo showed that the most popular AAA gaming titles on PC and Console, like PUBG, Fortnite, Call of Duty and Honor of Kings, are now widely available on mobile.
Let’s take a closer look at how this phenomenal growth story happened, Arm’s role in the rise of mobile gaming, and where it could be heading in the next few years….
For me, mobile gaming begun on my beloved and (near) indestructible Nokia 3310 in the late 90s with Snake. Such games were simple in terms of graphics and also constrained due to the nature of the mobile screen and graphics power.
The first 3D mobile games emerged in 2003, but mobile devices took a little longer to catch up, with 3D mobile gaming not becoming widespread on devices until around two years later. What really helped to push the envelope on mobile gaming was the introduction of full screen smartphones in the late 00s….
The advent of full screen smartphones opened up a range of new possibilities. Phones were now not just for calls, but a device with multiple uses that would soon become the central item for most people’s digital lives. With touchscreens and the development of a new app ecosystem, it introduced a new gaming experience that had more advanced graphics, a wider choice of games and the opportunities for “gaming on the go” wherever you wanted to sneak in a quick game. This quickly became an “essential” while commuting or travelling. An example of this evolution in mobile gaming was Rovio’s Angry Birds in 2009, which integrated the smartphone touch screen with more real-life physics and more advanced graphics for a brand-new mobile experience.
In the 2010s, mobile games continued to evolve with new ways of playing for a new gaming audience. For many, the 2016 release of Pokémon Go was not only the first experience of mobile gaming, but also augmented reality (AR). The game also added a brand-new social aspect to mobile gaming. No longer would people be simply looking down at a screen playing games by themselves. Instead, thousands of players went to various Pokémon Go events – big and small – that took place worldwide.
This concept of gaming events has led to the blossoming of esports. While mobile e-sports are still lagging behind PC and Console in terms of popularity currently, it is nevertheless drawing millions of players to the esport arena. Moreover, PUBG Mobile, first released in 2018, will be an official medal sport for the first time at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. The growth of esports and a new spectator element to gaming means the integration of streaming services, like Twitch, are now being seen as integral aspects of gaming development.
The first time the games industry experienced a shift in focus towards being ‘mobile-first’ was 2020. Even game studios that traditionally focused on developing only PC and console games are putting their resources into developing more mobile titles.
Recently, I was blown away by the graphics of the AAA mobile game Genshin Impact from the China-based games company miHoYo. Quite simply, I forgot straight away that I was on a smartphone. The clarity of the scenery, the different shadows and lighting effects and the details on the different game characters made me immersed in the story from the moment I started the game. It is no wonder that Genshin Impact won the 2021 best mobile game award and it really serves to illustrate just how far mobile gaming has come in recent years. It is now a gaming platform that is producing games competing with console titles in terms of immersive gameplay and graphics capabilities.
Furthermore, the ability to cross-save across different platforms and play Genshin Impact across PC, Console and Mobile and be able to enjoy high-quality gaming experiences regardless of the device is impressive. AAA mobile gaming is now part of an overall gaming experience. This encourages more social gaming, with multiple players able to enjoy the same gaming mission on different devices in the same space as one another. AAA mobile gaming has the benefit of extreme portability at no cost to the game content or players’ experiences.
The best illustration of today’s cross-platform experience will be at MWC 2022 where Arm is showcasing an in-house gaming production called the “The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Arm” on a variety of Arm-based consumer devices. These include mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), but also Windows on Arm (WoA) laptops, a games console, a smart TV and even a brand-new smart fridge, complete with a Full HD tablet-like display. Thanks to the proven performance of Arm-based devices and pervasiveness of our IP across the world’s smart devices, people can enjoy a seamless gaming experience no matter what device they are using, even a fridge (which is definitely not mobile, unless you are very strong)!
With AAA gaming titles becoming increasingly common on mobile, the compute workloads that power these gaming workloads are becoming more complex. A series of wider gaming and graphics trends are driving the need for these complex workloads, including:
Arm Mali is the world’s most popular GPU, with over 1 billion shipped by our partners in 2021. Alongside the rise of mobile gaming and emerging graphics trends, different generations of Mali GPUs have pushed the boundaries of performance, efficiency and features for improved mobile gaming experiences. The Mali-G710, G78 and G77 GPUs are all based on the Valhall architecture, which are better aligned with the latest APIs, such as Vulkan, to enable the high-quality graphics that are required on AAA gaming titles.
However, it’s not just the GPU where Arm has impacted mobile gaming. Our latest Total Compute solutions improve the entire system performance across the mobile SoC to deliver tangible benefits to complex, real world and specialized workloads like gaming. Across our latest Armv9 CPUs we have focused on key optimizations to accelerate the CPU performance for gaming workloads, as well as improving software drivers that run on our CPU cluster configurations consisting of our Cortex-X, Cortex-A7x and Cortex-A5x CPUs. Moreover, our brand-new Interconnect CoreLink CI-700 supports a System Level Cache (SLC), which helps to reduce latency and system power consumption for a variety of gaming content running in the system.
Globally, our gaming partners use our Mali GPUs and supporting optimization technologies to create the most immersive and interactive mobile gaming experiences. This has created one of the largest gaming ecosystems in the world. Arm works with leading game engines and game developers to fully optimize the performance of their games on Mali-based mobile devices through new graphics technologies, tools and developer education resources.
Arm Mobile Studio is a great example of how we support developers to optimize their gaming content. It unlocks performance and efficiency benefits through free-to-use performance analysis tools that analyze content metrics of games, along with GPU and CPU activity.
On the partnership side, Arm has a long-standing relationship with Unity – used by 75 percent of the world’s game developers – where we work together to provide graphics improvements and resources to developers and their game applications. This helps to bring smoother, more efficient gaming experiences to the billions of consumers who play Unity-generated content on Mali-based mobile devices.
The next-generation of premium smartphones will enable even greater gaming performance and features. Launched in December 2021, MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 adopts the latest Armv9 CPUs and Arm Mali-G710 GPU to provide significant uplifts in gaming performance and power efficiency compared to current Android flagship devices. This means users can enjoy better graphics and features, like ray tracing, for more realistic gaming experiences on mobile, as well as longer gameplay. Arm is excited to see the next-generation of premium smartphones built on the Dimensity 9000 chipset in action!
While mobile device innovation has empowered the phenomenal growth of mobile gaming, it can also be said that this has led to gaming performance and experiences being a key consideration for any new smartphone. Soon, it could even become the main defining feature, ahead of photo and image quality.
For mobile gaming’s future, the only way is up, with a greater demand for ‘more’. This means more performance, more features and more game time. At Arm, we aim to be at the heart of this multi-billion-dollar mobile gaming evolution, providing the industry leading Mali GPUs and supporting technologies to create the very best mobile gaming experiences. We have helped to drive the mobile gaming evolution in the past decade and will be doing so in the decade ahead.
Learn more about Arm's Gaming solutions