The Rise of High Fidelity Mobile Gaming

One of the industry trends that’s been grabbing my attention this year is the rise of High Fidelity Mobile Gaming (HFMG). While simple games like Snake inspire some serious nostalgia, and even the most basic puzzle game can kill a worrying number of hours if you’re not careful, it’s becoming more apparent that these high quality, complex games are what’s driving the industry forward. While it’s not just me observing this (Google said it, so it must be true) it can be really difficult to quantify this sort of trend. With this in mind, I’ve been working with market analyst gurus Newzoo, to establish what’s driving this and how it’s affecting the gaming industry as a whole.

Maxed-out mobile

First up, I was confused as to how much mobile, and therefore mobile gaming, could be growing when all we hear is that the mobile market has stagnated. Well, apparently this was the first of my assumptions to be corrected. Jelle at Newzoo explained that ‘today there are 2.6 billion active smartphone users, but in the next four years another billion will come on board.’ So, as it seems to me that everyone over the age of five now has a smartphone and we’ve basically saturated the market, where will these billion new users come from? Jelle Kooistra, Head of Mobile at Newzoo explained:

The Asia Pacific region, and particularly China, are huge adopters of technology and are more interested in performance than big brands. This means they’re open to the lower profile, lower cost smartphone manufacturers in a way that Western audiences aren’t, which in turn means a much wider section of the population will be able to afford a smartphone in the next few years.

 

Game-changing

I’ve looked at the phenomenon that is China Speed, and the Chinese willingness to embrace fast-paced change before, so this actually made a lot of sense to me. Now I could see that mobile growth is possible, I was interested in how it affects mobile gaming. For starters, it became clear that the gaming industry as a whole is still booming. Consumer spend will increase from $101.1 billion in 2016 to $128.5 billion by 2020. It’s easy to assume complex, big-budget console gaming is at the heart of this but Newzoo were, again, quick to correct my assumptions:

Actually, as of 2017, mobile represents the biggest gaming industry segment with over 42% of the global market. Not only that, but while the whole market is set to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.2% between 2016 and 2020, the mobile segment forecast is more than double that, with a growth rate of almost 14%.

 

This is another area where the Asia Pacific region, and China specifically, leads the way. This year, 60% of the $46.1 Billion predicted to be spent on mobile gaming will come from APAC countries, and more than half of that from China alone. This shows us just how vital this area is for the gaming industry and how much we can learn from the incredible adoption rate. By using the Chinese market as a forecasting tool we are able to predict the emergence of these same trends across Europe, albeit at the traditionally slower Western pace. This means the market, and the technology providers within it, can look ahead and ensure their offerings meet, or even exceed, expectations.

Mobile gaming is clearly becoming the place to be, but it isn’t simply because more people will have phones. It’s also closely linked to the phenomenon I mentioned earlier, the rise of high fidelity mobile games. These are games which Newzoo categorize as ‘graphically intense … such as racing games, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), shooters and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games.’ These games are still relatively minor markets in Europe and the US, taking between 5-10% of mobile game revenue. In China though, they’re already immensely popular, accounting for more than 42% of the revenue of top grossing games. China’s gamers have already embraced the playing of complex, immersive games on their mobiles while we in the West are still catching up.

 

This, then, explains the dominance and growth of mobile in the gaming arena as a whole: there are more games of a sufficient quality to inspire people to game on their phone rather than a console. Why though, are these games only just coming to the fore now? Why haven’t we always had console-quality gaming on mobile? I still felt like I was missing part of this puzzle, so I went to Pablo Fraile and Ian Hutchinson, Directors in Arm’s Mobile Graphics and Multimedia teams, to find out. Ian explained why, after years of console domination, mobile is suddenly leading the way:

It’s simple really, while early mobiles had no GPU and could only run simple games such as Snake, and early smartphones had pretty basic ones, the underlying technology within today’s premium smartphones is now performant enough to enable complex, console-quality graphics. At the heart of this technology are Arm’s high performance Mali GPUs.

Ian further explained that achieving this requires:

A careful balancing act in order to provide high performance without maxing out on power consumption. Whilst always delivering more performance than the previous generation, the latest mobile GPUs still have to work within the confines of the mobile power budget and this isn’t increasing. This means it’s important that our latest Bifrost based GPUs, like the Mali-G72 released at Computex 2017, are consistently more energy efficient to free up power.

So where does this extra power go? Is it simply a longer battery life, (don’t get me wrong, that wouldn’t be a bad thing), or is it more than that? Pablo described how his team of developers and engineers work closely with a massive ecosystem of gaming and application partners to ensure their needs are met: ‘By working directly with the people developing for mobile, we’re able to get a first-hand view of where the pain points are for them and direct our efforts to resolving them.’ This has resulted in a whole team within Arm dedicated to creating developer tools and optimisations that have allowed app and game developers to identify and clear bottlenecks in their applications in the most logical way. Pablo explained that:

Collaborations with gaming partners like Infinite Dreams and Digital Legends enable us to see real-world results. This year we joined with them at GDC [the world’s largest Game Developers Conference, held annually in San Francisco], to demonstrate the flexibility our optimizations can provide. Whether you choose to spend the power saved on longer battery life for added playtime, or on advanced graphical elements and additional complexity in the gameplay itself, we’re able to show genuine benefits across platforms, APIs and implementations.

Afterpulse: Digital Legends’ HFMG optimized with Arm dev tools

So not only do the hardware advancements in the GPUs themselves free up a serious amount of processing power to be spent on playing awesome, immersive games, but the optimizations achieved with gaming ecosystem partners ensure there’s a real understanding of the issues and requirements in order to improve mobile gaming performance.

You get what you pay for

As is often the case, people are more inclined to pay for something they perceive to be higher quality. So, increasing alongside the complexity, and therefore immersion, possible with high fidelity gaming; is per-player spend. Newzoo have established that 14% of mobile gamers playing MMO Role Playing Games (MMORPG), and 12% playing MOBAs, both typical genres of HFMGs, are what can be classified as ‘big spenders’, versus just 3% for Puzzle games.

Ian commented:

The games industry is big business, bigger in revenue terms than the movie or music industries, so of course monetization becomes more and more important. With mobile being the biggest and fastest growing segment, Arm’s mobile heritage has placed us perfectly to enable this trend. At the heart of this technology are Arm Mali high performance GPUs that are enabling and driving the rise of HFMG and in the future will support even more complex gaming uses cases, such as Mobile VR.

It’s clear from the data we’ve seen that the next phase of mobile gaming will be the rise [and rise] of High Fidelity games and we’ve established that this is only supportable due to the advanced technology available in latest generation smartphones. It’s great to see that the synchronisation with, and learning from, the other elements of the value chain is promoting the advancement of mobile as the go-to gaming platform of choice. With this generation’s ‘console’ in the palm of our hands, why wouldn’t we embrace it?

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Anonymous
Graphics & Multimedia blog