From Snake To Slots: A History Of Mobile Gaming

Today’s teenagers are unlikely to remember a pre-smartphone world.

Those of us who had a plain old cellular telephone in our youths know just how much the world has changed since Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007; this multi-touch interface revolutionised the world of mobile devices, with Samsung and other manufacturers quickly catching up and releasing their own touchscreen phones.

Now, these miniature tablet devices are phones. The terms are synonymous. In 2015, over two billion smartphones were in use worldwide and experts predict that figure will triple by 2020. The smartphone means that everyone has a portable computer in their pocket; they have advanced technology and convenience beyond compare. People use smartphone apps for their shopping, banking, work and pleasure.

Mobile gaming: a powerhouse industry

At the turn of the 21st century, mobile phone ownership had become the de facto way of life for the majority of the first world and most of the industrialised world. This allowed for rapid technological advancement, giving us the Apple iPhone less than a decade after the now-antiquated Nokia 3210 dominated the mobile market.

By 2005, before the first smartphones were common, mobile gaming revenue was already valued at a huge $2.6 billion. By 2008, it had more than doubled to $5.8 billion and in 2012 it was at $8 billion. Last year, nearly 2,000 app developers earned over $1 million each from mobile gaming revenues. The total figures are still rising, and show no signs of slowing down.

The first mobile games

In turn-of-the-century phones, preloaded games were very crude. Limited to text and/or monochrome dot matrix graphics and monophonic sounds, input via the device’s buttons was limited.

However, that didn’t stop Snake becoming one of the most popular mobile games. The game came preloaded on the Nokia 6110 in 1998 and was a staple of Nokia phones, including the 3310 and 3210, two of the best-selling mobile telephones of all time.

As mobile internet technology improved, WAP and other early protocols allowed simple games to be played online. This gave us the first multi-player online gaming for phones that could not download and run discrete, dedicated gaming apps.

snake mobile game

The rise of the smartphone game

Once again, the Apple iPhone totally revolutionised everything. The app store, launched in 2008, changed the face of mobile gaming. Now, consumers had a much wider choice of dedicated games and game developers dealt solely with Apple, leading to greater revenues.

The combination of increased revenues for developers and increased competitiveness from a larger market led to an explosion in game development for the smartphone.

Angry Birds, released in December 2009, is one of the most successful mobile games of all time. The original game has spawned multiple sequels and spin-offs and even an animated feature film. There have been over three billion Angry Birds downloads, making it the most popular freemium game ever made.

angry birds game

Mobile gambling and online casinos

Naturally, online casinos could not sit idly by as this gigantic mobile gaming market continued to grow. The first casino operators began moving into mobile gaming as soon as they could, with over a hundred casinos available on as of 2014 which meant everyone could play online casino games on the go!

Now, the vast majority of major online casinos provide a dedicated mobile app. Initially, the industry was not as booming as it might have been; Apple were strictly against mobile gambling in their App Store, meaning that casinos had to release freemium versions there. Android were much the same, meaning that freemium versions had to then link Android users to the casino’s own download site (this was not possible on Apple devices).

Nevertheless, by 2005 there were predictions of global mobile gambling revenue topping more than $19 billion by 2009. However, the US Government threw a spanner in the works by instituting a crackdown on online and mobile gambling in the so-called “land of the free”, cutting off a gigantic part of the global market. Consequently, revenues in 2009 were “only” $4.7 billion.

Despite this setback, the industry has continued to blossom. It is predicted that mobile gambling revenue will be over $21.5 billion within a few years. The mobile gaming sector represented over 18% of all internet gambling in terms of gross revenue in 2012 and many online gaming sites now report more than half of new real-money players sign up via mobile.

poker stars android game

What next?

It’s tough to predict the future of any industry as dynamic as online gambling, or the changes in technology of anything as rapidly-advancing as mobile technology. One thing is for sure, though: we live in a very exciting time, and whatever happens to mobile gaming and mobile gambling in the next few years will surely amaze us all.

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