It all started in 1966 with a man who was sitting at a bus station, waiting for a friend. This man who’d been working in electronics for years had a brilliant idea, one that would have a major influence on video games and how they were played.
Actually, he’d remembered an old idea, but it was still brilliant. Back in 1951, Ralph Baer proposed to his boss the idea of playing video games on television screens, an idea that was decades ahead of his time, but his boss thought that was ludicrous, and shot down his idea.
15 years later, Ralph rediscovers his innovative thought, and writes down some plans as he waits for his friend. In two years, Baer would create a patent for this new idea, and it’s first iteration would manifest itself as the game Odyssey, which was released in 1972. In 1972, gaming was changed forever.
Before Odyssey, you had to go to an arcade to play Pong or Oregon Trail, but with Baer’s innovation you could hook up a console to your TV; 70's kids were too hyped for that. Three years later in 1977, Atari released it’s Video Computer System, which featured games in color, and it’s this system that truly made video games accessible to kids at home.
The 1970’s saw the birth of playing video games in the comfort of your own home, on your own television screen. The next decade would see the birth of mobile gaming, changing the entire gaming industry forever.
In the final year of the 80’s, Nintendo released it’s handheld gaming wonder, the Game Boy. Rather than have preloaded games, this device required game cartridges, so kids got to play whatever game they wanted, whenever they wanted, so long as they had 4 fresh AA batteries on hand.
The Game Boy and it’s younger sibling the Game Boy Color completely changed the video game industry, as around 119 million units combined have been sold worldwide. A decade previously, kids were getting psyched about getting home from school to play video games, but now, they could take their brand new Game Boy to school and show it off to their friends.
The video gaming industry just became mobile. Now it’s the 90’s kids’ turn to get super hyped.
Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow; Zelda’s games, Mega Man, and Metroid, the list goes on. Playing video games on a home console meant you had wide selection of games to choose from, but it wasn’t until the Game Boy that kids started to really stack up games, as they were significantly cheaper.
Only some kids’ parents could afford home consoles, but the Game Boy was accessible to everyone. My first ever ‘console’ was my older brother’s Game Boy, and it’s something that helped us bond, and bond with other kids, trading Pokemon or seeing who could score the highest on Tetris.
Everyone you knew had a Game Boy, and likely had the same games as you; not everyone had a TV console sitting at home, and that alienated some kids. The Game Boy brought all of them together, and you still see that in today’s version of mobile gaming.
You could grab the second controller and play with one friend on their TV set, but the third friend would have to wait for one of you to lose before they could play. On a Game Boy, you could trade Pokemon with anyone so long as one of you had a link cable, or you battle with each of your friends on your own Game Boys in a tournament; with mobile gaming, everyone gets to play.
Okay, that’s the more antiquated version of mobile gaming. 8-bit graphics, no backlit screen, batteries not included. The current version of mobile gaming we have today is a bit different.
It’s better, faster, cheaper, and there’s wayyyyyyyy more people playing mobile video games now than before. In the U.S. alone, 165 million people play games on their mobile phones; that’s about 45 million more people than the total unit sales of both Game Boy and Game Boy Color in the entire world.
Wait, how did mobile gaming even get to the mobile phone? How did gaming on phones greatly outpace other mobile gaming alternatives so quickly?
Let’s start at the genesis of gaming on cellphones.
In 1976 an arcade game called Snake was created; a very simple game, you guided a snake across a screen as it ate food, and it grew longer as you ate more, making movement increasingly difficult. In 1997, cellphone maker Nokia decided to slip that little doozy into it’s Nokia 6110 phone, and it’s been reported that more than 400 million phones with that game installed have been sold worldwide.
The mobile phone gaming industry was born, and before long, other phone companies would do the same, installing games like Tetris or Sonic The Hedgehog on their phones. The early 2000’s saw a great deal of technological change, but one of the most iconic inventions ever took place during this time, and it would send mobile gaming into the stratosphere: the iPhone.
In 2007, the iPhone didn’t seem like the device to do this, as Apple didn’t allow any third party applications on the device and at first, there wasn't even an App Store, so you couldn’t download games even if you wanted to.
Around a year after the phone’s release, Apple relented and allowed developers to create apps and games for the iPhone, and these apps could be found in the newly minted App Store. The weekend it opened, 10 million applications were downloaded, and at the time, only 135 of the 552 apps were free.
The decision to open up the App Store to developers worldwide would change how we use our phones forever, and within two years of the iPhone’s introduction, 85,000 apps filled the App Store. Everyone with an iPhone was downloading apps and games all day, and if you didn’t have an iPhone, you bought one of those or an iTouch, just so you could download these coveted new apps.
Adults and kids alike were now downloading games, playing them literally wherever they went. That’s why mobile gaming has taken off: adults were introduced to mobile gaming, and on a platform they all liked and used throughout the day.
Before the iPhone, it was basically just kids that played games, whether it was at home in front of the TV, at your friend’s house on your Game Boys, or at an arcade with your buddies. With the iPhone and it’s App Store, suddenly adults found an easy way to have fun during dull moments, just like their kids were doing.
Without Ralph Baer, we might never have had Pong or any games played on TV sets at home; without Nintendo, kids might not have been able to play games on the go; without the App Store, mobile gaming may have never reached such popularity.
Before the App Store, mainly kids played mobile games, whether it was on their Game Boy or Snake on their parent’s phone, but adults still weren’t interested. With the advent of the App Store, adults were suddenly thrown into the same market; they were looking through the brand new App Store, scrolling through apps, and saw that there were some games that looked fun.
These adults have money, and they can easily afford a one dollar app or apps that have in-app purchases, and this got developers to create tons of apps to capitalize on this emerging market. This combination lead to the explosion of mobile gaming, and in 2014 worldwide revenue from all app stores totaled $8.3 billion.
Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Paper Toss, and thousands of other apps have captured the attention of children, teens, young adults, and adults who have long outgrown their old Video Computer Systems, but these apps wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for the iPhone. Without the iPhone, there isn’t a need for an App Store.
Mobile gaming was doing okay before the iPhone came along, but it probably wouldn’t have ever come close to the momentum it has now; only kids were playing Game Boys games, not adults. The App Store opened up gaming to the largest market available, the market with the most buying power; without the iPhone, and without adults, mobile gaming would never have become so popular.