There are a lot of great mobile games and services these days, and a lot of them might appeal to people who don't typically game on their phones. But playing on a touchscreen with cluttered or unresponsive touch controls can sour the experience, especially of more complex titles.
However, I remember before the pandemic, walking to Starbucks and seeing a group of six teenagers sitting around a table playing Call of Duty Mobile. You wouldn't think a game as graphically complex as Call of Duty would work on mobile, let alone be popular, but these boys are a small percentage of the over 300 million players that reportedly downloaded the game as of October 2020. Whether you like it or not, mobile gaming is on the rise, and so are the accessories that make playing them that much easier, like Bluetooth controllers, phone clips, and devices like the Razer Kishi that turn your phone into a handheld gaming console.
Why is mobile gaming so popular now?
There are multiple reasons why mobile is having its moment. For one, smartphones are more powerful than ever, and are able to handle more resource-intensive games like Call of Duty Mobile. Therefore, there are also more types of games for people to play. Mobile isn't just the platform for casual players of match-threes and solitaire anymore; now you can play full-on battle royales like Fortnite, RPGs like Genshin Impact, and shooters like Call of Duty.
Mobile's "strength comes not only from its accessibility and availability, but also from the incredible diversity in mobile titles available," analyst Mat Piscatella from the NPD Group said on the company's blog back in January. There are still casual games, but you can find games across just about every genre available on mobile, from fighting games to RPGs, to AAA-style shooters.
According to data analysts at Newzoo, a games and esports data company, the success of Genshin Impact, an open-world RPG from a Chinese publisher, is also going to lead to more AAA experiences from Eastern markets (due to government restrictions on game licenses in China, a lot of those publishers are targeting overseas players). Companies that typically published on PC and console are also looking to get into the mobile market, like Riot with League of Legends: Wild Rift and Blizzard and Diablo Immortal.
Tianyi Gu, Newzoo's market lead of telecom and mobile services, told Android Central that we'll be seeing a lot more "midcore" games coming to mobile — titles that aren't quite casual but not AAA, either.
"The most successful casual games add in mechanics inspired by other genres, introducing them slowly over time so as to not overwhelm the user upfront," Gu said, citing games like Puzzle & Dragons that include RPG mechanics and Match-3 gameplay, like in Candy Crush.
Finally, there's now an abundance of cloud gaming services like Stadia and Xbox Game Pass that allow people to play console-grade games on the go. With services like these, it doesn't matter how powerful your specs are; as long as you have a stable internet connection, you can access a library of games like Cyberpunk 2077, Control, or day one Xbox releases wherever you want.
All of this success isn't even taking into account the pandemic. While mobile gaming was popular before the world locked down, the NPD Group also reported that 35% of mobile gamers in the U.S. and Canada "indicated that COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have led them to increase their frequency of engagement, leading to a 12% increase in the number of consumers qualifying as active players."
While Gu expects that increase to drop off as countries open up and people go back to their pre-pandemic lives, she still believes that mobile will continue to be the "only growing segment (among PC, console, and mobile) in 2021 in terms of revenues." Specifically, Newzoo expects mobile to generate $90.7 billion in revenue, which is up from 2020. Sensor Tower further predicts that by 2025, in-app spending, which includes games will go up to $270 billion. There's a lot of money here, and it's only going to increase.
So now it's mobile accessories time to shine
Now that mobile games are a huge market, it makes sense that accessory companies like Razer, Nintendo, Sony and others are trying to cash in. Whether you want a phone clip to hold your phone while you play on an attached controller, or a more complex device like a Razer Kishi, which also charges your phone as you play, there are devices that make playing games on mobile easier.
There are three types of mobile gaming controllers and other accessories. First, there are Bluetooth controllers, like the Xbox Series X controllers are ones from third-party manufacturers like the SteelSeries Stratus Duo that just connect to your phone and allow you to use physical buttons, but they don't often come with a way to attach your phone. Second are phone grips, like the GameSir F2 Game Grip that attach to your phone and don't offer physical buttons, but give you something to rest your hands on. Finally, there are all-in-one controllers like the Razer Kishi or the Razer Raiju Mobile that not only give you those aforementioned buttons, but give you a place to put your phone, and sometimes provide extra features like passthrough charging. These give the feeling that your phone has become another handheld console, like the Nintendo Switch.
Mobile controllers and related accessories are key for making mobile gaming more attainable. People who grew up on phones and touchscreen might not be as put off by them, but touch controls are notoriously clunky and difficult to use. Phone screen sizes might be getting bigger, but depending on the size of your fingers, there might not be enough room to properly hit certain inputs. Beyond that, the lack of haptic feedback in a lot of games (although it's becoming a more common feature on phones), means controls might not register the same way that they would with physical buttons.
I talked with a number of people who use controllers for playing on mobile, and a lot of them cited comfort as the main reason for making the purchase, along with the lack of haptic feedback in a lot of games, which is nearly standard on controllers.
"My hands get cramped after playing highly aggressive mobile games like FPS, and eventually the heat of the phone starts being annoying on the back of your hand," Nazih Fares, head of localization and communications at The 4 Winds Entertainment, said as his reason for purchasing a HyperX ChargePlay Clutch for mobile games, which features passthrough charging, and a PowerA Moga Mobile Gaming Clip for playing on Xbox Cloud Streaming.
It's also a way to save money on big console purchases, especially since a lot of consoles are in low stock. You can play games on Xbox through Xbox Game Pass and cloud streaming onto your mobile device, so instead of buying a console or PC, why not just buy a $100 gaming controller and attach it to a phone you already use daily?
"I love my Nintendo Switch, and the idea of converting my phone into a device like the Switch that can play a bunch of games was too hard to pass up," said Osama Dorias, lead game designer at WB Montreal, who bought a Razer Kishi to play Stadia and Xbox Game Pass games. "To me, it's a no-brainer. Why buy a completely new device that does 90% of what your existing device already does? Instead, just buy a cheaper device that covers the missing 10%. It's cheaper, there's less clutter, and it's more convenient."
Midcore games might be where the big numbers of players lie these days, and controllers might not be necessary for those, but other mobile gaming markets, especially cloud streaming, benefit heavily from accessories. Not only do they give players options for how they want to play, but they open the door for new audiences who might not have given mobile a chance before. A lot of games, like Fortnite and Among Us, also support cross-play these days, so it gives players the chance to check out other platforms too without missing out.
"Some titles are on par with the quality of non-mobile games, especially when you consider how you can link these titles with the core platform versions," Fares said. He continued, "this also has created new generations of gamers, people that didn't really play games as way to pass time."
But where is the attention?
I've been extremely interested in the rise of mobile gaming over the past couple of years, and especially with the proliferation of gaming accessories specifically for mobile on the market. Unfortunately, while researching this article, I couldn't find much at all about the accessories themselves. It's not hard to understand why experts see the mobile gaming market continuing to rise, nor is it tough to figure out that accessories to help with that will also grow in popularity. However, there wasn't a lot of attention paid to it despite all the studies surrounding mobile gaming, especially under the pandemic. I want to know why.
As mobile gaming continues to be a huge market and more sought-after games continue to hit those platforms, players will be looking for ways to get in on the action, and sometimes that means making extra purchases. Mobile gaming can be difficult to get into. Whether you don't have the best phone for the job or don't like using touch controls, there is money you might have to spend.
But the smartphone industry knows that mobile gaming is important. A lot of phones these days have gaming modes, and specific gaming phones include cooling and other features to make it easier. With the addition of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Cloud Streaming, Stadia, and other cloud streaming services sure to follow, it'll become more important than ever to understand how people play and why.
Video games aren't just for consoles and PC anymore. We have to accept that.
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Our favorite Android phone controller
The Razer Kishi is probably our favorite Android phone game controller, and it's easy to see why. It has an ergonomic design, an easy attachment process, and low-latency connection.
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Carli contributed gaming content across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. F