The rise and rise of gaming apps

The rise and rise of gaming appsThis week the good folks at Localystics published the results of a 2010 study, estimating that one in four apps are opened only once. Considering that most of those apps are games, it got me thinking about how the nature of gaming has changed over the years.

With its roots in home consoles like the Atari 2600, gaming has fought a long and bloody battle to prove itself as anything other than a hobby for bespectacled mega-geeks. Nintendo finally dealt a substantial blow to that myth with the Nintendo Wii and DS, encouraging families to play together and luring casual gamers out of the closet, but phone-based gaming has played a major part too.

Snake was one of the first mobile games to truly capture users’ imaginations on a universal scale, back in the pre-iPhone days when we all had Nokia 3210s. I spent many an hour at the back of lecture theatres moving my snake (that’d be my on-screen snake, thank you very much) around, frantically trying to avoid crashing into walls or running over my tail. It was stupidly simple, but massively effective, a recipe that developers seemed to forget for a while.

In 2003, Nokia tried to bridge the gap between mobile gaming and mobile communication with the N-Gage, a fairly horrendous beast that suffered a suitably terrible fate. Hampered by poor software support and a lofty price tag, the N-Gage was a colossal failure. Five years later, Apple launched the App Store, and things started looking up again.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying that mobile gaming had zilch to offer in that five-year gap, just nothing as iconic as Snake or, say, Angry Birds.

So why does mobile gaming work so well? For one thing, it’s ludicrously inexpensive. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of free games, and while most of them are utter pap, it doesn’t do any harm to experiment with random downloads.

And a huge number of classier titles – like the aforementioned Angry Birds – are only 59p. Considering how many hours play you get for your pennies, that is just insanely cheap.

Portability is the other obvious factor. The Nintendo DS has sold a crapload of units, but you look like a bit of a knob if you whip it out on the train (again, not referring to phalluses). On the other hand, no one bats an eyelid if you have a quick blast of Drop 7 on the bus.

Incidentally, loads of these games are ideal for dipping in and out of, which makes them far more accessible than, for example, Fallout 3 on the PS3 or X-Box 360, which demands huge dedicated chunks of time.

And finally, a huge nod has to go to the developers. For all the nonsense that’s available, there are some incredibly well-polished diamonds in the rough. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of the better titles are simple affairs, games like Squareball, iBlast Toki and Canabalt, but there are a handful of more expensive options that are absolutely worth the money. For a few quid, you can play Street Fighter IV or Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on your iPhone. It’s quite amazing, really.

Anyway, I’ve clearly ranted for long enough. Gaming apps: good. I’m off for a cup of tea and a game of Plants vs Zombies.

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