The Ten Mobile Games that Defined the Decade
The iPhone launched over twelve years ago and changed the mobile industry forever. Beyond allowing consumers faster access to information and services, the iPhone changed the way they played games too. Over the past decade, mobile gaming became the most popular way we play, thanks to the innovative games that allowed every smartphone user on the planet to be a gamer.
2019 was a big year for mobile gaming. The industry is set to exceed $68.5 billion in revenue by the end of the year and we saw the introduction of new mobile game services like Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass. From a personal perspective, it was amazing seeing our own games like Mr Bullet and Ink Inc. hit #1 in the App Store charts.
To truly appreciate how far mobile gaming has come, let’s take a look at some of the most influential mobile games of the past decade.
By the time Angry Birds came out, the mobile games industry was at a turning point. The first mobile games launched on the iPhone were either basic and free, or premium with a high price tag. Angry Birds was a premium game that cost just $1.00. This price, along with fun gameplay and recognizable characters, made Angry Birds ubiquitous in 2009. Angry Birds developer, Rovio, went on to create a franchise out of the game, leading to many new games, collaborations, and even a couple of animated films. The game was revolutionary for its intuitive touch controls, art style, and fun physics. A decade later, Angry Birds is still fun and recognizable by multiple generations, showing its influence over mobile gaming.
Doodle Jump is one of the top-grossing apps of all time and it’s easy to see why. The game had a ton of charm with its cute aliens and hand-drawn animation. Above all, it was challenging and fun. Doodle Jump required players to use their phone’s motion controls to dictate where the alien character jumped, throwing in enemies and power-ups along the way. The game was also created on the fly, meaning each playthrough was different, which helped keep players coming back for more to try and beat their best score.
Who knew that slicing fruit in the air would be so fun? Fruit Ninja combined intuitive touch controls and a great physics engine to create an entertaining and engaging game. While easy to learn, Fruit Ninja challenged players to get combos to unlock special abilities. The addition of a scoreboard made Fruit Ninja competitive too. On the iPad, there was even local multiplayer, which allowed two players to challenge one another in real-time. Developer Halfbrick Studios went on to create other hit games like Jetpack Joyride and Magic Brick Wars.
In 2010, mobile games featured simpler graphics because of the limited computing power of mobile phones compared to consoles and PCs. This changed when Infinity Blade was announced, proving that mobile phones were capable of displaying console-quality graphics. It was such a monumental release that Apple gave Infinity Blade its own spotlight during an event. While the game’s mechanics maintained the simple and intuitive controls of other mobile games, its graphics were above and beyond anything mobile had seen before.
Candy Crush Saga
Candy Crush Saga launched a massive wave of match-three games that remains popular to this day. In 2018, Candy Crush Saga was the most downloaded game of all time on iOS, according to App Annie. But don’t let the game’s cute and welcoming art style fool you. Candy Crush Saga is an extremely challenging puzzle game. King also pioneered liveops for the game, providing players with new challenges, events, and content continuously. It’s no wonder that seven years later, Candy Crush Saga is still the highest-grossing game in the App Store.
Clash of Clans
It’s hard to believe that Clash of Clans is seven years old, but the game remains popular today for good reason. Developer Supercell has spent an enormous amount of effort to balance the game and provide new content for players to come back to. The game’s social element also helped it succeed, as Clash of Clans is best played with friends — and competing against real players makes the stakes feel higher too. Today, Clash of Clans is the second highest-grossing iOS game, second only to Candy Crush Saga.
Geometry Dash was one of the pioneers of the hyper-casual genre. The game could be played easily for a few minutes at a time and with a single button press. Anyone could pick up the game and immediately know what to do. Because sessions are short, it allowed players to jump in and out of a game quickly while waiting in line or commuting to work, but remained challenging (perhaps frustratingly so). Just a few months before Geometry Dash’s release, Flappy Bird took mobile gaming by storm and its viral success showed that there was a hunger for simple yet challenging games.
Building off the success of the hyper-casual genre, Crossy Road hit the app stores in 2013 as a modernized version of Frogger. Players were tasked with getting their character as far as possible, crossing highways, rivers, and other challenges. What made Crossy Road a success was its endless stream of content. At the end of every round, players earned coins that could be exchanged for a randomized character. This mechanic, called “gacha,” came from the randomized prize machines in Japan called “gachapon,” kept players coming back to unlock new characters. Developer Hipster Whale is known to jump quickly on trends and integrate new characters that were trending.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
2014 was a big year for celebrity-backed mobile games and none were bigger than Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The game lets players become aspiring socialites, singers, and even chefs with guidance from Kim herself. Glu Mobile, publisher of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, lead the way with other celebrity-baked mobile games such as Kendall & Kylie, Katy Perry Pop, Britney Spears: American Dream, and Restaurant Dash: Gordon Ramsay. By 2018, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood had generated nearly $220 million from 67 million installs, according to Pocket Gamer. While the appetite for celebrity IP mobile games has died down, there’s still plenty of success to be had with celebrity-baked games like House Flip, featuring HGTV celebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines and Episode, which features storylines for popular movies like Mean Girls and Pitch Perfect.
The summer of 2016 was dominated by Pokémon GO. The viral sensation had players mobbing to various areas to catch rare Pokémon, and its AR feature was revolutionary for the time. While mobile AR existed before, the popularity of Pokémon GO launched a slew of other AR-powered apps and games. Three years after release, Pokémon GO has made over $3 billion and remains one of the highest-grossing games in the app stores.
Clash Royale was one of the first few mobile games that were played competitively in esports. In 2016, esports primarily focused on console and PC gaming but competitive mobile gaming finally got its chance with Clash Royale. Today, we see other mobile games like Arena of Valor, Honor of Kings, and PUBG being played competitively.
While Infinity Blade showed that mobile games could rival the graphics of consoles, it wasn’t until Fornite was released on mobile that the industry recognized mobile as a platform that could rival traditional console and PC for hardcore gamers. While PC and console both have better graphics and controls, the convenience of playing your favorite shooter game on mobile was undeniable. Fornite for mobile forced the games industry as a whole to reevaluate their mobile strategies, leading to major mobile game releases like Call of Duty Mobile.
Mobile Gaming in the Next Decade
Mobile gaming has come a long way over the past decade, but one thing that has remained consistent is the desire to play on-the-go. While graphics and gameplay have gotten more advanced, that hasn’t stopped the simplest games from being fun and influential. We saw this with the resurgence of simple arcade games from the 1970s and 1980s with the popularity of hyper-casual mobile games.
Over the next decade, gamers will have more choice than ever in what they choose to play. Game streaming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud show what’s possible with distributed gaming for graphically intensive games — but we’re still years away from our mobile connections being fast enough to support streaming games on the go. The spread and adoption of 5G will likely help game streaming take off in the coming years.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, mobile-first experiences will still rule the roost. Players want to download a game and play immediately instead of having to fuss with Bluetooth controllers like game streaming requires. Mobile games with simple mechanics and graphics will continue to thrive for the majority of players who want shorter gaming experiences on the go.
Today, wherever you fall on the gaming spectrum, there are mobile games that capture your imagination. There’s never been a better time to be a gamer and the next decade will be even better.