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Mobile Games
FRANS MÄYRÄ
University of Tampere, Finland
The Expanding Field of Mobile Gaming
The International Telecommunication Union
(ITU) estimated that there were more than six
billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world
in 2012. Thanks to miniaturization and the pos-
sibility to implement mobile video games, today’s
mobile games are an increasingly notable and
growing area of game business and culture. An
expanding range and increasing number of games
are being produced and published for handheld
consoles, mobile phones, and tablet devices.
Theexpansionofmobilegamingisnoteworthy
alsointermsofquality,asmobilegameshave
become a site for innovative, new play and game
design practices. Many of the novel innovations
that mobile games have introduced benefit from
the specific characteristics of the mobile media
ecosystem, including the online digital distri-
bution channels, new interface modalities, and
sensor capabilities available in modern mobile
devices.Other significant factors in mobile games and
gameplayarethedailycontextsandpractices
related to mobile application use. A 2011 study
of more than 4000 Android phone users found
that the average user accessed some application
or another on their handset about 50 times
per day, for a total duration of more than one
hour daily. The average session from opening
an application to closing it, however, lasted only
71 seconds (Böhmer et al., 2011). Even though
average gameplay sessions on a mobile device
are probably longer than that, designing a game
for the quick and short mobile usage sessions
is different from creating a typical computer or
console video game. There are only a few game
genres that are unique to mobile devices; it is
possible to access most of the popular video game
genres also as mobile versions. It is important
The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society , First Edition.
Edited by Robin Mansell and Peng Hwa Ang.
© 2015 John Wiley ; Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley ; Sons, Inc.
to address mobile games in both dimensions: as
“scaled-down videogames,” and as emerging new
forms of gameplay, possible only using the oppor-
tunities that mobile devices and their mobile user
contexts open up.
De?ning a Mobile Game
Despite being a common enough term and
phenomenon in today’s technologically intense
societies, it is not necessarily self-evident what
exactly constitutes and defines a “mobile game.”
The literature on mobile games is often techni-
cally focused, and generally moves directly to
discuss the implementation of games for mobile
phones and other mobile devices without clarify-
ing the key concept itself (see, e.g., Hamer, 2007).
However, there are multiple different kinds of
mobiledevices,andevenpersonalcomputers
couldbeconsidered”mobile”today,becauseof
the popularity of small and lightweight laptop
computers. The most common ways of under-
standing mobile games nevertheless relate to
two distinct lines of game development and
publishing. The first one is mobile phone games
andthesecondrelatestohandheldelectronic
gamesandvideogameconsoles.Outsidethe
consumer product market there is also important
work that links mobile games to mobile com-
puting and augmented reality experimentation,
for example. Such research has often stimulated
innovations in consumer electronics and the
game industry. Thisentryaimstodiscussthegamesdesigned
for mobile phones, and while the full treatment
of mobile games needs also to take into account
handheld video games and many other portable
electronic gaming devices, the history and eco-
nomics in these various areas are so different
that they invite treatment in separate entries.
Handheld video games, for example, have much
closer ties with the major video game console
manufacturers, while mobile phone game makers
need to take into account the characteristics of
multiple different kinds of phone models and
DOI:10.1002/9781118290743.wbiedcs014

2MOBILEGAMES
differences in mobile operators’ services. The
distribution of handheld video games through
sales in retail stores is also very different from
the distribution of mobile phone games, which
either come preinstalled to the handset, or are
installed by the user over-the-air (OTA), using
mobile data services. Some phone manufacturers
have experimented with add-on memory cards as
a game distribution medium, but without major
success.
The Long History of Mobile Games
The early history of mobile games does not start
with the introduction of the first handheld elec-
tronic games in the late 1970s. Rather, there is
a continuity that can be tracked from the early
simple electronic gaming devices such as the
Merlin by Parker Brothers (1978) to the earlier
mechanical toys on the one hand, and to ancient
travelers’ game sets on the other. A deck of gam-
ing cards or a small version of a board game are
easy to use while on the road, and the portability
of such analog gaming devices has no doubt
played an important part in their evolution and
popularity. There is evidence of traveling dice and
board games being used by the Roman emperor
Claudius (10 bce – ad 54; see Joannou, 2007).
The idea of playing games while traveling is most
probably much older than that.
The digital mobile game can be identified
as having at least two roots. The early arcade
video games were miniaturized into handheld
electronic games and consequently they acted
as precursors for the handheld video gaming
consoles. The second strand of evolution was
intimately linked with the mobile phone as a par-
ticular kind of application and gaming platform.
In terms of suitability for gameplay, a dedicated
handheld gaming device benefits from a form
factor and controls that are optimized for gam-
ing. Mobile phones are, in contrast, multipurpose
devices; therefore generally, in the design of their
form and keyboard, the phone’s uses (e.g., making
calls, typing text messages) have been set as the
top priority.
In the field of handheld electronic games and
handheld game consoles, Nintendo has been the
leader.Originallyaplayingcardcompany,itsfirst
major success in consumer electronics (after a fewtelevision game systems) was the Game ; Watch
series (1980 – 91). This was a series of devices
that originally featured monochrome, segmented
LCD screens, each capable of displaying a single
video game. As the name indicates, the devices
alsodoubledasanalarmclock.Whiletheoriginal
devices had a single screen, dual screen (“multi-
screen”)gameswerealsopublishedandlatercolor
screens were used as well. It has been reported
that more than 43 million Game ; Watch devices
were sold. The series also served as an important
precursor for the next generations of Nintendo’s
handheld gaming devices that became even more
popular. The Game Boy series (1989) was the first
of these (rechargeable) battery-powered game
consoles. For the US market, the device was bun-
dled with a game cartridge forTe t r i s,thepopular
puzzle video game, a combination that was partly
responsible for the Game Boy becoming adopted
widely by “casual gamers” as well as by young
video game enthusiasts. The handheld form fac-
tor also appeared to smooth the gender gap in
video gaming. Nintendo of America reported in
1995 that 46% of players on the handheld Game
Boy were female, as contrasted to 29% on NES
and 14% on SNES consoles (The Gainesville Sun,
January 15, 1995). The cumulative total sales for
theGameBoylineofdeviceshavecrossed200
million units. The popular 32-bit handheld con-
sole, Nintendo DS (2004 – 07), proved Nintendo
was capable of building on top of earlier successes
while making use of new technologies such as
color touch screen, wireless connectivity, and
built-in microphone.
While the evolution of mobile games for hand-
heldconsoleshasenjoyedthebenefitsofarather
unified development and publishing environ-
ment, that has not been the case for mobile phone
games. Since the 1970s and 1980s, there have
been many different mobile phone manufacturers
in the market, each regularly releasing phone
models that support diverse feature sets. Such
key factors as the screen size, keyboard, memory,
processor, operating system, as well as wireless
capabilities all differ, making game development
for mobile phone ecosystems a rather challenging
undertaking. The most popular early mobile
phone game was a version of arcade gameSnake
(1997), which was delivered preinstalled in Nokia
handsets and could therefore be found on more
than 400 million devices (Wright, 2008).

MOBILEGAMES3
Before the smart phone application ecosys-
tems such as Apple’s iOS and its App Store
were launched, there were several competing
development platforms for mobile phone games,
including Macromedia Flash Lite, Doja of NTT
DoCoMo, BREW by Qualcomm, and Sun’s Java
ME. When combined with the early mobile
internet protocol (WAP), such technologies made
possible, in the late 1990s, the over-the-air sale,
download, and installation of a game to a mobile
phoneviaawirelesscarriernetwork.Also,text
messaging (SMS) was used for implementing
simple games, such as quizzes, where the price of
each text message was included in the phone bill
(De Prato et al., 2010; Feijoo, 2012).
The visibility of such downloadable game con-
tent was at the time largely decided by placement
of the game on the “carrier deck,” meaning the
mobile internet landing page the customers saw
first on the browser of their handset. Without a
prominent placement in these operator main-
tained listings, it was hard to distribute the game.
With the slow data transfer capabilities and
small screens of the available mobile phones, the
operator listings were usually rather limited; for
example, at one point the US operator Verizon
Wireless listed about 350 games and its competi-
tor Sprint about 250 (Rabowsky, 2009, p. 157).
Most users, however, did not scroll down tens of
menu screens, and thus placement at the top of
the deck, along with an immediately recognizable
title, was critical to success. Tie-in releases based
on popular movie, television, or book franchises
were therefore popular choices.
While mobile “middleware” technologies such
as Java ME continue to be popular in low-end
handsets, such as those which run on Nokia’s
Symbian Series 40 operating system, smart-
phones have radically changed the face of mobile
games. In 2003 there was an attempt by Nokia to
launch a dedicated mobile phone based gaming
system called N-Gage, but the selection of games,
prices, and user experience of N-Gage compared
poorly to those offered by the dedicated handheld
gaming consoles such as the Game Boy line of
Nintendo. It was the release of iPhone by Apple
in 2007, followed by the App Store distribution
service in 2008, which had the most powerful
impact on the mobile software and game ecosys-
tems. In 2013, Apple reported that its users had
downloaded more than 40 billion applicationsfrom its App Store, and that the store carried at
that point more than 800,000 mobile applications
(“apps”). Other similar digital distribution chan-
nels include Google Play (originally launched in
2008 as “Android Market”) and Windows Phone
Store (launched in 2010 as “Windows Phone
Marketplace”). All such mobile stores provide
users with access to thousands of applications,
some of them free, some paid for.
The rising popularity of mobile application
ecosystems can be attributed to the better qual-
ity of mobile games, the better user experience
provided by touch screen-enabled smartphones,
the faster access via mobile broadband (3G and
4G networks), and the successful distribution of
models provided by other, nonmobile platforms,
such as Steam (developed by Valve for Win-
dows computers), Wii Shop Channel, Xbox Live
Marketplace, and PlayStation Store. In indus-
trysources,itwasestimatedthatthenumber
of smartphone users worldwide exceeded one
billion in 2012, far surpassing the numbers of any
other gaming platform, except gaming in personal
computers. Similarly, the Finnish game devel-
oper Rovio reported that their popular Angry
Birds franchise of mobile games had reached the
cumulative number of one billion downloads in
2012.
New Directions in Mobile Gaming
Rovio’ssuccessfulAngryBirdsseriesrepresents
well the mainstream world of mobile games devel-
oped for contemporary smartphone ecosystems.
Based on earlier, trusted gameplay formulas, such
casual games make efficient use of both the touch
screen interface and the audiovisual strengths of
smartphones’ processor and memory capabilities.
Many of these types of games are first released
as free downloadable versions, then they tempt
players to upgrade into full, paid versions of the
applications, which – because of the benefits
ofscale – canbepricedatanaffordablelevel,
sometimes at less than a dollar. An alternative
approach, called the “freemium” model, relies
on in-app purchases of “premium” features such
as better equipment or additional game levels
that take the otherwise free game beyond its
built-in limitations. While commercially suc-
cessful, such techniques have been criticized by

4MOBILEGAMES
players and developers alike. The low complexity
and effortless gameplay that characterize casual
mobile games do not necessarily attract dedicated
gamers and some critics consider the moneti-
zation strategies employed in freemium games
as unethical (see, for example, the discussion in
www.gamasutra.com).
In addition to business model innovation,
mobile games have also been at the forefront
of some technological experimentation. There
are modes of play that are only available for
gaming on mobile devices, such as location
based gaming. While there are several decades
of history in mobile and ubiquitous computing
research, which also includes such game experi-
mentation, it was in the early 2000s that the first
commercial location based mobile games were
launched. Long before that there had been vari-
ous kinds of treasure hunt-style games that later
were turned into the “geocaching” hobby with
the availability of precise GPS navigation devices
(Montola, Stenros, ; Waern, 2009, pp. 32 – 34).
The first commercial location based games such
asBotFighters(It’s Alive, 2001) used less precise
cell location services and SMS messages to relay
game commands and information between the
playersandthegameserver.Theaugmentationof
physical, urban environments with virtual gam-
ing content has gradually increased, leading to
mobile devices used in a rich range of alternative
reality games (ARGs e.g., The Nokia Game series,
1999 – 2005), pervasive games (e.g.,Can You
SeeMeNow?, 2001) and massively multiplayer
mobile games (e.g.,Shadow Cities, 2010). Such
complex forms of mobile gaming are growing in
popularitybuthavenotreachedanywherenear
the level that casual mobile games enjoy.
Thousands of new mobile applications are
added to the different online application stores
every month, and games are the most popular
category among their hundreds of millions of
users. Consequently, the commercial and cul-
tural significance of mobile games has greatly
expanded from their modest beginnings in the
1990s. Today, games in mobile devices are seri-
ously challenging the PC and console gaming,
particularly if tablet devices are included in the
mobile device category. Mobile gaming is also
becoming increasingly integrated with popular
social networks, such as Facebook. Industry
reports point toward the majority of the onebillion Facebook users actively using the service
with their mobile devices. There is an increasing
number of mobile games that provide some kind
of online social gaming experience, including
comparing top scores among one’s social net-
work, or sending challenges, gifts, or invitations
to one’s friends from inside the mobile gaming
application. It is also noteworthy that in some
industry studies, a slight majority of mobile social
gamers is reported to be female.
Research and the Future of Mobile
Gaming
Research into mobile games has not formed the
mainstream of contemporary game studies, and
the study of mobile phones has mostly focused
on the communications element rather than on
mobile game studies. Nevertheless, there are sev-
eral notable strands of research work that relate to
this field.
In Europe in particular a few research centers
have carried out sustained research work on
mobile games. One of the background factors
has been the European Union, which has been
active in its support of mobile game research and
development. For example, the “Mobile Enter-
tainment and Industry and Culture” (MGAIN)
research project (2001 – 04) aimed to situate
mobile games in the wider context of mobile
“content” and entertainment industries, and
suggested that mobile gaming would continue
to grow in popularity, alongside other mobile
applications and services, such as those related to
mobile music, messaging services, multimedia,
gambling, and location based services (MGAIN,
2003). Another large European research project,
“Integrated Project in Pervasive Gaming” (IPerG,
2004 – 08), focused on the new artistic, techno-
logical,andbusinessopportunitiesrelatedtohow
newmobiletechnologiesallowtheextensionof
gaming experiences in spatial, social, and tem-
poral dimensions (Montola, Stenros, & Waern,
2009). IPerG produced both scholarship that
mapped out some of the design space and player
experiences opened up by mobile technologies,
as well as several prototype games on emerg-
ing gaming subgenres such as mobile treasure
hunts, urban adventure games, and massively
multiplayer mobile games.

MOBILEGAMES5
The sociology and ethnography of mobile
communications have also touched upon mobile
gaming. The work of Larissa Hjorth is particu-
larly noteworthy, as she has carried out substantial
work on the sociocultural dimensions of mobile
gaming cultures in the Asia Pacific region. She has
shown how both video games and mobile phones
serveimportantrolesasextensionsofauser’s
identity and as sites of user creativity in people’s
everyday lives (Hjorth, 2011). In Europe, the EU
Kids Online project has produced research that
reports children’s use of online technologies in
Europe, indicating that gameplay is among the
mostpopularchildren’sactivitiesonlinetoday,but
also that problematic behaviors such as bullying
have become common elements in the children’s
lives (Livingstone, Haddon, ; Görzig, 2012). In
Finland, the Finnish Player Barometer survey has
identified a significant trend showing an increase
in mobile gaming in 2009 – 11, and has pointed
out how women and girls play mobile games
more actively than they do traditional computer
or video games (Karvinen ; Mäyrä, 2011).
As the popularity and capabilities of mobile
technologies continue to increase, it is very likely
that mobile applications and services will grow
increasingly sophisticated, with context-aware
capabilities that combine gameplay with other
incentives, such as health, learning, or marketing.
Thisisoftenlinkedtotheconceptof”gamifica-
tion,” meaning application of game elements in
non-entertainment purposes (Deterding et al.,
2011). Context-aware gaming integrates into the
logic of games multiple sources of information
including calendar data, location, and presence
of, for example, RFID tagged objects, physical
activity that also includes gestures, body data
(e.g., arousal or stress level), as well as contextual
information provided by other people and social
networks (Tester, 2006). All these pieces of infor-
mationcanalsobeusedto”gamify”everyday
experiences and activities, supporting the motiva-
tion to have a healthy walk rather than to drive the
car, or to provide an incentive to pick up a special
offer from a nearby restaurant. The applications
of gamification in mobile learning (m-learning)
are also receiving much interest (Kapp, 2012). The
popular location sharing application Foursquare
has been one of the pioneers in applying badges,
titles, and other game-like rewards into its user
experience. The ethics and actual benefits ofgamification nevertheless continue to be debated
(see, for example, Bogost, 2011).
As a category, mobile games have developed
into multiple directions on their own. The conver-
gence of gaming platforms is also an important
development: in some ecosystems, and by using
techniques such as game streaming, it is now
possible to change from one type of device to
another and yet continue the same game, which
is a development that contributes toward the
boundaries between mobile, console, and PC
games beginning to erode. The key characteristics
of gaming on a small, mobile device nevertheless
remain distinctive and unique at their core.
SEE ALSO:Online Games; Online Games and
Business Models; Online Games, Casual; Online
Games and Children; Online Games and Genre
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Further Reading
Katz, J. E. (Ed.) (2008).Handbook of mobile communi-
cation studies.Cambridge,MA:MITPress.
Frans Mäyrä,PhD,isProfessorofInformation
Studies and Interactive Media, with specialization
in digital culture and game studies, at the Univer-
sity of Tampere, Finland. He heads the University
ofTampereGameResearchLab,andhastaught
and studied digital culture and games since the
early 1990s. His research interests include game
cultures, meaning making through playful inter-
action, online social play, borderlines, identity, as
well as transmedial fantasy and science fiction.