Mobile gaming is much more recent as compared to home video-game consoles or PC gaming. Recent progress in System on a Chip (SoC) architecture fueled the growth of mobile gaming. The term refers to any video game played on any mobile phone (feature phones and smartphones), handheld video game consoles (like the Nintendo Switch), or tablets. The first mobile game to have ever launched was a variant of Tetris which was released on Hagenuk MT-2000 in 1994.
The rapid growth of mobile gaming has been credited to its portability and cost-effectiveness. Mobile devices, especially smartphones are cheap to manufacture. And, they have become the everyday-digital-assistant-cum-entertainment-device for almost the entire human population. There are over 6.35 billion smartphones in the world today, and the number is expected to grow at an even faster rate over the upcoming years. Just for a little bit of context, the world population sits at 7.9 billion as of October 2021.
In 2021, mobile gaming is mostly hardware accelerated. This means the hardware packed inside the handheld gaming console or the smartphone runs the game.
Architecture is a bit different from personal computers, although the working principles are the same. All of the important components sit on a System on a Chip (SoC). The SoC includes the Central Processing Unit (CPU), the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), the Random Access Memory (RAM) modules, and the flash storage modules. This restricts open customization and gives proprietary hardware design freedom to the manufacturing company.
The current smartphone SoC market is dominated by Qualcomm© Snapdragon™, Samsung© Exynos™, MediaTek© Dimensity™, Apple© Bionic™, and HiSilicon© Kirin™ SoCs.
- Qualcomm© Snapdragon™: The Qualcomm© Snapdragon™ SoCs are seen in Android smartphones, both mid-range and flagship. Their mid-range 750G line up of SoCs offer the best performance at their price point, while boasting support for 5G bands. The Snapdragon™ 800 line up of SoCs are known as their flagship SoCs, and the latest entry, the Snapdragon 888, performs head-to-head with the Exynos™ 2100 and the Apple© A14 Bionic™.
- Samsung© Exynos™: Samsung Foundry© designs and manufactures their Exynos™ chips. The Exynos™ chips are seen mostly in Samsung© Galaxy™ smartphones, in all entry level, mid-range and flagship entries. Their latest flagship chip, the Exynos™ 2100, enjoys up to 3% more performance than its Snapdragon™ counterpart, the 888. While Exynos™ SoCs have been ridiculed in the past for lesser performance and worse battery life than the competition, the future of Samsung’s chip lineup looks bright as Samsung© is partnering with AMD© to design the GPU of their next flagship SoC, the Exynos™ 2200. Rumors also suggest that Exynos™ will pioneer hardware accelerated ray tracing in mobile chips.
- MediaTek© Dimensity™ and Helio™: MediaTek© receives hate it doesn’t deserve. It does not make top-of-the-line flagship chips, however, the latest MediaTek© DImensity™ 1200 beats the Snapdragon™ 855 and the Kirin™ 990 5G and is toe-to-toe with the Snapdragon™ 865. The best fact is that the Dimensity™ 1200 achieves all of this at a significantly lesser dollar tag than the competition.
The Dimensity™ 1200 also comes with technologies like Heterogenous Multi-Processing (HMP), AES, and AVX that improves overall optimization without having the extra horsepowers to reach those numbers. A large number of mid-range smartphones like the OnePlus© Nord™ 2 and the Oppo© Reno™ 6 Pro are using the Dimensity™ 1200 SoCs.
Helio™ chips are more budget-focused. The latest entry in the Helio lineup, the Helio P95, has an average AnTuTu score of 211,482 as compared to the 630,335 scored by the Dimensity 1200.
- Apple© Bionic™: In 2014, Apple decided to make their own silicon to power their iPhone. These chips were called the Apple© A chips. In 2017, Apple introduced the Bionic series, along with a Neural Engine that was dedicated to tasks like face and speech recognition. Apple’s Neural Engine is more suited for AI tasks.
Apple’s chips are not as powerful on paper, but solid optimization sets them at par with its Snapdragon and Exynos counterparts. There are no mid-range or entry chips in the lineup. The latest entry, the A15 Bionic was unveiled in September 2021, and it powers the latest iPhone 13 series.
- HiSilicon© Kirin™: HiSilicon is a fabless semiconductor manufacturing company set up by the Chinese tech giant, Huawei. HiSilicon manufactures the Kirin chipsets for all Huawei and Honor smartphones. The latest entry in this series is called the Kirin™ 9000 series, and was launched in Quarter 4 of 2020.
Although performance is equivalent, the Kirin™ 9000 beats its Snapdragon™ equivalent, the 888, in GPU and AI capabilities. However, the Snapdragon™ 888 enjoys a solid lead in terms of CPU performance.
Future of Mobile Gaming
The small form-factor of mobile devices is a big hindrance to housing big components and heatsinks to cool the bigger components. Thus, it is clear that if mobile gaming has to rely on hardware, it will be fairly weaker than platforms that are physically bigger in size like the PC or home video-game consoles. Thus, in the not-so-very-distant future, mobile gaming will switch to cloud streaming services.
Cloud streaming services run the game in a distant server station. Hefty computers carry out all the rendering tasks, and the output is streamed via the internet to the user’s device. This means that the hardware barrier is permanently removed.
Cloud streaming services are in their infancy now. Services like Amazon Luna, Google Stadia, and Microsoft’s Xcloud already provide cloud streaming. Most of these services are subscription-based.
Cloud streaming will bring PC-like graphics to mobile devices, and it will unify game development and adoption. However, data transfer speeds still have a long way to catch up with streaming high-quality and low latency video signals. Current streaming services are nowhere near to perfection, and at times, latencies are stupid high. But, we can see the infrastructure catching up with the technology within another decade.
Mobile gaming has come a long way since its inception. The current scenario seems promising, and the wide user base will propel portable gaming consoles and smartphones much farther from their current state. Mobile gaming has revolutionized the video game industry by bringing interactive entertainment to every segment of society.