The History Before the 5G Future of Gaming

Friday 4/9/21 09:01am
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Posted By Ana Schafer
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Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

If you’re a developer new to building games, you might not realize how good you have it. Today’s game developers have rich development platforms like Unity; devices packed with sensors, cameras, 3D graphics, processors, artificial intelligence (AI), and the latest power and connectivity power thanks to the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 888 5G Mobile Platform, and Qualcomm® Snapdragon Elite Gaming™. Then there’s 5G, an important game-changing technology (pun intended), which should propel games even further.

We’ve teamed up with the IMGA (International Mobile Gaming Awards) to bring you a whitepaper on the 5G Future of Mobile Games. In it you’ll find rich descriptions of how 5G is impacting the mobile gaming space and areas of opportunity for developers such as: Cloud Gaming, Mobile Multi-player gaming (MMP), Mobile eSports, extended reality (XR), and the future of storytelling (pervasive gaming) with AI in games. It is also full of quotes from game industry influencers and game changers including companies like Supercell, Cotton, Activision, SuperEvilMegaCorp, and others. Check out the 5G Future of Mobile Games Whitepaper.

But before we head to the future, let’s walk through a brief history of mobile gaming, combining some of the interesting data from the Whitepaper along with foundational technologies from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) that helped advance innovation along the way.

First there was 1G and 2G
“The first cellphones could make low-quality voice calls and… well, that’s about it,” according to Gil Sih, senior vice president of Engineering responsible for development of multimedia technology at QTI, and one of our longest serving engineers.

For 2G, we proposed Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA), a spread-spectrum technology that offered much higher capacity from the alternative at that time, and successfully demonstrated it at the end of 1989 before it was eventually commercialized (check out Gil’s blog and presentation on “Enabling the rise of the Smartphone” for more details.)

It wasn’t until 1997 that the first games were played on mobile phones. You might have heard of or even played black and white games like Tetris and Snake, that came pre-loaded on devices of only 84x84 pixels! Of course, these weren’t sophisticated games, but they were groundbreaking enough to get the Nokia port of Snake added to Museum of Modern Art in New York City and to showcase there was a future for gaming on a mobile device.

3G with Pivotal Technologies
In the early 2000s, we developed a number of pivotal technologies that helped lay the foundation for more sophisticated games. First, we proposed a packet-switched approach for the next generation of cellular technology that allowed a cellphone to act as an Internet client and take advantage of Internet protocols eventually known as Evolution–Data Optimized (EV-DO). Second, we started to make the smartphone ‘smart’ by integrating more functionality into our chipsets such as audio capabilities, video encoding and decoding, and an image signal processor (ISP).

And we debuted the BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), one of the first application development platforms for developers to port and commercialize their applications and games to BREW devices. At the time, BREW supported four color systems: 1-, 2-, 4-, and 8-bit graphics as well as mechanisms for displaying shapes and vector graphics as well as bitmap images. Learning how to render a pixel on a screen was a feat for our team that paid off for mobile game developers. One of our first game developers, JAMDAT, launched a Bowling game in 2003 that became a big hit.

As we launched processors like our Qualcomm® MSM6550, which allowed for more multimedia capability with dedicated hardware for camera ISP, video codecs, and graphics processing, the resolution of devices got better, and games were less pixelized. By 2005, the biggest grossing game in the world was Tetris, and some devices featured a screen size of a whopping 176 x 220 pixels! We recognized the desire for increased processing for games and other use cases like web browsing and integrated the first 1 GHz ARM-based CPU into the very first Snapdragon Mobile Platform in 2007.

As phone designs changed in the late 2000s with larger displays and higher resolutions, we made sure our processors increased capabilities as well. By 2012, the Snapdragon mobile platform included a quad-core CPU, programmable GPU shader core, dual-camera support, and 4K video capability.

4G Launches a Major Shift
When 4G rolled out between 2010 and 2013, a major shift was happening in the mobile game arena. Business models changed with the entry of app stores, freemium, and ad-based formats. Our engineers continued to innovate and introduced enhanced capabilities across technologies, everything from camera and graphics to AI and extended reality (XR) with our Snapdragon 8-series.

The first games that were huge hits globally included Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga, which are still popular today.

That was an amazing time ... in mobile games history and in gaming in general, no game had ever become that large. We had almost 100 million daily active players, one year after the launch. So, it really created this global phenomenon of playing the same games, wherever you were in the world.
- Tommy Palm, current CEO of Resolution Games in Sweden, referring to Candy Crush. His company Fabrication Games, the creator of Candy Crush, was sold to KING in 2012.


The cellphone transformed tremendously between 1995 and 2020

Today, 92.4% of phones are 4G compatible and many are now 5G compatible too. We estimate 450M-550M 5G handsets will ship in 2021 in addition to the approximately 225M shipped in 2020. And games? They’ve gotten pretty popular with at least 677,000 on Google Play and 903,489 on the App Store according to the Whitepaper, showcasing a variety of genres and technologies.

The 5G Future of Gaming
So, what comes next? For the mobile gaming industry, 5G, and in particular the use of mmWave, means faster, more reliable and responsive connections to the Internet and cloud services, with lower latency for better response times and user experience. But don’t just take our word for it, check out our recently launched Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform that integrates our Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System with our latest Qualcomm® Adreno™ GPU, Qualcomm® Kryo™ CPU, and Qualcomm® Hexagon™ DSP.

These features combined are helping to drive the next level of Snapdragon Elite Gaming, a suite of premium mobile gaming capabilities that includes ultra-smooth rendering, highest HDR quality, and desktop-level features, to help meet the demands of today’s most discerning mobile gamers. We’re not sure what the limit will be on the screen sizes, but 5G is making it possible for gaming on other types of devices like Heads up Displays (HUDs) in Extended Gaming and gaming specific mobile devices. It’s also making it possible to play complex games and mobile multi-player games (MMPG) on mobile devices such as Call of Duty, Fortnite and PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). The sky’s the limit on what will come next and we can’t wait!

The 5G Future of Gaming Whitepaper includes many more exciting details and ideas on how 5G is poised to drive the future of mobile gaming. And for additional information and context, we’ve put together the following series of blogs that provide a deeper dive into the Whitepaper’s topics:


Qualcomm Snapdragon, Qualcomm Snapdragon Elite Gaming, Qualcomm Kryo, Qualcomm Adreno, Qualcomm Hexagon, Qualcomm QCP-800, Qualcomm MSM6550, and Qualcomm MSM2 are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.