Mobile gaming has come a long way since the early days of the industry. Today, mobile gaming tends to be associated with tablets and smartphones, but who can forget the Nintendo Gameboy and Sega Gamegear? Though mobile game consoles have been on the market for decades, nobody can deny that everything changed in 2007 with the release of the first iPhone. When discussing mobile gaming, it isn’t be a bad idea to speak in terms of “Before Smartphones” and “After Smartphones,” as their impact on the market was industry-changing.

But this does raise the question: where does mobile gaming go next? If mobile console platforms like the Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Gamegear, and Sony PlayStation Portable owned the industry for nearly 20 years, then clearly smartphones and tablets have a ways to catch up. Not only in terms of longevity but the breath of the user experience, as well. How do mobile games continue to evolve to keep players interested, and what hardware changes will be required to bring renewed interest to the market now that smartphones are quickly reaching their 10th birthday? Let’s take a look.

The Smartphone of the Future

For years, the traditional mobile game console featured a small screen up top and a slew of buttons down below. Until that suddenly was no longer the case. The Gamegear placed the screen in the middle with the buttons to either side, as did the PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo’s replacement for the Gameboy, the DS, did away with one screen altogether, introducing the concept of dual screens (hence the name, DS). Suffice to say, accepted best practices can vanish into thin air with little warning. We may witness a similar transition in the smartphone marketplace in the not-too-distant future.

Samsung has been testing a smartphone-cum-tablet hybrid that features a folding screen. Though this may seem like Samsung is reverting back to the days of the flip phone, that is hardly the case. Called “Project Valley,” the prototype is set to revolutionize the shape that smartphones take in the future. With a screen that covers nearly the entire inside surface of the device, from outer edge to inside crease back to the opposite outer edge, this new gadget could resemble a digital, living, “breathing” book more than any current smartphone. And with a Snapdragon processor, one of the best mobile processors for gaming currently available, it could also open all sorts of doors for new gaming experiences as well. The bigger point is that smartphones as we know them could become extinct – just like the Gameboy did.

And then there are VR goggles. Yes, it’s easy to debate their mobility, but they finally seem to be making inroads into gaming after decades of false starts and unkempt promises. Could gaming developers embrace this new technology in the future? Expect your hardware to change. To what degree, nobody knows, but expect it to change.

Mobile Gaming Must Branch Out

When one thinks mobile gaming, they probably think “simple.” And who can blame them? Some of the biggest titles in the marketplace include Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Plants vs. Zombies – all of which feature simple gameplay. That isn’t to say they aren’t fun, engaging, or even addicting – they certainly are – but such gameplay can only carry the gaming industry so far before it becomes stagnant. The future of mobile gaming will likely feature vastly improved graphics, more in-depth gameplay, greater focus on personalization and localization, and perhaps a shift to VR goggles and split-surface devices (as discussed above), along with other peripheral platforms.

As with any industry, mobile gaming must change with the times and continue to evolve if it hopes to have a lasting impact on the populace. Just as cars, televisions, and computers all became better over time – bigger, smaller, brighter, more capable – smartphones and tablets will too. And this means that we should expect big things from mobile gaming. Only time will tell, of course, but complex, rich, mature titles with graphics to rival even console games are sure to be the new standard five years down the line. If you’re a gamer yourself, there’s much to look forward to.

Do You Still Play Mobile Games?

Ultimately, this is the question that mobile game developers need to take into consideration when designing new titles. How can they win back consumers who have long given up on Fruit Ninja and Angry Bird? Conversely, how do developers keep enthusiastic mobile gamers coming back? Smartphones and tablets present a unique gaming experience with their touchscreen interface and inherent mobility, but are these alone enough to keep gamers interested? Or should they be designing richer, more robust titles? The future holds the answer to these questions but one thing is certain: mobile gaming in 2020 will be a much different landscape than it was in 2010.