Phones were never supposed to become gaming devices. When “Snake” was programmed into the first few next-gen phone handsets shortly after the turn of the century, we sincerely doubt that the people who put it there realized that they were starting a revolution. They just wanted to provide people with a way of passing the time when they were on public transport or sat in a waiting room somewhere. Now, almost twenty years down the line, mobile gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that seems to get bigger with every passing day.
It’s hard for anyone to put their finger on what it is that’s drawn people into doing things with their phones that they used to do with their PlayStations. Perhaps we should credit the casino industry for its influence. Shortly after the creation of online slots websites around fifteen years ago, the people who run the casino industry started to notice that more and more people were using their phones to access the internet as opposed to their desktops or laptops. They immediately started turning their already-popular online slots into mobile slots to cater to this new market and struck gold. While online slots websites like Dove Casino are still extremely popular, most of the online slots listed on those sites are played on mobile phones. That proved that people are willing to spend money on gaming through their phones, and the mainstream gaming industry started to take the concept more seriously.
For all the money that’s being made, few people have yet cottoned on to what’s going on within mobile gaming. If you asked the average person what they thought the most popular or most lucrative mobile video game was, they’d probably tell you that it was “Fortnite” or “Call of Duty.” That isn’t the case. Neither of those games even feature in the all-time top ten. The biggest-money mobile game of all time is actually a title called “Monster Strike,” which was released in mid-2013 and has so far grossed more than eight billion dollars during its lifetime. “Pokemon Go,” which seemed to be everywhere at the peak of its popularity, is down in seventh place and has grossed a mere $3.7bn. The name “Monster Strike” hasn’t even imprinted itself on the public’s mass consciousness. It’s like an underground gaming culture where big money is spent without anybody noticing.
All that might be about to change as we usher in the era of 5G mobile phones and 5G connectivity in general. It’s thought that 5G will eliminate buffering issues and make video game streaming platforms like Google’s Stadia and Amazon’s Luna more popular. It’s also thought that it will enable mobile phones to play even more powerful games than they have in the past, and we know of at least one manufacturer who’s banking on that happening. It’s probably fair to say that the whole concept of ‘gaming phones’ hasn’t gone well for the people who’ve made them in the past. Razr had some success, but not enough for their brand of handsets to become a mainstream entity. Other phones which were marketed as being tailored for gaming have failed to find their feet in the marketplace, too. Asus is now hoping that they’ll be able to succeed where others have failed. They’ve just launched their brand-new 5G-enabled ROG Phone 3 in the United States of America, and they have very lofty ambitions for their new piece of hardware.
As the ‘3’ in the title implies, this isn’t the first attempt Asus has made to popularize a gaming phone. The ROG phone 2 was released in 2019 and is still available now. Like this new model, it came with a 6000mAh battery (said to be optimized for playing games). This time around, owners will also get a 6.59 inch OLED screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset, 512GB of storage, and a refresh rate of 144Hz. This is a phone that comes with more storage than your laptop probably does and a far better display. The basic $1000 model comes with 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM, and if you’re willing to spend another hundred dollars, you can make that 16GB instead. Potentially more important than all that, though, is the fact that it’s 5G ready and will be able to take advantage of the new high-speed connectivity as soon as it’s switched on.
Having listened to feedback from customers who brought the previous version of the phone, Asus have adjusted the ‘air trigger’ motion sensors on the side of the phone to be more responsive, and also included an option for users to map the controls to any function they like. The new triggers are capable of distinguishing the difference between a light tap, a hard press, and a shake. For the latest first-person shooters where speed and accuracy are vital, that should make a world of difference to the playing experience so long as the changes have been implemented correctly.
While the device will (obviously) be able to do anything that a good smartphone made by Apple or Samsung can do, its description makes it sound more like a mini-console than a communications device. For an extra charge, users can buy a special dock that provides your phone with access to a second display. The phone can project to smart televisions for a full-screen experience, and an additional gamepad can be bought if the smaller controls on the phone are too fiddly to deal with. It sounds like they’ve thought of everything – so is this going to be the phone that finally puts a dent in the sales figures of console companies?
We wouldn’t want to try to answer that question just yet. We still don’t know enough about the impact that 5G is likely to have, or how widely available the network will be. We also don’t know how ready the public is to break with its long-standing gaming habits. What we do know, though, is that this is the most heavy-duty gaming mobile handset we’ve ever seen – and it’s a very powerful tool. If this can’t capture the public’s attention, perhaps no gaming mobile can.