Will Mobile Shooters Mean the End of Desktop and Console Warfare?

It’s war on the Eastern and Western fronts – and we’re not talking real life here. As the mobile market hots up when it comes to gaming, we’ve got something very serious to talk about. Will mobile shooters mean the end of desktop and console warfare?
This contentious subject comes as we spend more and more of our lives on mobile devices, rather than hidden away in our own homes and gaming lounges all over the world. We now know that mobile internet usage vs. desktop internet usage in terms of time spent on device is higher for the first time. This means that people are spending more time on mobile devices than desktops – including during work hours.

To determine if mobile shooters will mean the end of desktop and console warfare, we should look back across the history of the genre. First person shooters may have a longer, richer history than you would imagine…

Shooter games in the 1970s

The history of the first person shooter dates all the way back to a shockingly innovative game called Maze War, in 1973. As you can imagine, the game centers around a maze, similar to the shooter and maze action that we still see in place today, played from a first person point of view.

The wireframe graphics game was developed by high school students as a project under the Ames Research Center at NASA. In fact, the game shares another feature that we now take for granted in gaming – it was played between up to 8 people over a network.

But hold up a tick, you say – the 70s? There was no internet back then! But hey, there was something, and that something was the ARPANET, the granddaddy of the internet of we know it. A later echelon in the game’s development involved one of the students going on to study at MIT, of which ARPANET was a product of, along with the Department of Defense. This allowed a version of gameplay over the network.

Just allow that to sink in for a second. Way before we had internet as we know it, over 40 years ago, in fact, people were sitting there in front of their computers, playing this first person shooter, with other people in different parts of the country. It almost blows the mind to think about!

However, as this was just a project piece, it wasn’t available to the public – but it did new life in various forms such as tech demos across the country. Around 10 years later, other companies such as MacroMind picked it up, adjusted the code, and released it commercially to the general public – in the case of MacroMind, in a version for the Mac.

So let’s put this in perspective – first person desktop shooters have been around for 40 years. Is mobile enough of a disruptive technology to be able to change all that?

The later 1970s – the rise of arcade

While there were some first person shooters floating about on computers throughout the 1970s (Maze War certainly wasn’t the only one), the only people who could actually play these games were those who had access to computers – typically only those in very technical jobs or companies and students who got to work with computers.

Around the same time as Maze was being created, the first arcade games were also coming to market – something that far more people could access. If a venue purchased an (expensive) arcade machine, then the more people that came to use it, the more money they would make, once they’d recouped the costs of the machine itself, of course.

It was here that the FPS first started to take off as a source of delight for your average person on the street. FPS for desktop was about to get overrun – because who exactly could afford a desktop!?

Arcade games themselves had been around since the 1930s, although not in the way that we know them now today. The games back then involved a light gun, similar to what we see in physical shooters, but with a physical background, too.

But in the 1970s came computer animation arcade games, and of course these would go on to include first person shooters, too. Tail Gunner, in 1979, and Battlezone, in 1980 were FPS space and tank combat games, respectively. Some of these games were available in multi-player, however most were just you vs. the machine.

In the early 80s, arcade games explode. To give you just some perspective, Space Invaders was released in 1978 and Pac-Man was released in 1980, and the entire world simply ate it up. Arcade halls were filled to the brim with people.

But it was not to last. As home video game entertainment systems started cropping up on the market, and home computers became more affordable, there was now not so much reason to head down to the arcade to play.

The rise of Atari, home computers and LAN gaming

In the mid-80s, came the first real wave of consoles and home computers that were affordable to at least some families.

The Atari ST in 1987 featured MIDI Maze, a networked version of Maze that could be played across multiple systems. This signaled the start of something special – first person shooters for LAN.

In 1992 came Wolfenstein 3D, a PC game that built on 1991’s successful Catacomb 3D but with a range of serious upgrades. Not only did it have smooth, 3D visuals, it simply changed up the game. And then, in 1993 came Doom, what many would call the real birth of the FPS that we know of today.

Doom was an upgrade from Wolfenstein 3D and included the ability to do multiplayer via LAN or dial in networks. The birth of online multi-player was complete.

Multiplayer to the forefront – the mid-90s to mid-00s

It was Quake, released in 1996 that really brought networked FPS to the forefront. The producers of this famous game capitalized on the glee with which players flocked to Doom’s networked mode, and created a game specifically for LAN in particular.

The game went on to big successes in its various incarnations and even holds the Guinness World Record for the first online console FPS for Quake III Arena, released in 2000 on the Sega Dreamcast. This game could also be connected to players with the PC version of the game.

The late 90s to early 00s saw a huge uptake in LAN parties for FPS games such as Half-Life (PC and PlayStation), Halo (PC and Xbox), and Doom 3 (PC and Xbox). This time period was also when home internet use was taking off, and gaming companies realized this was where the future was – releasing versions of games that could be played over the internet.

Gaming centers cropped up, as not many people had fast internet connections or PCs with the specs required for these awesome games. By the mid 2000s we were really getting into things with Call of Duty and Battlefield 1942 hotting up the scene.

It was around the end of this time that smartphones started becoming popular too…

Smartphone gaming: A new era?

Smartphone gaming has progressed steadily since smartphones were first released. The difficulties of bringing quality graphics to such a small device with a relatively small amount of power proved to be a serious challenge – and it still is.

In 2017 the graphics on our smartphones have come a long way from where they once were. Smooth, fluid FPS gaming is possible on mid and high range smartphones, which has opened us up to the capabilities of this type of game play while on the go.

However, because these FPS games are designed for mobile, they’re a lot more lightweight than games designed for consoles and PCs. Some things just look and feel better on desktop. If we take, for example, the online gambling phenomenon, and in particular development of games like slots, you’ll find that there’s an equal split among desktop and mobile games  – the only difference is size as the games are optimized for mobile device screens and mobile bandwidth restrictions. The casino software developers have recognized the need to have their flagship games optimized for mobile devices and smartphones as at least half of customers now have these as their platform of choice. Shooters are likely to see this same trend play out, aided by the rapid development of the mobile device graphics performance and the rollout of faster bandwidth through 5G.

While it’s all well and good to get your shooter fix on mobile, it’s usually for when you’re on the go – on the bus, a lunch break at work, or zoning out of a family function. For dedicated gaming, you’re never going to be able to beat the sheer power and immersion of playing on a large screen.