There are a lot of mobile games on the market, and most of them are forgotten and not very good. Even experts will struggle to remember all of the high-quality and successful mobile games on the market. It feels as though something new takes the world by storm each month and then trickles down into a dedicated player base. And this is mostly good, keeping the industry competitive and sometimes trying new things.
And the mobile games market is exploding, and few sectors of entertainment are making more money, period. While more articles go into much more detail on the subject, last year mobile games brought in $93.2 billion in revenue. It only stands to reason that some of that revenue should be reinvested in the games. Not as much as in other industries for sure, but players do want a better experience over time, and better tech can lead to that better experience.
Whether it’s in graphics, net code, or something else, here are ten games that are not only pushing the mobile industry but tech in general forward:
One of the most popular games ever made and quite possibly the most popular game played today, especially among the younger crowd, Fortnite is its own category, with about 270 million monthly players overall. Most of these players use a console and another segment uses a PC to play, but mobile gamers make up about 8.7 percent of the total userbase. While that might not sound like a lot for most games, given the massive userbase the mobile player base still beats out the vast majority of other games.
And while Fortnite might not have originated as a mobile game, it certainly is one of the most popular mobile games available now. Due to the game’s massive success, Epic Games is now able to afford the best technology and hire a huge team to not only create nearly endless content for the game, but also new modes, new ideas, and better options for players. It might not be the most creative solution, but a lot can get done when you throw money at the problem and have a reputation to uphold. After all, there are
And how is it driving tech-forward? By its sheer scale and size, as well as the relative graphical fidelity. Fortnite runs far better on mobile devices than many would give it credit for. Large maps, even ones with cartoony graphics, require some power to work with. The game is an achievement in efficiency on mobile, whatever flaws it may have. Linking accounts is easy in the game, and overall it feels like a console game on your mobile device. It does need a lot of RAM to use and gaming phones will have the advantage, but this would be the case with any similar game.
Furthermore, there is the matter of handling so many players and the information needed to maintain a game going. Being a battle royale, the game has up to 100 people per match and needs to track them all. This is done server-side of course but getting all of that info to a phone is no small feat.
We expect Fortnite to keep pushing things forward for at least several years to come, being a constantly evolving game.
Another game that has been around for years and you almost certainly have heard about by this point if you don’t play it yourself, Pokémon Go took AR technology and put it at the forefront of the gaming space. That alone could put it on this list and keep it relevant today, as to this date there is no other AR game that can hope to compete, despite big brand name tries.
Pokémon Go has not been without its issues. Depending on your phone and location. Furthermore, the game nearly requires a local player base and some landmarks and areas to work off from to properly work. If you’re in the middle of the Midwest with corn and crops surrounding you, you might not have as much fun with it. Connection issues and other tech problems occasionally plague the game, but it still does a ton considering its concept.
It's meant to be played over a data plan, at least in part. It uses a ton of information about the world around you and creates something new over the town you live in. It tried something new and got people who weren’t into gaming, to go outside.
Pokémon Go also has the benefit of being huge and driving a great deal of revenue. Just because the game is not the biggest news topic currently doesn’t mean that the game still isn’t popular. It survived well despite the pandemic (the game changed a few things around to be more pandemic-friendly), and occasionally offers new features, campaigns, and multiplayer options. New Pokémon are regularly being released into the game, continuing to give players something to do.
Whether Pokémon Go continues to push things forward depends on how it implements social features in gaming and whether AR features and controls are improved as time goes on. Even if it doesn’t, the next big AR game will be standing on this game’s shoulders.
Another incredibly popular game that took the world by storm, Genshin Impact is. When it came out in 2020, it was downloaded more than 15 million times in just the first month. It has only gotten more downloads since then as more people get into mobile gaming and have heard about its success and quality.
In some ways, Genshin Impact was the perfect storm. It captured an audience during the pandemic when most people couldn’t go out as much. It looked great on any platform and had a striking art design. It was reminiscent of Breath of the Wild (an immensely popular title in its own right), was free to play, and had fun action and exploration-oriented gameplay. And it had a successful marketing campaign and got many popular content creators to try it out on at least one platform.
And while it might push many phones to their limits (complaints about overheating phones and graphical slowdowns have happened with the game), it won’t do this forever. It is also a far more action-oriented game than most mobile games and does seek to provide a great experience to users.
It should also be noted that Genshin Impact has gotten a great deal of criticism for its “gacha” monetization model in which players open packs or boxes to unlock and upgrade characters, but this is hardly away from the norm for mobile games. Genshin Impact just happens to be one of the most popular and successful games that use it. And for the most part, players can enjoy most of the game without spending a dime. The revenue speaks for itself, and the success of it will likely drive other developers and investors to try out this model, more than has already been done. That means more money into superior graphics and gameplay technology on mobile devices.
ARK is a game with an interesting history and background, and it probably isn’t the most popular title on this list by a long stretch. However, it is a somewhat successful port of a console online survival game (a genre unto itself) that looks great and still holds most of the magic of the original game.
What is ARK: Survival Evolved? It is a survival game of the type where you collect resources and try to protect yourself against hostiles, with one small twist. There are dinosaurs, saber-tooth tigers, and other creatures that you need to either contend with or eventually tame for your own purposes. It has a distinct feel for it, and the environment has made it so that it has a dedicated user base five years after launch. And in 2018, it came to mobile.
ARK: Survival Evolved on mobile will be a test for many onlookers, and will be a way for people to test whether these sorts of games can properly work in a mobile environment without sacrificing too much in the ways of graphics or features. There are differences between the game, but the draw distances are great and the dinosaurs that are the real stars of the game still look great. ARK is a step towards the lines between mobile and PC gaming, and hopefully to game continues to innovate enough to move us there faster.
Perhaps the first game to truly bring the battle royale genre into the forefront of popular gaming, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds might be one. It might have been a little imperfect at times, but it worked and it provided for some amazing times with friends or against strangers.
PUBG Mobile and other games like it live and die by how well they can keep servers running and make sure that games do not experience connection hiccups. And while the game hasn’t always been perfect in this regard, it does keep players active and the games are stable for players with a good connection.
In the United States, PUBG Mobile isn’t as popular as it used to be (though it still certainly has an audience). However, in Asian countries, it is still a supremely popular title and it still happens to be free, ensuring a regular stream of new and returning players to try out the game. Interestingly, there is also a version called PUBG Mobile Lite, which is meant for players with less powerful phones and features smaller map sizes and high FPS support. Under multiple versions and names, the game has cemented itself as a staple and will likely continue to optimize for various devices to reach a wide audience. That in itself is pushing technology forward.
Black Desert Online is one of the most popular MMORPGs on the market, if not in the United States then certainly in Korea (where it was developed). While originally coming out in 2015, it has remained relevant due to its great aesthetic, complex systems, and monetization model (it is free to play in some countries, buy to play in others).
The mobile version of the game came out in 2019 and it has been spectacularly successful. It still looks great on mobile (this is a trend among cutting-edge games), and it allows you to do what you want in the game. There are so many different systems at play it is one of those games where you feel you can live another life.
In general, the game pushes the limits of what a phone can accomplish, or at least it did so more on release. The game itself has a more robust and complex combat system than most games, and translating that to a mobile device is quite an accomplishment. Furthermore, any MMORPG that can run great on a mobile device is an accomplishment given the connections necessary to make it work. It is one of those games that might be worth trying out to understand how it works and how all the controls and methods translated to the mobile version. At the very least, we would recommend checking out its character creator, which is one of the best in all of gaming.
Another MMORPG that is worth talking about, RuneScape is perhaps the last game you might think of when it comes to pushing technological boundaries. After all, the game is decades old and has never been at the forefront of graphical prowess. It has been a slow-paced game that people enjoyed in school or enjoyed however they like. Based on its design it is extremely open-ended, and people loved that.
And for people who love nostalgia or for people who do not like the direction the original Runescape went, there is Old School RuneScape, which uses an older version of RuneScape for the base and has added content on top of that, with heavy player approval and involvement to the degree that it is more popular than the main game.
Yet how on earth is RuneScape pushing the boundaries? It is the very nature of the game. RuneScape might not be the most graphically intense game, but it is a huge game and it is a complex game if you go deeper into the mechanics and optimal play (though optimal play is hardly needed for enjoyment, you can literally just click rocks all day and find your zen). Furthermore, Runescape was a browser or PC client-based game for many years, and the transition of everything to a mobile port was not easy. A point and click or point and right click then option interface translates well to a touch screen setup, but there are still hiccups to deal with and limited screen space (a lot of Runescape is managing the interface).
On top of this, it is an MMORPG, with all that entails. This is a huge undertaking and proof that almost any game could work on mobile with the right technology and enough effort and creative thinking. There will be other MMORPGs that take up the mantle in terms of technology, but for now, it is wise to check up on what the mobile version of Runescape is doing every once in a while.
Call of Duty is one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, with many players playing games from the series and nothing else. It is part of many people’s lives, and yet sitting down with the console isn’t. Similarly, a new generation of gamers is often on the go or enjoys mobile games when they aren’t at home or in school (or realistically, while they are in school).
What does Call of Duty Mobile bring to the table? It brings a large and full experience to a mobile device and can constantly push the envelope (much like Fortnite) due to the immense backing behind it. It features both a multiplayer 5v5 mode and a 100-player battle royale which has become extremely popular. Featuring classic maps and characters, it’s what many Call of Duty fans would love to have with them as something to do on the side.
The game won’t bring the twitchy, precise controls and gameplay you might expect from a Call of Duty game otherwise, but it will provide a fun shooter experience that you can take anywhere with you. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t excel compared to other mobile games. Condensing the experience while still looking great is quite the accomplishment, and it doesn’t feel like many compromises were made in the development of the game.
Given the potential profits we’ve already seen from the game and similar ventures such as Fortnite, some version of Call of Duty Mobile is going to be around for a long time. In fact, it might be the main focus for some time, at least in terms of investment. Mainline Call of Duty fans might not be pleased with this, but Call of Duty Mobile will also likely be longer lasting than the annual mainline titles that come out each year, some to mixed reviews.
Racing games can be a great time, and you might be wondering whether there is a proper racing option for a mobile device. They’ve traditionally been the purview of consoles, PCs (for the more niche options), and arcade cabinets before then. And there have been plenty of casual racing games for mobile that were fun to play with people online quick.
Yet the market did ache for a realistic racing game, while the arcade and less realistic options were already covered. How can one bring the complexity of a car and driving conditions to a smartphone while still portraying it accurately? Thankfully, we have Real Racing 3. It is surprisingly quite an old game, released in 2013, but is regularly updated to stay competitive, and to this day has few if any real competitors on mobile.
It also has some interesting technology in the form of some of the best racing physics on the platform (not an easy thing). This makes races feel more real and the opponents more challenging in a great, fun way. It is developments such as this combined with easy controls that make it the perfect balance of a racing sim.
Real Racing 3 does its best to translate the racing sim experience to a mobile device, which is no small feat. Furthermore, it looks great while doing so. Racing games and sims especially have always pushed the envelope despite being a slightly niche game genre. It will be interesting to see if and how the game improves from here.
Next up is Shadowgun Legends, an FPS that came out in 2018 that still impresses to this day. Despite the game perhaps not being the most innovative thing to ever hit the app store in terms of gameplay, Shadowgun Legends does look great on mobile devices. Furthermore, it can run at 60 FPS, if running a bit hot on max settings at this frame rate. And frame rate is vital to shooters. It might not seem like it watching a simple video if you don’t have gaming experience, but the fluidity of motion is vital to the enjoyment of a shooter (and many other games).
The game itself is ambitious for a mobile game, and has quite a few main stories and side missions for a single-player experience, alongside multiple PvP modes to keep players going after that. There is plenty to do and plenty to experiment with. Players love the amount of customization, which we take notice of.
In truth, Shadowgun Legends is a stand-in for many titles that could have made this list. Many games seek to push the envelope in terms of technology or at least inefficient use of that technology. We have not yet reached the limit in terms of what gaming is capable of on a technical level. Games can still look nicer and more realistic. Resolutions and frame rates can still improve. If there’s one takeaway we want you to have, it's that smartphone hardware still has a long way to go.
While we’ve covered many of the biggest games pushing tech-forward, there’s no way we can cover it all. In truth, the tech of mobile games might move forward from a series of micro-advancements brought in by patches or innovations in indie games. And there are multiple solutions to most problems, if not equal solutions. The big picture is more important than any single game. Therefore, be on the lookout for the obvious and not so obvious improvements:
Mobile games might never be the games that impress us the most with their graphics or new technology, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a place in discussions about technology and that there isn’t a reason to keep pushing them forward. The line between mobile games and PC or console games is blurring, and the above games are some of the key reasons we can say that. We hope you’ve learned something today, or at least found something new to play. Keep playing and keep thinking, and look forward to whatever comes next out of the world of mobile games.