May 5, 2021 - Technology

The inevitability of mobile gaming, like it or not

Illustration of a giant mobile phone casting a shadow over gaming controllers and a mouse and keyboard.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Activision Blizzard is going bigger than ever on mobile, declaring that the gaming giant behind "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" wants a mobile game for every one of its franchises.

Why it matters: Much as some PC and console gamers may grumble, mobile gaming exerts a gravitational pull that is tugging the rest of the gaming industry toward it.

  • "Mobile is the ultimate driver of reach, with almost 3 billion smartphones worldwide," Activision COO Daniel Alegre told investors.

Activision Blizzard is hiring hundreds more mobile developers and posting big player numbers:

  • "Call of Duty Mobile," released in 2019, seems to be the spark. It's reached 500 million downloads worldwide.

More company franchises are going to mobile: The Blizzard division's "Diablo" franchise in late 2021, then "a number of Warcraft mobile titles" and "several unannounced initiatives," Alegre said.

  • This supplements mobile division King, which released a "Crash Bandicoot" mobile spin-off in March to some 30 million downloads.

By the numbers: Activision Blizzard's "mobile and ancillary" revenue January–March of this year was $734 million, compared to $570 million in the same period in 2020.

  • Almost none of that came from the company's PC-centric division Blizzard, which is now commissioned to make premium games and mobile releases.

Between the lines: Mobile gaming is controversial among more hardcore PC and console gamers because of quality issues.

There's a gatekeeping issue, too, that often reveals a class and cultural divide between those for whom games have traditionally been made and the rest of the world.

  • Yet for many players worldwide, mobile is the only affordable way to play video games.
Photo of video game play in which a person riding a horse battles opponents
Credit: Blizzard

Flashback: At 2018's BlizzCon, Blizzard developers promoted the upcoming mobile-only game in the traditionally PC-based "Diablo" franchise, and the traditionally supportive crowd, who wanted a big-time sequel, booed.

  • "Do you guys not have phones?" an incredulous Blizzard developer replied.
  • Three years later, Blizzard promotes "Diablo Immortal" as one of three upcoming franchise releases, the others on PC and/or consoles.

The bottom line: It's not just Activision Blizzard.

  • Rival EA just completed its $2.1 billion purchase of Glu Mobile.
  • Microsoft has been expanding its Xbox offerings to mobile via streaming technology.
  • In April, Sony listed a job opening for a head of mobile.
  • And Nintendo recently announced another attempt at mobile success via a partnership with "Pokémon Go" maker Niantic.
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