It's The Early-90s All Over Again With iOS Gaming

At the iPhone event held earlier this week in Cupertino, Calif., Apple showed off how the iPhone 4S could deliver a level of gaming that so far, has been unmatched in the mobile space. And developers, hoping to capitalize on the new technology, have already sounded off on how impressed and excited they are to start developing for the device.

Although just about everyone likes to talk about mobile gaming as the future, and the preferred way in which many smartphone owners are entertained, I can't help but look to the past, and consider how this time in mobile gaming reminds me so much of the early-1990s.

Nearly 20 years ago, the gaming industry was in an interesting place. A few companies, namely Nintendo and Sega, were continuing to try and innovate, and startup developers around the globe were offering some of the most cutting-edge (and addicting) games the world had ever seen. At the time, not everyone believed that the gaming industry would become the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today, and the vast majority of players couldn't have cared less.

Today, many of those people that didn't live through that generation look back at games on the Sega Genesis and SNES and laugh, wondering how we could have ever been entertained by those titles. But for those of us who lived through that period, it was a glorious time, and one that, every now and then, we wish we could have back.

[aquote]For most small, independent development houses, building a console game is simply too costly. But building boatloads of iOS games isn't[/aquote]

Today, with mobile gaming becoming increasingly important on iOS and Android, I'm seeing many similarities. The games available on these platforms can't quite match what we find on consoles or PCs, and yet, we don't care. The games are innovative, they're fun, and they appeal to both the hard-core segment and casual gamers, alike. What's more, the companies building the hardware to support the titles are working hard to push the envelope and give developers as much to work with as possible.

Sure, the devices are different, and the way in which we get the games is something that wasn't even considered back in the 1990s, but the basics are identical. For most small, independent development houses, building a console game is simply too costly. But building boatloads of iOS games isn't. And so, with such low barriers to entry, people around the globe are turning their unique ideas into reality. And in many cases, those unique ideas have become cult classics.

Looking ahead, there's no telling where the mobile-gaming space is headed. It could continue to explode, or it could fizzle out if developers find other opportunities elsewhere. But if I had to make a prediction, I'd say that the best is yet to come.

Over time, the games will become more sophisticated, they'll look better, and they'll cost more to make. And in the process, gamers will benefit — just as they did during the 1990s when the gaming business evolved from a niche, largely ignored industry into an entertainment powerhouse.