· 8 min read

Will people play AAA games on mobile?

AAA games are coming to mobile. But will people actually play AAA games on smaller devices? Here’s what we know.

It’s been the highlight of the news: AAA console games are coming to mobile. After Apple’s announcement in September, premium games are making their way to iPhone 15, with some already released. We’ll now be able to play AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Resident Evil 4 (the remake), Death Stranding, and more on our pocket devices.

Is this the start of the AAA game era on mobile? Will we expect to see more high-end, hardcore games hitting the smaller screens? And will players actually play them? Here’s what we know.

Can mobile devices handle AAA games?

Yes, they can. But they’ll require a specific technical frame in order to work. Technology has always been getting better, more powerful, and, more importantly, smaller. Only 20 years ago, the CPU in your desktop PC would’ve been 1 GHz. Now, phones are twice that. It’s no different for the latest Apple phone.

“The iPhone 15 Pro is powered by Apple’s first 3-nanometer mobile chip, the A17 Pro. Apple says the A17 Pro marks its most significant GPU redesign ever, with 20% more power than last year’s A16. As a result, the iPhone 15 Pro is reportedly capable of high-end native gaming features like ray tracing, upscaling, and variable refresh rates—as well as HDR support.” – Rhys Elliot, Newzoo.

Even though the tech is advancing, there are still a lot of challenges to overcome when bringing AAA games to mobile.

The tech isn’t quite up to scratch

The device needs to be able to run the games. That means a CPU, GPU, processor, cooling system, RAM, storage, etc. All powerful enough to run high-end AAA games.

When we checked the iPhone’s 15’s tech in PassMark, we found that the CPU is about as good as the AMD Ryzen 5 1600 (which came out on Apr 11th, 2017). That’s the year Horizon Zero Dawn, Injustice 2 and Breath of the Wild came out. If we look at the specs alone, the new Apple chip is as good as a top-end (and, you know, still pretty decent) processor from six years ago. That said Jackie Thomas at IGN tested an early version of Resident Evil 4 on the iPhone 15, and the results weren’t too promising.

“I was recently invited to get some hands-on time with AAA games coming to iPhone, namely Death Stranding and Resident Evil 4. However, it’s clear that both of these games are either very early in the porting process, or they’re just not going to be that great of an experience on your phone.” – Jackie Thomas, IGN.

Overheating and battery life

Consoles and PCs have both experienced overheating problems in the past when running intensive games. To keep them cool and running, these devices are designed to be big and able to accommodate fans.

YouTube review

Even if the CPU of the latest phones can handle a top-end game, you won’t be able to hold the device if it gets as hot as a PC does. Players will need to get their hands on cooling devices built for phones to simply play the games on the go.

Gaming can also suck the battery life of devices in no time. YouTuber Ammar Ajjoub did a drain test while playing games, and found the phone drained after four hours of constant gaming. That actually isn’t too bad, considering that the average daily playtime for the adventure genre on PlayStation and Xbox was around 124 minutes in June (sourced from 2021).

The size of the games will be too big

You have a few different storage options for phones, usually: 64GB, 128GB, 512GB, and 1TB. If a game takes up between 40GB to 60GB, that already eats up a big percentage of your phone space. Players will be limited to how many games they can have on their phones at once. And, unlike consoles, where your only competition for space is mainly other games, you have other apps and forms of media on your phone) to compete with.

Players aren’t used to hardcore games on phones

The majority of mobile games tend to be quick, simple, and easy. That’s why the hyper-casual genre is so popular among the developers. You can play them on the go without having to dedicate too much of your attention.

AAA games are different – they’re built for dedicated gaming sessions, where you give yourself a few hours in the evening to play with your full attention. You can’t easily play Death Stranding while waiting in a queue at the bank. The exceptions are long commutes (like on a long train journey or flight). This is where devices like the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck are good alternatives – something with better controls, powerful tech, and a decent-sized screen. These devices give a much better experience over mobile.

For AAA games to work on mobile, players will need to change their idea of what a mobile game actually is.

Apple is trying to change the users’ view of mobile gaming

Apple is making a statement. By porting popular AAA titles, they’re proving that the tech is now up to scratch. But the question still remains: Will people be willing to compromise storage, battery, and finances to play AAA titles on their phones? Especially, if we consider that some of these games will still have that AAA price tag on them.

The key lies with the younger generation

When we look at overall stats, people do play on mobile more than they play on console. But we need to take into account how vast the mobile gaming audience is. If you look at more demanding games, people prefer to play those on console and PC, rather than mobile. It’s clear that the vast number of genres, and rise of casual games, are inflating the stats of mobile gaming.

Device type breakdown chart

For AAA games, the story is different. It’s the younger players that play on smaller, touchscreen devices. They’ve grown up with mobiles and are already playing games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Call of Duty on them.

Even back in 2010, we were seeing that the younger generation are far more willing to play on mobile devices. A 2010 Nielson study found that kids under the age of 13 opted for an iPad or iPod touch over gaming consoles. This lowered for teenagers, but mobile devices were still the top choice. Fast forward to 2022, mobile phones and tablets are still the highest for kids aged kids between 3 and 7.

This starts to shift to console when people hit 8 onwards, with console gaming taking the lead, tablet use going down, but mobile remaining a close second.

Device type demographic broken down by age groups

So why do players then shift to console? Perhaps it’s because the games aren’t available on touchscreen devices or because they aren’t good enough quality. Either way, players have no choice but to make the switch when they want to play more advanced titles.

But with better mobile hardware, that trend could change. By introducing new AAA games to mobile – and not just adaptations – there’s less reason for a player to make the switch (aside from wanting a larger screen). By bringing these more demanding games to mobile, Apple will prove that these games can run well, that the tech is up to scratch, and that they’re worth the money. This could change the perception around mobile gaming and open up a new market for developers.

It’ll take time to bring AAA games to mobile

With all these challenges, it’ll take a while for AAA games to truly take off on mobile. The shift in the mindset of premium games on mobile, the technology itself progressing, and even the marketing around these games – they all take time.

By making Assassin’s Creed Codename Jade exclusive to mobile, and porting some of the most successful AAA games to mobile, we’re at the beginning of a proof of concept. Players will be tempted to try out the new game on the smaller screens. We’ll have to wait and see if it meets their expectations.

Use data to perfect your game

It’s uncertain how things will progress over the next few years. But one thing is for sure: mobile gaming is expanding and evolving. According to Statista, in 2023, the mobile games market is projected to generate a revenue of $89.25bn worldwide. And it’s clear that more developers, publishers, and companies are trying to break into the mobile gaming market.

Data has always been crucial for a studio’s success. But considering how fast the industry is progressing, with new genres entering uncharted territories, it’s now more important than ever. Get in touch with our team to learn how data can help your studio.