Many people may think of gaming as a solitary activity, but that's simply not true. Starting with PC games and then with connected consoles, gaming has become a more social experience.
Think back to when you could plug four friends into your Nintendo 64, or when you played Doom in death match mode based on your friends' IP addresses. Nowadays, we have communities of friends, family, and fellow gamers that live within our Xbox 360s and PS3s.
Now, the spread of 4G/LTE is starting to bring the same social experience to mobile gaming.
As game theorist James Morrow suggested, it's sometimes that human social element that makes a game really compelling. A small example: When my family moved to California from Texas, my son was upset that he had to leave his best friend behind. So every evening, they would get online and play video games together. It was how they kept—and still keep—in touch.
Thanks to online gaming, they do the same thing they used to do in one room—but remotely. They have Bluetooth headsets for chatting, and they crack the same jokes that they used to crack in person. They text each other and text their friends, who join them online to play. They're never playing by themselves —it's the virtual equivalent of shooting hoops with friends.
Bigger examples of social games include World of Warcraft and Vendetta Online. I know someone who has been playing Vendetta for almost 10 years. His son plays the game; his grandson plays the game. There are communities built around it. That's a powerful impact for a game powered by a tiny team out of Milwaukee.
The first social games were powered by creaky, dial-up Internet connections. Today's sophisticated MMORPG's thrive thanks to players' speedy broadband links, which can make virtual meetings feel as vibrant as real-world interactions.
But that experience so far hasn't translated to mobile. 3G cellular connections can't handle the same levels of interactivity and low-latency gameplay that Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection can afford.
That's why mobile gaming has been more in the vein of turn-based experiences like Words With Friends and Draw Something. Slow connections speeds cause two big problems for mobile gamers:
1. Control responsiveness: Let's say you're flying a spaceship, and trying to shoot down an enemy ship. There's a lag between when you press the Fire button and when your laser cannon fires. Even if the lag is a millisecond, it can ruin the multiplayer gaming experience.
2. Opponent movement: There's another lag before your laser hits another player's ship and it blows up. The challenge with 3G, and even sometimes Wi-Fi, is that the other ship is flying faster than your network's ability to register your laser shots.In a perfect gaming scenario, both player's computers would be in perfect sync. But when your network lags, syncing your movements can be a challenge. Your enemy isn't where its supposed to be, and you're shooting at ghosts.
LTE has the potential to solve both of these latency issues—and to revolutionize mobile gaming much as high-speed Internet revolutionized console and PC gaming.
I've clocked my Nokia Lumia 900 at connection speeds as high as 25Mbits/second, which is faster than my Wi-Fi at home. At that speed, mobile devices can provide a latency-free experience on par with tethered console games. That means gamers can play genuinely interactive mobile games. Should we call these games "MMMORPGs" (mobile massively multiplayer online role playing games)?
Console gaming was revolutionized when connectivity features were added. And it wasn't because gamers were connecting to the web. It's because they were connecting to each other. LTE will do the same with mobile gaming.
That will help create an entirely new gaming experience. Interactive social games will no longer be tied to the living room; they'll become things you can easily pick up while waiting for the train or in line at the supermarket. As Spark contributor Ville Vesterinen explained, mobile gaming will allow for "snack-size gaming sessions—a minute here, a minute there." It's the ultimate social mobile experience.
We've already seen demos from developers who are doing really interesting things with the additional bandwidth that LTE provides. The revolution is going to happen very quickly—a year from now this article will be a curious anachronism from a bygone era.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.