Gaming phones are back in style. At least, that’s what a few companies think. In the past few months, a handful of manufacturers have introduced phones which are primarily designed for playing games. And while the whole concept of such niche devices continues to remain a question mark, there are possibly more on the way. In spite of what you may think, however, this isn’t just a desperate attempt by these phone makers to enter the new fear-of-missing-out club spawned originally by the Razer Phone.
No, there are a couple of logical links which has led to this profound trend. The factor which has had the most critical impact on this shift is China’s smartphone market itself. You see, the majority of these new phones are from Chinese OEMs, and that’s no coincidence. Even Razer, which while is based out of the United States, has a significant share in regions like Hong Kong as far as gaming equipment is concerned.
So what about China’s smartphone market? In layman’s terms, you can say that the phone makers are basically running out of ideas. Why do they need new ideas you ask? It turns out, the biggest smartphone industry is on a decline. Analyst firm, Canalys’ most recent report revealed that the market faced its most substantial plummet since 2013 in the first quarter of 2018 as shipments fell by a staggering 21 percent to 91 million units.
To escape this slump, some of these phone makers turned to the country’s mobile gaming industry which unlike the smartphone world, has been on a consistent rise and is expected to soar even further. Valued at over $11 Billion, China’s mobile gaming market has surged by nearly 250% as per App Annie’s 2017 Retrospective report making it incredibly difficult to ignore. And with additions like PUBG, it’s forecasted to only get better from this point. After all, PUBG’s initial China-exclusive availability is no coincidence.
One of the key reasons behind this growth is China’s multiplayer games like Honor of Kings which is incidentally also the highest grossing mobile game of all time with over 200 million active players. Such titles are known to consume each and every phone resource in the least efficient way possible. Assuming players are unable to game on the go due to smartphone’s restrictions, a phone devised predominantly for gaming does make sense.
In addition to that, Tencent plays a critical role in this as well. The country’s most played titles are headed by Tencent, and it has consistently managed to report positive charts in part due to its rich community and WeChat integrations. Partnering with booming studios like BlueHole has allowed it to retain its dominance across the market. Last year, Tencent’s revenue reports revealed that its mobile game revenues had overshadowed its PC offerings. In 2018, the gap escalated further as the company’s mobile gaming ecosystem generated a yield of $3.4 billion as compared to $2.2 billion of PC titles. As a matter of fact, marketing materials for both the Black Shark and ZTE Nubia Red Magic showcase PUBG as the primary lure for gamers.
Phone makers, as a result, have resurrected the idea of a gaming phone and if early numbers are to be considered, their bet might just pay off. Xiaomi’s Black Shark has already clocked in over a million registrations so far. Incidentally, all of these have their own unique traits. The Razer Phone has a 120Hz display, the Black Shark looks like a black shark (well), and the ZTE Nubia Red Magic has a customizable LED strip on the rear. Even the OEMs like OnePlus, Oppo which are not building such phones have begun bundling software features for a more reliable gaming experience.
That sort of hints at the fact that these gaming phones have been in the works for awhile. Phone makers seem to have taken cues from forecasts for both the smartphone and mobile gaming market. Even though the whole idea of a gaming phone might sound like a niche one, that ‘niche’ still represents a hefty chunk of the share in China which sustains nearly 700 millions smartphone users. Of course, this also means gaming phones probably don’t have any appeal outside of China (and possibly, the US). Although, the Razer Phone and ZTE Nubia Red Magic both are available in the United States. Taiwanese giant, Asus is expected to launch one as well sometime later this year under its ROG brand.