The mobile game is back this year. Here’s what that means for gaming in 2023

thanks for the Nintendo SwitchiPads, phones, Virtual reality headsetsAnd tons of New mobile gaming devicesI don’t play on my TV much anymore. In fact, the games seem to be located anywhere other than the large board hanging on the wall. Of course, that was the case before 2022. But thanks to the arrival of the Steam Deck and other mobile devices, it feels like something I’ve been waiting for years has finally happened: gaming technology is starting to Switchified. I dreamed that this would happen Back in 2017.

valve steam surface It was mobile’s biggest new arrival so far this year, and its popularity stands out on several fronts: As a gaming PC, it shows how programs are finally starting to become more fluid and portable, moving between screens in a way that felt long overdue. But also, as another avenue for game streaming services, it shows how gaming technology is starting to fall apart in strange ways.

The Nintendo Switch remains an old but powerful console. Mobile gaming seems to be starting to accelerate, thanks to cloud streaming apps, excellent game console cases, as well as advances from mobile chip manufacturers. Like Qualcomm And new game discs like Razer Edge. Similarly, Logitech JCloud Mobile, which has arrived recently, is another flavor of mobile: a kind of Android mobile device, but built to rely on game streaming.

And I didn’t even mention my favourite quirky indieThe Analog pocket And the Play date panicwhich helped me rediscover a lot of old games and a lot of indie beginners too.

Can we also consider VR headsets as mobile devices? No, not really, although future devices like the Pimax Portal do show some possibilities for mobile devices and VR to mesh in ways you might not have considered.

Here’s why it all matters.

handheld games cnet-2021-switch-oled-vs-steam-deck-vs-panic-playdate-vs-analogue-pocket-turquoise-purple

Nintendo Switch, Panic Playdate, Analogue Pocket, Steam Deck: all signs of the resurgence of handheld gaming.

Composite by Sarah Teo/CNET

Steam Deck: PCs can now be portable

Valve’s Steam Deck has done just that. The Steam-compatible portable gaming system seemed like an impossible dream before its launch, but the hardware already plays plenty of PC games well, and it’s proving to be one of gaming’s biggest surprises this year.

In doing so, Valve shows how other manufacturers can experiment, too: in fact, like corporations Dale And Razer is already, in a sense, through previous prototype experiences. Steam Deck lives on though, and now there’s no reason not to make more of it.

The Steam Deck’s easy sleep/wake functions and its TV dock make it feel as modular as the Switch, even if its controllers aren’t detached. It’s the flexibility of the Steam Deck operating system that shows a lot of promise. Running a wide variety of games or even apps, and being able to stream games gives it the possibilities we hoped the Nintendo Switch would one day gain. The Switch’s older processor limits what it can do, but the Steam Deck moves those ideas forward five years. Really, we already knew it from the phones in our pockets that are just as powerful as laptops, but gaming mobile devices can do a lot in being also complete devices to connect to a multi-platform world.

I’m really curious where Valve is going next: in particular, into VR. Valve has been in the virtual reality business for years, and is expected to make its own standalone “Deckard” virtual reality glasses in the near future. Could the new Steam Deck be compatible? It seems more than likely.

Logitech G Cloud lying on a wooden table with Xbox Cloud game thumbnails on screen

Logitech G Cloud emphasizes gaming streaming. More mobile devices will.

Laurie Groenen/CNET

Streaming machines: Games can live anywhere

In a sense, Logitech’s G Cloud and the Razer Edge tablet have a lot in common. CNET didn’t like the G Cloud, but the idea of ​​it — an Android tablet with controls and the ability to stream games — is like a customized version of what you can already do with a phone or tablet and a game controller. The Razer Edge feels like a more advanced version of a similar idea, building a modular tablet with controllers around a high-powered Qualcomm processor that’s capable of running games better, and running games too.

Both remind me of the promises made by the Nvidia Shield, a tablet that was ahead of its time and started playing with game streaming back in 2014.

Streaming games are finally here, whether in the cloud or locally from console to mobile devices. You may already be doing this with your phone or tablet. But among the emergence of very good gaming controller cases such as one backbone And the Razer Kishi And these kinds of specific standalone devices, it looks like mobile options can multiply.

Handheld Game Consoles for Analog Pocket and Playdate Panic

Analog pocket (left) and play date panic (right). These handhelds made me rediscover vintage and indie games, outside of the traditional app stores.

Scott Stein/CNET

Pocket Analog and Panic Playdate: The Rise of a New India

The old-fashioned Ultimate Analogue, Pocket, and Panic’s crank-powered Playdate are very different pieces of hardware. However, they both point to a similar trend in gaming. The Pocket plays original Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and even Sega Game Gear game cartridges (with adapter), and can run virtual hardware cores to recreate other game platforms. Panic Playdate has its own season of built-in indie games that beam to your handheld device over Wi-Fi once a week. However, both can also specifically load independent efforts made to run on these systems.

Game portals like itch.io have become my go-to places, checking to see what demo games people are making available to Pocket or Playdate. Indie game creators make amazing efforts for all kinds of platforms: you don’t need Playdate or Pocket for them. But these systems feel like vehicles ready to breathe more independent efforts into life, and they both feel like they live entirely outside the world of big game studios and hardware manufacturers. Maybe there is room for more experiments like this.

Oculus Quest 2 VR

The Quest 2 is standalone. It is likely that future VR and AR headsets will be compatible with mobile devices.

James Martin/CNET

Could VR and AR be the gateway to more?

Soon, the Pimax portal is an odd sign of how technology is being integrated. Pimax, a maker of VR headsets, makes Android mobile games similar to the Switch that can also dock into a VR headset, becoming a VR system that’s both portable and standalone. It’s a return to the “VR goggles” concepts of early phone-based devices like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream, but potentially in a more advanced and improved format. I haven’t tried the portal yet, but I’m really curious. It’s an idea I could see more companies trying, especially if it works better than the old limited-motion phone glasses.

Many virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses will begin to connect to phones and smaller, tablet-like processors: the Magic Leap 2 is built that way, and Qualcomm’s next wave of augmented reality glasses are designed to work with phones. Valve’s rumored standalone VR headset, Deckard, could do the same with future Steam Decks.

Perhaps Apple has similar plans in mind for how its VR headsets will work with its phones and iPads. As headsets get smaller, more like glasses, and rely on passthrough cameras and more of augmented reality, portable accessories like gaming systems seem like a natural fit.

Nintendo had the right idea by having the Switch controllers slide in and act like a motion-sensitive little magic wand…the future of mobile gaming may have been right in front of us all along.

Razer Edge 5G shown on a shaded purple background

Razer Edge, the 2023 device we’re expecting soon.

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Where that leads in 2023

We’re already really behind New Nintendo Switch, and it looks like Steam Deck is tied for a sequel (though probably not in 2023). We know that a new wave of virtual reality headsets is on the way, and that new phones and tablets are a constant gimmick. The success of Steam Deck, in particular, seems to be opening the door in ways that would affect both PC and game consoles. Steam Deck was announced back in mid-2021, which means competitors have had a long time to prepare. But I’m also excited to see where separate indie game consoles can really go: Pocket and Playdate show all sorts of ways mobile devices can survive beyond the traditional App Store portals. Cloud-connected gaming opens up new paths across devices, too. It’s time for any mobile device to be more aware and flexible in their gaming strategies, because all the pieces are there. Of course, the portable gaming system you’re most likely to use in 2023 is your phone, but expect more gaming hardware dedicated to pushing boundaries, too.

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