Is Mobile Gaming big enough for Handhelds and Smart Phones?

Posted: October 20, 2011 by Tim Utley in Editorials
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This argument has been tossed around by many other writers and enthusiasts of Mobile gaming, but we have never touched on it here at TGA.  Is Mobile Gaming big enough for Handhelds and Smart Phones?  Or is one set to be edged out?  Mobile gaming has become so ubiquitous that it is almost impossible to determine whom your target demographic is or who is even playing, because everyone games mobile now.  You can step into restaurant and see little Jimmy and grandma playing Words with Friends while waiting for a table and now we think nothing of it; but they are not playing on a handheld, but rather a smart phone.

Is this the future?

Making phone calls and playing games used to be done on two separate devices; not any more.  The landscape of mobile gaming has changed drastically and with that change has lunged what used to be two distinct worlds into combat for mobile gaming supremacy.  Handheld consoles and cell phones (prior to the smart) were never held in the same esteem because they performed and fulfilled different functions.  One played your games while the other was used to call Mom for a ride home from the movies (unless you owned a N-Gage, which I hope you didn’t), but with your smart phone you can call Mom while playing a game.  Let that sink in a little bit because most of us never thought that our phones could accomplish a fraction of what they can do now in such a short amount of time.

It only feels like yesterday that I was playing Snake on my Nokia 3310’s monochrome display (Google it, it’s a dinosaur of a phone) or a trial version of Bejeweled on my Motorola Razr.  Now I can play and have access to thousands of games and apps with most of them being either free or sub $2.  The key to winning a battle is either knowing your enemy’s weakness or having an ace up your sleeve, and the ace for smart phones is affordable software.

A handheld console gamer would have to wait years (at least 5 plus) for software to be that cheap and still actually want to play it after all that time.  With most handheld software ringing to the tune of $40 (or in that vicinity) it is becoming increasingly difficult for publishers and retailers to move software of the shelves.

Nintendo 3DS, will people embrace it?

You would think that most, but not all pieces of $40 software for say the 3DS or to be PSVita would yield a longer more complete game and maybe even sport a long campaign with amazing production values, but that just isn’t the case anymore.  Most can derive such an experience from a $1 game from the App Store or Android Marketplace.  As much as it pains me to say, handheld consoles are losing ground quickly and have already lost it to some.

For instance look at the iOS exclusive game from Chair and Epic Games, Infinity Blade.  It has simple but hard to master controls, incredible replay value (still playing it months after release), and some of the best graphics I have ever seen in a mobile game bar none.  I paid $2.99 for it (price may vary).  That $2.99 got me the game on my iPhone and my iPad as well.  That kind of cross platform duality is almost unheard of in handheld gaming space sans some PSP/PS3 connectivity included in some titles.

All of this banter about how great smart phones are and how affordable the software is might lead some of you to think that I have lost all faith in handheld consoles.  You couldn’t be more wrong.  I still have faith because I think the fire has been lit under the proverbial Asses of Sony and Nintendo and they know things need to be done differently.  Handheld consoles are a cornerstone of gaming and will continue to be in one shape or another for as long as video games exist.  They just need to adapt and evolve to remain competitive (I know it is easier said than done, but here me out).

Round 2 for Sony, will things be different?

Nintendo and Sony both know and have proven (Nintendo more so) that handheld gaming is a viable business platform, but both have and continue to rely on expensive retail software as their main entrée.  They need to start thinking outside the conventional handheld framework to be competitive with smart phones and their respective software applications.  Nintendo has started to do such a thing with an overhauled E-Shop on the 3DS by offering classic titles for download.  This is a great start, but still not a competitive strategy that will win the battle.  Nintendo has the software, but needs to price it for people gaming on a budget (which most of us are).  If Angry Birds taught the gaming world anything (which was a lot) it is that volume can sometimes be more important than price.  I would go as far as to say that every 3DS owner would purchase a $1 NES Mario game, but maybe only 50% or less would purchase a 25 year old game at $5 dollars.  Sony’s foray into digital gaming hasn’t been flawless either, but the PSVita will have a much more robust PSN and Playstation Store backing it, so I have higher hopes for round 2 of Sony’s handheld conquest.  Also having 3G connectivity will be a huge plus for PSVita gamers because being able to download (20mb limit) and access multiplayer features outside of a WiFi hotspot will put it on par with current smart phone designs.

Mobile gaming is so vast and the amount of software available is mind-boggling.  Smart phones and handheld consoles offer both mobile gaming and other distinct features to gamers, but they have different philosophies on pricing and delivery.  I haven’t been completely swept away from handheld systems as I still think they are important to gaming, but smart phone software’s pricing and ease of use is hard to deny and even harder to ignore.  To answer the question of this article, I think Mobile gaming is big enough for both smart phones and handheld consoles, they just need to feed off each other as opposed to feeding on each other and things will be all right.

What do you think about the landscape of mobile gaming?  Does your opinion differ from mine or do we share similar sentiments about the industry?  Let us know in the comments section.  As always you can follow us on Twitter @GamersAbstract and like us on Facebook for more content.

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