With ever falling sales of the once mighty handheld console, and the emergence of the now ubiquitous, do-everything smart-phone, have we unwittingly seen the demise of the stand alone games device? With Rovio Entertainment, creators of the mobile game ‘Angry Birds’, declaring yesterday that there games attract over 200 million connected monthly users, is it time for the handheld consol makers to throw in the towel?
With sources suggesting that sales of the PSP, and PS Vita have fallen by around 400,000 units from last year to this, and operating losses for Sony Gaming at a reported $45 million, and Nintendo admitting losses this year, the sale of smart phones are on the up and up. Even though 3DS sales seem to be on the rise, is this enough to rival the mounting number of casual smartphone gamers.
Perhaps the issue here is cost. Why, when you already pay a fortune every month for a handset, would you shell out another couple of hundred pounds for a separate device just for games? Not only this, the cost of a game for the PS Vita at launch is around the £40 mark, and for the 3DS, around £30. When you look at the android and iOS alternatives, its hard to discredit cost as a factor. The last game, infact, almost all my games and apps I have downloaded on my Android device haven’t cost a penny.
Giving away a game for free, and selling advertising space must prove quite a lucrative business model, especially when app downloads run into the millions. This is made possible on smartphones though their constant data connections; something a console is without. However, are the in-game adverts present on some free smart phone apps a little too intrusive, and take a little too much away from the game for them ever to rival there dedicated, but costly alternatives?
The main criticism of mobile games in general, be it on your phone or on the handheld, always seems to be the graphical limitations of the devises, compared to their much meatier, much more HD, (not to mention much more expensive), TV based counter parts. However, the latest generation of games for handhelds, especially the PS Vita, are hard to fault on this point. The small screen, and immersive game play more than make up for the lack of processing power in comparison to the bigger devices. But have mobile phones pulled off the same trick?
Much as the games on handheld consoles have evolved over the years, from simple side scrollers and 2D RPG’s, mobile games have pulled off a similar stunt; only where consoles took decades- thanks to the technology available today- mobile phone games have done it in a fraction of the time.
Take for example the recently released ‘Dead Trigger’. A decade ago, the game-play, graphics, and physics that Dead Trigger boasts were beyond the imaginings of mobile gamers, but now, here they are, on your phone. Not only that, it doesn’t cost you a penny. It’s not the only one of its kind out there either. With big names in the gaming business like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft throwing their considerable weight around the android market, it wouldn’t be a ridiculous assumption that mobile games are only to improve as these companies divert their efforts, while hand held consoles somewhat fall by the wayside.
Besides this, the likes of Angry Birds,TempleRun, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, and many, many more besides have proved it’s not all about the graphics, but the game play. It seems apps are successful not on how polished they are, or on how nice they look, but how addictive they become.
The latest in developments in the handheld console market, while innovative, seem a little gimmicky. The 3DS, as the name suggests, has managed to incorporate 3D technology, literally bringing a new dimension to the console, something which its smart phone counter-parts have yet to do in any meaningful way. The once fascinating touch screen the 3DS boasts, quite the novelty back in 2005 when its predecessor was launched, is now so common place amongst today’s technology, it hardly merits a mention.
Similarly, the PS Vita, Sony’s latest offering, has included a touch-panel behind the consoles screen, a decent enough idea, keeping fingers off the screen and improving game play, but is this really enough to convince people disinterested by its for-runners to rush out and buy one?
However, the consoles here almost definitely have the edge over the mobile phone market. Smudged touch screens and accelerometers may be making the best from the available tech, but stand up to a good old fashioned analogue stick and buttons, they do not.
Only time will tell where the mobile gaming world is really heading. It could take nothing more than a revolutionary game, or the allure of a shiny new console to start the slow fight back against mobile phone games, but as it stands at the moment, I fear the handheld console’s time has passed. Perhaps I’m wrong, and a casual gamer, hard-core gamer divide will emerge, and both formats can peacefully co-exist. Its impossible to tell. All that can be said, is the battle lines have been drawn, and people have already chosen their champion, whether they are aware of it or not.