The video game industry is changing – rapidly. For better or worse things are changing and constantly becoming different. No video game stores and digital downloads only, as well as no pre-owned games, is a future many people are opposed to, but a future that seems inevitable. There is this tension surrounding video games at the moment. It's hard to describe what it is but with rumors spreading of the next gen consoles not being all they're cracked up to be and various companies struggling it would seem this could be classed as an oddly "dark time" for video games.
One part of the industry that has been struggling for a while now is handhelds. With the rise of smartphones it seems impossible for Nintendo and Sony to justify spending money on more of the once so popular portable gaming devices. I'm not going to lie, when Sony announced the Vita I was surprised. It seemed odd to want to put so much into a handheld console at this time. With Apps ruling the mobile world and with Tablet PC's fast becoming classed as the ultimate portable gaming device (to a certain extent) it seemed only inevitable the Vita would struggle.
One of the things you must do to really understand how and why handheld gaming is struggling so much is look at the path one of the more recent (in this case we'll use the 3Ds) consoles took. For instance the 3Ds struggled until, I think it's fair to say, the beginning of 2012. But why? What caused Nintendo so much grief? Well first of all lets look at the console itself. 3D was a big marketing factor and labeled as THE reason to buy the 3Ds. But with only 3D, some new games and an added thump stick, was it really worth the exceptionally high price tag? Of course more features were on offer but people only look at the bulk of what they're getting. If you're going to spend £250 you don't care so much about the small software and hardware changes compared to the big ones, do you? Thought not. And the big ones happened to be 3D, new games and a thump stick. Do those sound like features worthy of you trading in your current DS and forking out some extra money for? Maybe, and some people certainly did, after all within 2 days the 3Ds sold 371,326 units. But a lot of people did and still do feel that 3D is a fad. Scepticism is one thing that Nintendo failed to eradicate. Scepticism in what way? Well, we see 3D in films, and to be honest it's pretty damn unimpressive, so is glasses free 3D really going to be "super duper"? Maybe not. It was when it came out, in my opinion, but with the hefty price tag I don't think people were going to take a chance.
You get the picture with that then. But what else made the 3Ds's arrival not so amazing and awesome? This is the biggest one and one that affects all handheld consoles: Smartphones. You own one. I own one. He owns one. She owns one. That 8 year old over there owns one. Heck even my Nan owns one. They. Are. Everywhere. Unavoidable. Popular. Impossible for handheld consoles to deal with. The difference between the likes of the Vita and 3Ds are massive when compared to mobile gaming. First of all there are no "serious games" on phones. I mean look at Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, Deathworm and Plants Vs. Zombies; one tells the story of a group of birds who keep getting annoyed by some pigs, while another one demonstrates that the story of someone who has a crazy neighbour and keeps getting attacked by zombies is enough to carry a game. And it is. It IS enough to carry a game – a MOBILE game. Mobile games are played when you are waiting for a bus or a train, or when you need to kill 5 minutes. Originally that was what Handhelds were for, but nowadays, to many, they are thought of as more hardcore consoles.
On the Vita and 3Ds you get games that have real depth and story, that demand a lot of attention. But, most of all, games that cost between £30 and £40. Ouch. I can buy Cut the Rope for 66p or something silly. And it's just as, if not more, portable as well as being super fun. OUCH.
But if the games are different, and the platforms aren't the comparable, why are they competing? Well first of all they both tackle the portable/handheld market, making them instant foes. Second the audience. Like I stated above, everyone (well, nearly everyone) has at least a smartphone and whether you use Android or iOS or even Windows you can get the same core apps, like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds. These are popular because they are cheap (and in the case of Android even free) and fun and not serious. When you take into consideration how many people use their phones for games and how cheap the games are, the audience way out does what the 3Ds or Vita even nearly has. In other words, why pay between £130 – £250 as well as £30 – £40 for a 3Ds or Vita and games when you can get games that, albeit aren't as hardcore but still fun, for free or 66p on a device you already have and don't need to buy?
Tablet PC's offer web browsing, apps, all sorts of awesome stuff and let you play your favourite games on a bigger screen. I own one and more and more people are using them. They're good value and have many useful features. But to handhelds they're just another brick in a rather nasty wall.
More hardcore games and a high price tag is all that handhelds seem to offer that mobiles don't! With that in mind it seems impossible for handhelds, for the developers like Sony and Nintendo, to turn it around. And why should they? Mobile gaming is an enormous market with huge potential and, most of all, lots of money to be made. In fact when you look at gaming on the whole, whether t's PC, Xbox or Playstation, why should developers use these platforms when there is an entire market of mobile games to explore.
With all that said and done I don't think that Hardcore console and PC gaming is in danger (yet) but for handhelds the future is bleak – very bleak. I'm not a pessimistic person and I’m not trying to be but when you look at mobile gaming for some it's a phenomenon that is happening and can become more, while for others it's a disaster already taking it's toll.
What are your views? How do you feel about the topic discussed? Leave a comment and feedback below!
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