By Kevin Douglas Femmel
(Oct 24, 2011) — CNET posted an article a few days ago discussing how writer, Jeff Baker, thinks traditional portable gaming has no place in a future filled with finger swipes and Angry Birds. There has been much debate about this, and I am certainly going to throw in my two cents. I can understand why Baker thinks the future of handheld gaming will be filled with phones. More and more people are activating smartphones everyday and a fun casual game is at your fingertips at every moment. Millions of people are turning to $1 app store games to play Sudoku instead of paying $20 for Brain Age and carrying around a second device. After all, people have to carry around a phone since the phone has become a bare essential as much as carrying your ID with you. So, with more and more casual games gaining popularity on these emerging mobile platforms you wouldn’t be crazy to think that this could spell doom for Nintendo and Sony for their gaming handhelds.
Well, it doesn’t. And here are six reasons why not.
1. Parents don’t want their credit cards to be abused by their children
at the tap of a thumb.
A major problem that will pose to children consuming all these cheap games and apps is that they need a credit or debit card to do so. Unless they fancy taking a trip to their nearest Wal-Mart to buy an app store gift card, they will need to have a card on file on their phone to make purchases. Parents will never support this, and thus developers will see less and less money from that market. The ever growing Pokemon fan base is an example of a game that starts young and keeps fans into their older years.
Children start playing games as early as 4 or 5 and they shouldn’t be allowed to decide if they should spend $2 on Flight Control Clone #45. Kids are always bugging parents to buy them a new toy or video game, and while that may be annoying it can be controlled. A parent can afford to save money over time to treat the child to a $20-$40 game every few months, whereas allowing the child to make the buying decision can cost the parent even more as the kids are likely to rack up hundreds of dollars in shopping sprees that could ultimately cost the parent much more over time than buying 3 to 4 full priced games a year.
2. Nintendo’s and Sony’s exclusive IPs.
This is a major part of the evolving handheld gaming wars that people tend to ignore. Sure, casual consumers like Angry Birds. They love it because it provides hours upon hours of easy going entertainment. But they also love Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Uncharted, Ratchet, and God of War. Whenever the media talks about the impending doom of the Vita and the 3DS they forget about the thing the gaming public cares about. Games.
Nintendo and Sony simply have too many popular IPs with characters that the generic angry red bird can never hope to be as popular as. People look at Kratos and they know their getting an epic, violent, narrative driven experience. People see Ash’s hat and that red and white ball and know they are about to lose hundreds of hours catching all the Pokemon yet again. Consumers keep buying the latest portable Zeldas, Pokemons and God of Wars, so do we really think a few furious pigeons are going to change that? I don’t think so. As long as people are willing to shell out money for these games then Nintendo and Sony have nothing to worry about.
3. Cheap games are bad overall for gamers
I know this point in particular is controversial but I just don’t see a future for the kind of gaming I enjoy if I’m paying less than $5 for software. Game developers spend millions of dollars making portable games, the estimated budget of a 3DS title is between $1-$2 million. You will have a very hard to time making bank on a game that will only sell for the price of a big mac. Even if it sells a lot.
There are huge amounts of profits to walk away from as well. Sell 500k copies of your game on the iPhone for $5 each and you’ve made a terrific $2.5 million. If companies spend as much as they do now on PSP, DS and 3DS games that isn’t making much profit. Sell the same game for $40 each and net those same 500k customers and you’ve deposited $20 million into your bank account. More than enough to make a profit and begin work on your next game. As much as I enjoy getting good games for great prices, this can’t stay the same in a world full of iOS devices. Developers will logically reduce budgets and cut back. While there will be exceptions, a lot of great minds will have less time to make games and less money. Production values will not be near what they are on traditional handheld systems and you’ll be seeing no Uncharteds and very little Golden Sun games. I think it’s a bit unfair to assume the people who buy Socom and Ratchet & Clank will accept this drop in production value and simply buy Modern Combat or Castle of Magic as replacements for those franchises.
4. Some game genres just need buttons right now.
There really is no better way to play FPS games than with a KB+M or a game controller. While using virtual buttons to play NOVA was amusing, the game was considerably slower and the A.I. was tremendously stupid. This could be an issue with its design but if the game was harder or faster it wouldn’t work with touch screen buttons.
Virtual buttons can be unresponsive at any moment, and when you’re trying to nail that guy who keeps tea bagging you in the face with a sticky grenade you’re going to want real buttons. Same goes for fast paced fighters, like Super Smash Bros. Smash Bros will debut on the 3DS in a few years, the thought of trying to dodge and pull off specific moves with split second timing is already a task for those with speed and determination that isn’t exactly a walk in the park on a game controller. Using virtual buttons would literally break the game, rendering it unplayable or a shell of its former self.
5. Flash games didn’t kill PC gaming, and console gaming co-exists with
The idea that smartphone gaming will kill of traditional handheld gaming perplexes me when I think back about all the fuss that rose up when people said console gaming would kill PC gaming, or vice versa. The same goes for the girth of flash games on the internet. People felt they all threatened each other and that something had to give. Nothing changed. We just got more ways to play video games. All of these different platforms co-exist.
PC gaming couldn’t be any better with the rise of Steam making digital distribution the chosen method for PC gamers. Video game consoles have blossomed into an even bigger market than we ever thought they could. Between 2000 and 2011, the PS2/Xbox/GameCube sold just about 200 million units, whereas the 360/PS3/Wii have sold 180 million in five less years. Obviously this shouldn’t happen if PC gaming is getting even stronger with services like Steam and the flood of flash games people can play for free. All of these co-exist and even compliment each other in some ways. It boggles my mind why a lot of game industry insiders don’t see the very likely scenario that none of these platforms, iOS or Android, will have any bigger effect on traditional console, handheld, PC gaming than all these other supposed scenarios did. My bet is that smartphone gaming will continue to carve its niche part of the market and it will become an addition to the many devices you can already play games, rather than a replacement for existing ones.
6. Upgrading every few years.
One of the common complaints console gamers have about PC gaming is that it is too complicated to get a game they want to play to run on their computer, and that they don’t want to upgrade their computer every year or two to play the latest and greatest. With every update for iOS there are people who will inevitably be shut out with their possibly only 1-2 year old phone and will be forced to upgrade to play the most recent games on the most updated hardware. Sure, Nintendo and Sony redesign their hardware but they make sure that people aren’t losing out on much that effects gameplay and that users of older models can still play new games just as well.
Console gamers play on console because of the simplicity. They know that so long as their PS3s, 360s or Wii’s don’t brake or get stolen that they can likely play just about any game that releases for those platforms for the next 5-7 years. The PSP and DS will survive 7 years before they are obsolete. Your iPhone 3GS may not run a lot of the hot upcoming iOS 5 titles. These people, assuming they buy their smartphones for games, will have to pay $200- $300 every year to stay up to date when they could have spent $170-$250 once and been set for half a decade.
I can’t see the future, so I can only look to our past to get an idea of where we might be going. Yes, gaming on your cell phone has evolved more than we could have dreamed and it certainly is something to be concerned about if your Sony and Nintendo. Overall, I don’t see a future for gaming without some sort of dedicated gaming handheld that sports buttons and is customized to run games and run them well. It’s funny, the same things that kept the industry from having a huge shake up in the past and that kept other platforms alive and well in the face of competition are still hear and still holding ground in the light of an emerging market of gamers who play exclusively on their phones. I believe these markets can co-exist, and that they can all ultimately mature into huge markets that can stop holding knives to each others throats.