The time has come. A new wave of portable gaming has arrived.
Nintendo’s hedged their bets on another gimmick (glasses-free 3D) atop their old gimmick (dual screens). Sony’s got their eyes on the horizon with the portable “Vita”. Additionally, Sony has dipped their toes in the smartphone market with the “Xperia Play” and announced two tablets in the “Sony S1″ and “Sony S2.” Finally, we have the newest rival in the portable market, Apple, with their iOS devices, including the iPod Touch, iPhone4, and iPad2 with the iPhone5 scheduled for September.
Who will win? What do we expect from the future of portable gaming? And what do we learn about ourselves along the way?
First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. As you guys are well aware, I’m a typical Nintendo nerd. However, between the region-locking of the device and the fact that it’s not out in Korea, I haven’t gotten one. Not that the software is that compelling thus far, but I do have a soft spot for Nintendogs and a hard one for Street Fighter.
So, have any of you actually gotten your grubbies on one of these, yet?
Regarding handhelds, I’ve learned a strong lesson from Nintendo: wait for the second-gen hardware. I got burned on the GBA and again on the DS, then finally got it right by waiting for a PSP 2000, although the improvements there were far smaller than with the Nintendo systems. What this means is that I’ll have additional time to see how it plays out, because I won’t be getting either a 3DS or a Vita anytime soon. When it does come time to choose which one to pick up first, it will depend on which one is the earliest to get a second generation, the library of games, the additional functionalities the system offers, and the price. I’d prefer not to pay more than $200 for either one.
Let it be noted that I’m not really interested in the 3DS for its 3D capabilities. I’m just excited that there’ll be a more powerful version of the DS, hopefully with a library that has as many gems as that of the DS.
As for who will win, well, I don’t really care. I didn’t care when it was Nintendo vs. Sega or when it was PS2 vs. Xbox vs. GameCube. I don’t care about who wins in the current gen of consoles and I don’t care about the new handheld war. I care about good games on well-done systems, so I follow them wherever they go, within the confines of not spending a ton of money on video games overall.
I only have a few expectations about the future of portable gaming: The systems will continue to get more powerful with more functionality and digital distribution will play an increasingly larger role.
I haven’t had the chance to use any iOS devices, but I could possibly be convinced to get one if the system and game library were sufficiently impressive compared to the second-gen 3DS and Vita.
Nintendo and Sony both lost massive ground in the portable market, and I’ve made tons of purchases on my iPhone. I hate that I have to use virtual controls most of the time, but are we seeing a sea change? It’s hard to beat ninety-nine cents. Electronic Arts sell most of their library for $4.99 and under…
Yeah, I definitely think that Apple’s app store is a disruptive force to traditional game companies, but I’m totally fine with it. Competition drives better systems and games. Cheaper app-type games force the traditional companies to be more innovative, to create deeper experiences that can’t be found in games like Angry Turds.
But there’s room for a whole spectrum of games, from the nibble-sized games like Angry Birds to the 70-hour old-school fun-but-weak-on-story games like Blue Dragon to the highly story-driven games like Heavy Rain. Competition in terms of an increasingly saturated game market means that the developers of shittier titles won’t stay in business to create additional shitty titles, ideally causing a natural separation of chaff and wheat. Perhaps that’s just a long-time gamer’s wish, though, and all this simply means that there will be an ever-increasing number of derp-fest games on the market.
I hear you on the pricing. $1 for a game is freaking sweet… the cheapest I usually see stuff on the PlayStation Store for the PSP is $4.
The iPhone is, literally, a game changer for the handheld market. Those one dollar games? They aren’t forcing traditional companies to create deeper experiences than Angry Birds; on the contrary, they’re demonstrating why competitors should adopt their formula. Those games are insanely inexpensive to create by comparison and turn a much greater profit, and unlike the shovelware of the DS era, are actually fun to play.
At this point, if I could have any of the handheld gaming systems both current and on the horizon, I’d take an iPhone 5; my only regret would be the lack of tactile controls. On that note, I’m interested to see if the Xperia focuses on App style games or tries to be another core gamer device like the PSP. Personally I think they should mimic Apple. There will always be an audience for the hardcore experience of the 3DS and Vita, but that audience will transition in time as more time-starved core gamers slip into casual trappings. Mobile App games are where it’s at right now.
I know I mention the dollar price point, but I don’t believe that’s a sustainable price point for gaming. Chaos Rings and Final Fantasy III both released at a $16 premium, but Square-Enix (and their Taito Corporation label) has a questionable “I’m-still-better-than-all-of-
you” chip on their shoulder.
Cooking Mama’s got a seven dollar price point AND in-app purchases for more recipes.
Regarding traditional companies, what I mean is that those companies will have to create games with even deeper experiences to continue to hold the attention of the hardcore gamers. Casual gamers will flock to whatever’s cheapest, most popular, most fun (at least in mass opinion), and can be played in the shortest bursts possible. The King’s Quest developers might as well shit out a Menu Quest game that consists entirely of options for “Win” and “Quit” with a few random ending graphics so it has replay value. You’re right, though: the percentage of hardcore gamers out of all gamers will continue to dwindle over time.
As you gentlemen are aware, my gaming time has dwindled due to lifestyle changes. I still play lots of games, but it’s more often in short bursts rather than my good, old-fashioned play-until-I-can’t-stay-awake gaming sessions of yesteryear. I realized recently that this was the first console generation other than convoluted 32/64-bit era where I didn’t, at some point, have all the major gaming consoles. Even that one wasn’t so much by choice but by the ridiculous price point of the 3DO and awful controller of the Atari Jaguar.
Portable gaming has been my primary source of interactive entertainment for the past seven or eight years, now. I haven’t so much as turned my Xbox 360 on in over a month. Even then, that was only so my daughter could play “Bomberman.”
The biggest hurdles for me to overcome in iOS gaming have been the lack of physical controls for input and the finite disk space. Virtual controls are often clumsy, and I just don’t find the joy in most usages of the accelerometer. Additionally, my meager 16 gigabytes of space just becomes full far too quickly. I hate shuffling apps around. Apple doesn’t really make it easy or intuitive for users. Without access to the file system, I have no way of backing up my save files. I shouldn’t have to jailbreak my phone just to make sure I don’t lose my Tower of Goo.
I think the path for “Hardcore Gamer’s” becoming “Casual Gamer’s” is a two-way street: many people whose first gaming experience is on a mobile platform with a casual game will begin to yearn for more deep and meaningful play experiences that are a little more ergonomically comfortable. These people may then end up buying PC games or going for an entire console.
I don’t know if this will be that gateway, sir. I honestly feel the App Store and gaming on the cheap has potential to be “disruptive technology” in the same way that the MP3 file format was for record companies. It may not be people getting things for free as Napster was in the past, but it’s pretty close. It’s hard to justify buying NBA Jam, for instance, on a disc for ten-to-fifty times the price depending on if there’s a sale or not. It’s harder yet when the iOS version is the only one with updated rosters.
There’s always going to be a niche market. People still buy vinyl albums, if you consider hipsters people, and that’s the thing. I know the limitations of this system pretty well. Yet, here I am considering picking up an iPad 2 that is way more expensive than the 3DS. Surveys have said the primary usage of these devices are games. Does the low price of gaming provide enough offset to justify the high purchase price and, often, subpar controls? I think it might.
The only thing stopping a purchase is that Apple obsoletes their products a little too quickly for my likes. If I get a 3DS, there’s a good chance it’ll be a purchase that will last me a good five years. If I buy an iPad, there’s a good chance I’ll be regretting it in six months. I am already dreading the release of the iPhone 5. I don’t care about the increased camera resolution or anything, but if games start getting released that are incompatible, I’ll start pulling my hair out… from my balls.
Apple has redefined the formula for mobile gaming; Nintendo’s stranglehold on this market has been forcibly relaxed. People now acknowledge the iPhone as not only a legitimate handheld gaming device, but a smart, inexpensive, and convenient one as well. Even when the 3DS’s price drops and the system finally gets some of those titles they’ve been promising, it’s never going to do nearly as well as the DS. The market has moved on for casual and core gamers alike, and I suspect that when the dust is settled you’ll be looking at disappointing lifelong sales for both Nintendo and Sony’s handhelds.
About the Author
|Fade to Slack is a founding member of Delta Attack, an American expatriate in South Korea, and a true believer in the legitimacy of mobile gaming.
Keep up with him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Fade2Slack so he can justify having a Twitter account.
Fade to Slack has written 308 posts on Delta Attack.