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The Mobile-Handheld Battle Continues

Will the mobile market kill off consoles and handhelds? Recent trends suggest it's nowhere near that simple.

There's a certain part of the industry that believes mobile gaming is the future -- the only future; a future in which consoles and dedicated gaming handhelds will simply cease to be.

Since most people who make hyperbolic statements like this usually describe themselves as "evangelists" and thus should have their opinions taken with a very generous pinch of salt, they are at least right about one thing: the mobile sector has grown astronomically over the past few years, with highly successful iOS and Android games happily raking in considerably more money than releases for home consoles or PC, with income of millions per week not at all unusual to hear about.

A lot of this is due to the significantly greater number of mobile devices out there -- as popular as consoles and handhelds still are, their numbers don't even slightly compare to the number of iPhones and Android handsets in circulation, which means the potential audience for mobile games is considerably greater. Not only that, but the wider audience of mobile game players is considerably more receptive to the free-to-play model and, in some cases, ends up investing a lot more money in a mobile game over time than a console player would on a title they buy once for $40-60 and perhaps support later with a DLC pack or two.

Capcom's Smurfs' Village still provides "stable income," but the company has seen more success on 3DS and other dedicated platforms recently.

However, mobile isn't the solution to all ills -- particularly for traditionally core-focused gaming companies such as Capcom who, despite a few past hits such as Smurfs' Village, is finding it increasingly difficult to turn a respectable profit from mobile games and has been showing signs of strain in general recently. Smurfs' Village itself is still "providing stable income," according to Capcom's most recent financial results report, but its mobile titles on the whole "did not achieve the expected level of sales" -- an issue attributed to "a lack of major titles and the fierce competitive environment." Meanwhile, 3DS title Monster Hunter 4 shipped 2.8 million units in Japan since its release in September and was described as "an immediate success."

Those same critics of dedicated gaming platforms who believe smartphones and tablets are going to take over often point to Nintendo and question why the company isn't releasing, say, Mario games for iOS. Nintendo has steadfastly and continually reiterated its stance on this: it's not going to happen, and certainly not while the 3DS is performing so strongly, even as the Wii U continues to struggle. It's a position the company once again reinforced during its most recent financial results meeting, during which Tokyo-based analyst David Gibson reported via Twitter that the company had "no plans to release [its] own games on smart devices," but also that "Nintendo will use smartphones for promotion purposes."

It sounds, then, as if Nintendo is planning on relaxing its attitudes towards mobile a little, at least in America; speaking with CNET, Reggie Fils-Aime pondered how he could "give little tastes of content, little experiences that then drive the consumer back to my hardware environment" using smartphones. He didn't give any further details beyond noting that it's possible to access the Wii U's Miiverse service via smartphones and tablets, but reiterated that the company felt it was important to keep its iconic properties like Mario, Zelda and Pokémon exclusive to Nintendo platforms to "preserve [their] overall financial model." In other words, don't expect to be playing official Nintendo games on your smartphone any time soon, but we may well see more in the way of promotional apps in the near future -- or at least Miiverse being pushed a little harder.

Miiverse is a part of Nintendo's mobile strategy, but don't expect to be playing Mario on your iPhone any time soon.

Mobile's biggest problem is discoverability, and it's likely this that has contributed to both Capcom's ailing fortunes on mobile and Nintendo's continuing avoidance of smartphone and tablet platforms. In Capcom's case, its mobile games are lost amid the swathes of rival titles that flood the market every week -- that "fierce competitive environment" -- and consequently struggle to gain traction; Nintendo, meanwhile, would be in a difficult position were its games to come to mobile -- if they prove successful, that diminishes the importance of its dedicated hardware, but also they run the same risk as Capcom's titles of being lost amid all the noise of the various app stores.

There's gamers' attitudes to consider, too; although mobile is a big potential market, those who have grown up playing games on home computers and consoles are often a lot more resistant to things like touchscreen controls and free-to-play business models than those for whom iOS games are their first experience with gaming. Many mobile developers often make a point of boasting about "console-quality" graphics in games like Infinity Blade and Real Racing, but often the depth of gameplay just isn't comparable to games made for dedicated systems; meanwhile, strong sales of 3DS titles like Pokémon and Monster Hunter prove that there's still very much a place for portable gaming platforms that aren't phones or tablets in the market.

How about you? Can you see a future where your consoles and handhelds are replaced by phones and tablets? Do you see mobile gaming and core gaming as distinct, separate entities? Or should we stop putting it off and just let a "merger" happen between these aspects of gaming?

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