The Mobile-Handheld Battle Continues

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

News by Pete Davison, .

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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Comments 4

  • Avatar for bigdsweetz #1 bigdsweetz 4 years ago
    I don't think that people are resistant to change. I think that touch screens are cool but there are some serious handicaps that need to be overcome. First, when using a touch screen, I'm losing real estate. My fingers are in the way of the game play. It's cool if you have small hands, but I have hands like Shaq so playing on a Iphone sucks for me and using a tablet is too cumbersome. The other thing is that people keep saying that smart devices are going to kill consoles. Not going to happen. The reason is that Consoles focus on games and how to properly utilize them. Smart devices do not do this well. They do a good enough job, but not well enough to have say a Halo or and Uncharted created for it. Another thing that's an issue. I cannot for the life of me see myself pouring 50+ hours on something that I have to plug in every 4 hours to play. For the casual gamer this is going to be an issue as well. The better the graphics, the more it pulls on the processor and GPU, the more power your consuming, the faster your tablet dies. Once we get over those humps, then we can say that Smart Devices are going to rub out consoles. Until then, consoles are here to stay.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #2 CK20XX 4 years ago
    @bigdsweetz Agreed. Every time I've seen a platform that advertises "It only does everything!", it inevitably falls short in one or more crucial categories. For mobile devices, one of their biggest weakness has always been video games. Touch screen games just never work as well as controller based games. I think even Nintendo realized that after they made The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, which were not bad games by any means, but their touchscreen controls still felt badly shoehorned in at times and made one pine for a real controller.

    The sad reality is that the mobile market has been mainly a dumping ground for digital goods that feel more like toys than games, and often cheap dollar store toys at that. All the big developers that have tried to chase that audience have just learned that it's a fickle moving target and the customers there have no sense of loyalty. They're just looking for shiny things to be distracted by, not games to play.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #3 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    I am so glad Nintendo is sticking to their guns.
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 4 years ago
    Rob Fahey from your sister site, gameindustry, has touched on this multiple times: It’s wrong to consider the mobile market and the F2P business models as panaceas. They have been incredibly successful and will continue to grow, but they won’t absorb the entirety of the game industry because they aren’t fit for every type of game neither satisfy every type of user.

    I do think they have eroded the potential market for handhelds (I honestly don’t expect the 3DS neither the Vita to reach the level of success of their predecessors), the success of games like Animal Crossing and Pokemon X & Y proves there is still an audience for dedicated handhelds, and that market will continue for more years.
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