Adam's Rant: Are Handhelds The New Console War?

By Colin Tan on February 3, 2011, 8:14PM EDT
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Those of the 'old school' gaming generation remember the way things used to be. How every year or so Nintendo, Sony, Sega (and more) would announce a new console that was superior to the old one in every single way. It was a a time that was equally exciting and frustrating, one would have to go out and decide which major company was going to be worth dropping down a few hundred dollars on over and over again. But at the same time, you knew the developers were going to be working hard for your dollar because no one really wanted to purchase a system that had no real future, even if that 'future' was only going to be a few years long. However, things have changed and consoles are pushing for longer lifespans because, quite frankly, they can do a lot more than they used to. Not that the console conglomerates aren't pushing for our buck, because they are. Only on a different front that consumers may still be trying to wrap their heads around.

What exactly defines a handheld system? That's the struggle that we're working with as we push into this bold new era. For years Nintendo was able to define that for us regardless of any competition. One screen, two screens, touch screen, wifi, it really didn't matter what any generation of GameBoy featured, it sold. Sometimes just because it had unique colors, occasionally because it had a unique print on it. But now, Nintendo's wonder portable has some very real modern day competition. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is uncharted territory despite Nintendo's dominance in the sector, and with the major systems (Xbox, PS3, Wii) having found their niche on the market, it's the next logical place to fight over.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that consumers are so much more open to new technological concepts today. The iPhone, PSP, and DS are three very different systems yet are being openly compared to one another, each going for a completely different share of the market. It's interesting, because it means the risks being taken are going to be a lot (for lack of a better work) riskier. Kinect and Move respectively were fairly safe console additions in comparison to the 3DS or even this NGP. The average gamer not only expects that all of these new handheld consoles will be able to hold their own against the competition, but they also have to be solid enough to be a valid purchase. Much like gamers may look at the Wii for casual kids games but then to the PS3 for a more mature experience, if each of these consoles expects to fill a proper void, it must be solid enough to encourage customers to really want to own both. When a customer owns multiple products you know that they truly view each console as being 'stand alone'; that (in a sense) provides a strong enough core experience that not owning it would be like missing out entirely on what it has to offer.

That being said, it's interesting to note that while Sony, Nintendo and, arguably, Apple work to define exactly what makes a handheld gaming device, Microsoft has chosen to opt out of the fight entirely. It's almost as if they're waiting to see exactly which device the general public will accept more, and then plan their move accordingly from there. Or perhaps they're looking to sit this one out, content with focusing on their main console. Either way, there hasn't been a single word from Microsoft regarding any of this technology. Surprising, considering how the NGP looks to work hand in hand with the PS3, adding a whole new degree of functionality to the competition that the Xbox 360 lacks.

Either way, with these companies working hard to make the most prolific product on the market, it's pretty clear that gamers will have a lot to look forward to over the next year or so. With new buzz constantly shaping around these new handheld systems, it's pretty clear that the portable gaming market may be the new frontier for clever game design, cutting-edge graphics, and a sizeable amount of trash talk from all fanbases. If anything, it'll be a nice change from the typical conversation.

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