Mobile Gaming Will Never Defeat Console Gaming

By Adam Ma on July 11, 2011, 5:14PM EDT
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There's nothing better than opening up a newspaper these days to find some tech-analyst or financial adviser spouting out information regarding industry trends, as if playing Angry Birds once or twice provides them with enough insight to tell where all of these developers are going. It's astonishing in a way, because they always jump from one massive trend to another without any regard to how our beloved pastime seems to work. A few short years ago it was all about how Halo and Call of Duty were the only profitable games ever, and that investing in any kind of startup company outside of a AAA studio was a waste of time. Today it's all about mobile gaming, and how its selling power will leave anything that isn't on an iPhone, Android, or tablet smoldering in its wake.

It's funny because this sort of 'analysis' doesn't really happen in any other industry where years of trending, economics, and global resource trade are called upon to make an informed decision. But the gaming industry is new, fresh, and very similar to the movie industry so why not judge it based off some bare bones statistics? Just citing sales should be enough to showcase where gaming will go in the future, right? If only it were so easy, then perhaps Japanese game developers wouldn't be having such a hard time with consumers today.

The fact of the matter is, gaming trends are not easy to predict. When a developer chooses to absolutely saturate the market with a particular type of title, it's fair enough to call them out on it (in addition to watching the franchise die off), but to assert that one type of gaming will die simply due to projected sales is ridiculous. A nice case in point is how many analysts like to point out that more people own cell phones than consoles themselves, and how the ownership of cellular devices will come close to doubling itself over the next year (according to sales-analysis predictions).

It's impossible to predict who amongst these millions of people will find a game like Angry Birds or Plants vs Zombies attractive, in the same regard that it's impossible to assume that any one type of phone design will reign supreme over the next year. New plans may be drawn up, new models released on the market, but no one will assume that because something is released brand new from a familiar phone designer that it will be an instant smash hit. The same can be said regarding gaming, there's no way to know if these one-hit wonder developers will be able to replicate their success with anything aside from Angry Birds 2, especially amidst an environment heavily saturated with so many other games attempting to achieve the same kind of success, but ultimately fall short of glory. Even console gaming doesn't hold that kind of a guarantee, as is apparent from when Medal of Honor lost it's core player-base to the Call of Duty franchise several years back.

It's fair enough to say that most cellular owners will be investing in apps, and that many of those apps will become powerful revenue generators for a few lucky development groups out there. It's currently estimated that 552 millon smartphones have been sold worldwide with a prediction that 815 will be sold by the end of 2011, as opposed to consoles which boasts 183 million units sold since Dec 31st 2010 and a predicted 227 million by the end 2011. It's  important to consider that while Parks Assoicates (the provider of these figures) reports a slow decline in home console sales, these three systems currently investigated are the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3, all three of which are systems that have been around close to seven years now. There are quite frankly more compelling reasons to obtain a new cell phone once a year than there are to go out and buy another Xbox. Most service providers will even offer incentive to switch, which is a definite plus.

Understandable as it is to thin that with cell phones becoming so prevalent in todays society that app-based gaming will become more popular, but to speculate if mobile gaming will edge out consoles just shows a lack of understanding when it comes to the history of the industry. Cell phone games will never be able to replicate the kind of experience you can find in a console, the same way that movie theatres will always be relevant because they still have something to provide socially. It's nice to know that apps have a place in the world of gaming, especially for those who consider themselves to be 'casual gamers', but one new popular medium simply does not cancel out another.

Maybe it's because many of the best selling titles in gaming happen to be sequels that these analysts are coming across the industry incorrectly. When you watch a game like Black Ops become one of the greatest selling pieces of entertainment ever, it's hard not to look at something like Demon's Souls and consider it a failure. But keeping in mind that the target audience for these titles are radically different, you can begin to see how the definition of success and profit can be two very different things. Both casual gamers and journalists alike make the error of pitting any MMO's value against a title like World of Warcraft, a mistake that can often times be a marketing nightmare for some unfortunate developer. As cell phone games are really just another branch of the industry, isn't it safe to assume that they have a completely different target audience? Contrary to the advertisements I've seen, there's never been a point in my life where I've gone home and disregarded the Playstation or Xbox to sit on my couch and rock out on my cell phone. Hard to say I know anyone else who does that either, but maybe I'm just friends with the wrong people.

The only thing that will ever surpass the current generation of consoles is the next, and that's just the way it's always been. Technology has improved to the point where we can finally start experimenting with deeper levels of gameplay, various styles and sorts of gaming immersions, and naturally new mediums to experience it all on. It would be nice if some of the hype concerning apps would die down a bit though; it's an exciting new sector to watch grow but I think people are savvy enough to know that a portable game and a console one are two completely different sort of beasts. There's just no need for any sort of technological scare-mongering.

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