There seems to be a common trend at the moment, publishers blaming poor sales on the poor console market and as a result, the arrival of apps on mobile devices. During the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, it was speculated that with the affordability and convenience of apps that the next few years would be the last of Sony's and Nintendo's little handhelds. This argument, when looked at in the right angle, brings about a hidden truth that apps have recently revealed. The reality is that apps have successfully highlighted and exploited the flaws of the gaming industry in our ever-changing culture.
When you think "apps" what comes to mind? For the daily gamer, "simple" may be the best descriptor. For instance, what more is Cut the Rope than positioning candy and swiping at its restraints to send it swinging into the jaws of cute, little Om Nom? While tablets and smartphones get more powerful every year, there are still limitations to what they can do. This brings up the point that bigger isn't always better. This is evident through consoles themselves now selling games from the early 80s and 90s digitally. The only difference is that Apps have the advantage of being new and cheap.
Pricing is another great advantage that apps hold over consoles. Their affordability has created the "impulsive buyer". This is someone who buys an app without giving it much thought. Most apps come at $.99 a pop. That's a low risk for the consumer with the possibility of great reward. Also, with updates and free content released regularly for the apps, it's almost impossible to not get your money's worth in content. Notch, creator of Minecraft, once commented that which each update and patch made to his game, sales immediately go up. When a company gives away content, it gains attention and, in turn, sales.
Going hand in hand with impulse buyers are the casual audiences. A casual gamer may not be able to tell you the difference between an Xbox and a Jack-in-the-Box, but they can sure tell you what Angry Birds is. Apps are saturating our TV screens like never before by having guest appearances on every other commercial and TV show. It's not too uncommon to have them in our modern day movies. And while not every person has a PS3, you'd better believe that they have a smartphone. Heck, half of America can't financially afford an iPhone, but they buy one for themselves and their mother. Combine this and media saturation, and you have thousands upon thousands of people buying an app simply because they saw it in a commercial with their favorite actor.
Phone and app companies have got it figured out. The casual audience is just as big, if not bigger, than the hardcore audience. All they had to do was make it appealing and look "normal". Who do you see playing apps on TV? You see children, businessmen, and sophisticated moms; everyone but "nerds". People may say they want to be "unique", but deep down, there's a stronger impulse to "fit in".
Have you ever wondered why games as different as Mario and Call of Duty still rack large amounts of dough? It's one word: specialization. Magazines have used this tactic for nearly a century. Find a group of individuals, loved or hated, see what makes them different, appeal to their uniqueness, and charge them for it. Basically, create a new genre. This does work well with console games, but apps have not focused quite as much on that concept. There is rarely a specifically targeted audience. As I said earlier, you see people of all ages and professions playing the same apps. This creates the mindset that in real life all ages play this app. Now consider each commercial for the past few console games. Did they have groups of all ages playing the game? With the exception of Nintendo's game, probably not. Those who market apps have noticed this and used it to their advantage.
While all of this talk of apps taking the profits seems bleak for consoles, there is still plenty of hope and opportunity for them to bounce back. One hurdle they must overcome is pricing. Why charge almost the same for a digital title as you do with it on disk? By selling digital you avoid many costs such as transportation and production of cases. If a physical game can have a price drop from $60 to $20 in one year, then there is little reason for digital games to be sold for the same price day one as the disc. Simply encourage digital pre-orders and reduce the number of physical units shipped to stores to maximize profits.
Another thing that console developers must come to terms with is that they are now becoming the specialized item at a greater level. They are for the hardcore gamer, the shooter, the fighter, and the story-driven man who desires a deep, lasting experience that can be found nowhere else. In short, they are not for average Joe and little Jimmy. They are you and me. The men and women who will wait in line at midnight to buy that newest copy of Call of Duty or the latest console bundle. They are that individual who will spend hours fighting the undead past 2 a.m. They are the ones who would rather risk $60 on a single game than on each and every one of Apples 50 Top Paid Apps. As long as console makers remember this and continue to specialize, they will press forward making excellent games just as they have for decades. There are just changes that they must embrace while retaining their identity.
Yes, the app stores have caused a headache for console makers by exploiting flaws; but it is not the end of the world. In fact, it is thanks to the smartphone market's competition that the gaming industry can learn from their mistakes. Lower the prices when you can, don't forget your target audience, and never stop innovating. Remove the ceiling of creativity and take chances like you use to. In the end, consoles will continue to be in our lives just as they have been for the past few decades; but now so will apps.