With the Nintendo 3DS on sale in March, and last week’s announcement of the Sony NGP, handheld gaming is in a stage of renewal. But does the rise in smartphones present the beginning of the end for handhelds?
In the past two weeks I’ve been addicted to a game. It’s not on my Xbox 360. It’s not on my long-neglected Nintendo DS, either. It’s on my iPhone 4.
Game Dev Story, in which you control the fortunes of your own games developer, cost me £2.39 and has captured my every idle moment. I play even as I walk between tube stops, and what began as quick five-minute sessions now last a lot longer.
In fact it’s a 1996 PC game that’s been given a new lease of life on mobiles, but that’s beside the point. It’s just one example why handheld games consoles are a greater luxury than ever.
Cheap, disposable fun
Games like Game Dev Story, or the sumptuous looking Infinity Blade, aren’t trying to re-write the manual on game making. But they are perfectly pitched to fill small pockets of time, and are cheap enough to be impulse purchases of little consequence. ‘I own a smartphone anyway,’ I reason. ‘Fun games are just an added bonus.’
The likes of the Nintendo 3DS and PSP, on the other hand, are more weighty commitments. At £200 or so the 3DS isn’t extortionately priced, but each game will cost around £30 to £35 as well. The next-generation Sony PSP (codenamed NGP), as yet not priced but feature-packed, will doubtless cost even more.
There’s no reason to suspect these handhelds won’t feature good games. But when a £2.39 game can prove so satisfying, why should anyone but the most ardent gamer invest heavily in anything else?
Victim of success
In this respect the Nintendo DS is a victim of its own success. It opened up portable gaming to the masses. It proved that short, simple and fun games had great allure for anyone.
Now the iPhone, but increasingly Android-based phones as well, have shown similar results on a smartphone at a fraction of the price. Adult ‘non-gamers’, the group that the DS so successfully tapped into, have already taken notice – as sales of Game Dev Story, Angry Birds, Doodle Jump and countless others demonstrate. Tablets are yet another competitor to consider, too.
Only hardcore gamers need apply
The rise of mobile gaming doesn’t mean handheld consoles will wither and die. However it seems they’ll increasingly become the preserve of hardcore gamers, and what we know about the Nintendo 3DS and Sony NGP supports this.
With the exception of Nintendogs and Cats, the majority of Nintendo 3DS launch titles have a ‘hardcore’ theme. Doubtless the younger gaming audience will lap it up too – 3D is a big selling point for them, as the cinema has proved. However safety concerns prevent children below the age of six from playing the 3DS, and the 3DS will hold little appeal for their parents.
As for the Sony NGP, like its predecessor it’s deliberately aimed at hardcore gamers. The original PSP wasn’t a runaway success like the Nintendo DS, so there’s little reason to suspect the NGP will buck that trend.
If further proof were needed, Sony is highly-tipped to announce a PlayStation Phone at Mobile World Congress – the mobile industry’s premier trade show – in two weeks’ time. If it does, it’s yet more evidence that handheld games consoles face a difficult future.