Why portable console gaming needs to go away

Are portable gaming consoles still relevant in a marketplace dominated by quick and easy casual games?

(Credit: Sony; CBSi)

Throw in the towel, Sony and Nintendo; it's game over. Portable console gaming no longer has a practical place in the current landscape of casual flick, drag and swipe games. There is no room for the 3DSes and Vitas of the world when all-in-one functionality is now more important than high-tech, gaming-focused mobile systems.

Current consumers are more concerned with brief sessions of stimulation than they are with playing a complex 25-hour RPG. Take it from me, I've played those games on a Nintendo DS and Sony PSP before. I know how great they are.

But gaming is a serious business, and if consumers are content with an iPhone for music, video and games, there is absolutely no practical need to carry around another bulky piece of hardware that is more than twice a smartphone's size and needs to be recharged after five hours of play time. The audience — or attention span — for hard-core mobile gaming may be shrinking.

Please don't read this like I'm saying smartphone and iPad games are better than those found on Nintendo and Sony's portables. They're not. They're just extremely accessible. Quite frankly, a lot of them are just plain awful. But that doesn't matter. There are enough affordable titles with flashy graphics and cute creatures to pacify anyone who's sitting in a waiting room for 25 minutes. Why would anyone carry around Brain Age if they can just play Sudoku for free on their iOS or Android device?

Though it's most likely due to a dearth of compelling titles and an audience not completely on-board with 3D on the go, Nintendo's 3DS has stumbled out of the gate. So what does Nintendo do to stop the bleeding? It slashes 32 per cent off the original price and announces a right analog stick attachment — another piece of plastic the mobile gamer must drag around. Whether or not a right analog stick is the cure for what ails the 3DS is a whole different story altogether.

At E3 2011 — and even more recently — I got some lengthy hands-on with the PlayStation Vita, the already-impressive next portable machine from Sony that is due out in December in Japan and February down under. There's no denying its massive 5-inch touchscreen and jaw-dropping graphics will make for the most powerful portable system ever, but its place in the American marketplace is quickly evaporating.

Sony may already be reading the writing on the wall. Beyond the lacklustre Xperia Play, the company has been pushing the PlayStation Suite and PlayStation Store brands quite heavily in recent weeks, well beyond platforms that are designed solely for gaming. First was PlayStation compatibility with the Sony Tablet S, and now it's been reported by Engadget that the company has been in talks with non-Sony entities about expanding the PlayStation Suite reach. Sounds to me that Sony might be preparing for a Vita-less future.

I consider myself a hardcore gamer. But when it comes to portable console gaming, I'm a dying breed. People don't want to carry around an extra device with them if they don't need to. It's not how we're being conditioned. Ask a 13-year-old if they would mind hauling around a separate device with its own proprietary charger and custom game cartridges. Then tell them it can't text or call anyone.

"But the iPad is an extra device". Sure it is. But it's also replacing the magazine, newspaper, comic book and game system you'd otherwise be backpacking around. All-in-one is the ultimate goal, and, try as they might, portable consoles just aren't cutting it.

It's not for a lack of effort, either; Netflix is already on the Nintendo 3DS in the US, and the company just announced Hulu Plus support there as well. A few months ago Sony told us the PS Vita will ship with Skype, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare apps, too. The problem is that the attractiveness of all-in-one functionality is anchored by mobile phone features. If that core element isn't present, all the other bells and whistles lose their lustre.

So what should Nintendo and Sony do? First, recognise the fact that portable gaming is evolving more rapidly than a portable console's development phase. Next, keep quiet about the misery that is playing core games without physical buttons and license out pre-existing software on universal platforms. It's not the most honourable of solutions, but at least money will be made without the gamble of producing hardware.

I'm willing to bet Nintendo would sell many more copies of Super Mario World on the App Store than it ever could in the 3DS Store.


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Luigu posted a comment   

@twenty3 And that's the last hurrah. Put Pokemon, the Mario franchise and other 'exclusive' titles onto a smartphone and portable gaming is immediately irrelevant. Sure, these devices will still be sold but at a fraction of the numbers that once made these companies great. If Nintendo did make every version of Mario ever made, available on iTunes they'd make disgusting amounts of money from the get go. And, ironically, they'd get it from people who already purchased these title on their catalogue of old devices/systems. I could think of half a dozen titles that I'd buy today despite already having them on the Wii, N64, SNES, archaic NES and DS.


DominicC posted a comment   

Make Vita a tablet style portable gaming device, So it runs on android, but plays Playstation vita games (downloading) PSP Go didn't work because it was ahead of its time, but now wifi is everywhere, and 4G is upon us, I don't see the need for disc in portable games anymore.

So that covers the casual gaming side of things, than the Vita tablet will need to be able to run PS3 games, so you and use cloud storage for game saves, install the ps3 games onto the vita, (not buying extra games, don't need to divide handhelds from the console market, thats the whole point of console games on handheld, instead focus on console game development)

So with this tablet, Sony can enter both casual and hardcore crowd, using the device as a casual mobile gaming platform, but have enough power behind it that it can run PS3 games. You are basically tapping into two market with one device.

Now onto pricing.........


ZhiH posted a comment   

The thing about the Vita is that it will be outshined in no time. Right now, Sony's bragging about dual analog sticks, their OLED screen, touch controls, location based interaction, and graphics.

But dual analog sticks are easy add-ons for smartphones. Sony's OLED screens are still beaten by Samsung's Super AMOLED HD. And smartphones definitely have touch control.

What about locations? Smartphones already have the capabilities. Developers just have to use them.

With smartphone SoCs slated for release late next year that have superior graphics capabilities than the PS Vita, plus higher resolution displays and greater investment in handheld gaming, smartphones will sport better graphics than the Vita too.

And it so happens that next generation smartphones support HD streaming too.

The idea behind the PS Vita is good. Without a doubt. But the thing is, it won't last for long. All the features that it has can easily be implemented by rival companies, should they want to, in smartphones.

The smartphone will most likely kill the Vita. Heck, it may even kill the PS3.


The_Anonymous posted a reply   

Smartphone games tend to be of low quality and last you a few minutes of game time before you delete them.
Portable hand held consoles last you hours of game time and are of higher quality.
In your dreams that smartphone games will kill off the PS3 anytime soon.


gregory.opera posted a comment   

I would honestly love to know where all these so-called experts are getting their information from, because I can tell you now, hardcore gamers will not be switching to smartphones for their primary gaming needs in the foreseeable future...

Immediately prior to this comment, I asked my eight-year-old son whether he prefers his smartphone or his Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable) for gaming and unsurprisingly, he told me he prefers his PSP (PlayStation Portable). Add to this myself, a thirty-year-old gamer, who also prefers gaming on a dedicated device.

As the owner of Sony Ericsson's Xperia PLAY ("PlayStation phone") - a smartphone with pretty respectable usage times by smartphone standards - I'd be lying if I said I didn't play games on my smartphone... I do.

But realistically, I mostly play games on my Xperia PLAY ("PlayStation phone") when I'm near an external power source, which completely defeats the purpose of using it as a replacement for my PSP (PlayStation Portable)...

At times, I have played games on my Xperia PLAY ("PlayStation phone") until it was flat and at best, I can get maybe four hours 'till the battery is flat... But then I can't use my Xperia PLAY ("PlayStation phone") for all its other functionality - GPS applications, multimedia (camera, music and video) applications, online services (e-mail and Internet) and you guessed it, telephone phone calls.

With my PSP (PlayStation Portable), I can get up to 6-ish hours of hardcore gameplay and then I have to charge it up, which takes a fair amount of time... But it's still not cutting into the primary purpose of my device - in the case of smartphones, telecommunications.

Will smartphones ever replace dedicated portable gaming consoles? Yes, but not until I am able to get 5 hours of gameplay out of the battery AND still be able t utilize all of the other functionality in my smartphone...

Until this time, dedicated portable gaming consoles - such as the upcoming Sony PlayStation Vita and dare I say it, Nintendo's (thus far) failed "3DS" will continue to have a relevant place in the portable gaming arena.


KeatonH posted a comment   

Nintendo's core philosophy is about creating the best possible environment for the most affordable price to play games that are much better than a smart phone on a system that is a quarter the price. You must have lots of money or you always get the best and latest smart phone for free with your job. Think about everyone else with **** phones and maybe a 3ds or vita is the way to go.


twenty3 posted a comment   

As long as Pokemon still exists, this article is completely nullified.


CameronS posted a reply   

Hell, as long as BUTTONS exist this article is nullified. There's no chance in hell that I would prefer smartphone gaming over the Vita I will buy on Day One - you simply can't replace that system's button layout with a touchscreen, and without those buttons, most games will be inferior. Imagine trying to play games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Resistance: Burning Skies on a smartphone. Not to mention the Vita's unique reartouch, that's being used so well for games like Escape Plan. Legacy games, too - I just tried out Crash Bandicoot on the Sony Tablet S the other day using its on-screen buttons, and it sucked. No dedicated portable gamer is going to give up handhelds for smartphone/tablet gaming, it's simply too limiting.


ChristopherM2 posted a comment   

Scientific calculators still exist, MP3/4 players still exist, video & point & shoot cameras still exist, they may all be on decline, but they still have their purposes & so will dedicated portable consoles. You don't want high quality, in-depth games on your mobile phone, it'll last only a couple of hours & your mobile has more important purposes.

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