Gamers abandoning gaming handhelds

Apropos of the discussion taking place in the comments section of this article comes this timely report via Slashdot:

IndustryGamers reports on new research from Interpret, which shows that more and more people are turning to their phones for game time, leaving the DS and PSP behind. 43.8% of the phone/DS/PSP gaming market plays games on phones, which represents a significant 53.2% increase over the past year. At the same time, Interpret says that the proportion of those who play on the DS or PSP has fallen by 13%. The company notes, “Gamers appear to be defecting from their handheld gaming devices to phones to get their gaming kicks: a full 27.2% of consumers who indicate that they play games on their phones only (and not on the DS/PSP) actually own a DS or PSP, but do not actively use the device(s).”

Which isn’t really surprising when you think about it. Even a last-gen mobile phone like the iPhone 3GS packs more processing and graphics firepower, not to mention substantially more RAM, than any of the current mobile gaming offerings from both Nintendo and Sony. Only the Pandora handheld gaming unit comes close to matching the 3GS’ performance…and it doesn’t exactly boast a wide array of popular games that can be played on it.

Which is actually another key point here, by the way. It’s not just that modern smartphones boast better specs than their gaming-specific counterparts; it’s that they boast a wide range of really great games that people want to play. That’s true of both the Android and iOS ecosystems, and will soon be true for Windows Phone 7 as well.

So…anyone who’s been toying with getting Ultima titles up and running on various mobile phone platforms? Keep it up…you’re playing in the right sandbox.

8 Responses

  1. My experience has been that as physically similar as these two sorts of portable platforms sound like they should be on paper, they just aren’t in reality. I buy and play a million iOS games and play them in my free moments; a quick Scrabble move between phone calls, a level or two of Star Wars diner dash on the bus and so on… but that’s an entirely new niche–none of this is replacing my Gameboy or my PSP because they weren’t designed for on-the-fly gaming in the first place.

    Nintendo and Sony build their systems more and more portable but never with the goal of being omnipresent. The adult market was never carrying their Gameboys everywhere–they were on our night tables or accompanying us on plane rides and so on… and, by and large, use was determined by content instead of convenience (that is to say my DS is going to get an occasional Wing Commander Prophecy mission until the new Pokemon comes out and then it’ll be hours of gaming a day for a month–instead of working like my phone where I’m constantly looking for a fun distraction).

    I’m willing to bet that a bigger factor than smartphones in decreased sales and usage for Nintendo and Sony is the fact that we’re at the tail end of their product cycles. Six years in, everyone who wants one already has a DS and a PSP and has seen the software hit a wall. Measure this all again next year when we have the 3DS and the PSP2 and it may be a different story.

    (… if the PSP2 is still around this time next year.)

  2. There is that, though it’s worth noting that at least on the iOS side of things, games fall into two main categories: the casual and the involved. Scrabble and Clue are fun for a quick playthrough; The Sims 3 is both casual and longer-term in nature. Dungeon Hunter and other such RPGs are of a more involved nature; Infinity Blade will probably fall into the same category.

    So while I will grant the point that gaming handhelds are more niche in some respects, I’ll also point out that there are some game developers targeting smartphones who are pushing games that overlap with games that would fall into that niche.

    It will be interesting to see how the 3DS compares against all this, and the PSP2 if it ever arrives. The PlayStation Phone, if that materializes, will also be an interesting element to consider. Then again, by this time next year, Android-powered devices (at least) are going to be boasting dual-core processors (most likely); the iPad 2 will also be shipping in early 2011, and will probably boast some pretty hardcore specs.

  3. Infinitron says:

    I can’t think of a reason why smartphones won’t completely eliminate handhelds.
    My younger brother plays full-blown 3d shooters on his IPhone. They look like PC games from the early 2000’s, which is good enough on such a small screen.

    Actually, there is one reason: the controls. I wonder if it’s possible to make some kind of snap-on gaming control panel for a phone, or something similar.

  4. The controls are sometimes an issue, though I imagine that we’re likely to see a bit of evolution in that regard. I mean, I think one of the issues facing developers is that nobody really anticipated just how powerful — and how successful — smartphones would be as gaming platforms, and so some elements of smartphone game development are stuck in “catch up mode” (as it were).

    This is especially true, I think, now that Epic is putting the Unreal engine into the mobile arena, as iD Software has done with the Tech 5 engine. That’s a lot of mainline studio firepower being targeted at mobile devices; expect to see them put some brains on the controls issue and devise some newer, more effective systems in the next year or so.

  5. Dominus says:

    Still, iOS games are not comparable to some good DS games. Dungeon Hunter is just a dungeon crawler, you click and click, suddenly you are done with the game.
    Otoh Zelda on the DS (especially Phantom something) takes you a long time, makes you think and so on… To me all the games for iOS are casual to semi-casual and overall give the feeling that they are not very deep. That is probably mostly because no big publisher has yet released a game with a full development team behind it (I’m just guessing not really knowing).
    Infinity Blade might be different…

    I’D say rather from abandoning handhelds, gamers might become even more casual gamers…

  6. That’s maybe a better way to look at it, yeah…the shift toward casual games amongst mobile gamers. Although to be fair, that shift is being driven in part by the hardware on which the games are running.

    BanditLOAF was right, above, in that it will be interesting to revisit this issue in a year and see what the state of things is. I would be surprised if in a year’s time we hadn’t seen the emergence of more “long play” games on iOS and Android.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      That looks like a bad photoshop job. But there was a planned Ultima title for one mobile Nintendo platform…just not Ultima Underworld (that I am aware).