Lately (well, the past few years) there’s been talk (viral propaganda, speculation) about handheld gaming systems becoming a thing of the past as iPhones and Androids threaten to take over the multibillion dollar industry inside your pocket. The logic behind it is that people want one machine that does everything. I understand this logic and I completely agree with it. It would make life a lot easier, more comfortable, and thus more enjoyable to only carry around one “device” and still be able to do everything. I’m perfectly happy carrying my 3DS and my phone in the rare instance I might need them together, but there are certainly benefits to this “idea” for different types of people. So how is this going to happen? Is the best approach really adding games to phones? I don’t believe so.
Currently we have two different mainstream devices competing for our pocket with their bulky presence: smartphones and gaming systems. I miss the days when we could just call everything a Game Boy, but we have Sony involved now, and Nintendo has 3D graphics and multiple screens. Anyway, smartphones are apparently “threatening” the purpose of owning a gaming handheld, as they start to accumulate game libraries of their own. Meanwhile, game machines are expanding too, but they aren’t becoming phones. We’re getting new 3D graphics and new gameplay concepts, and game experiences are expanding as we get incredible new stories like 999, and wonderful massive adventures like Dragon Quest IX. Gaming handhelds have also started to add features like internet browsing and direct downloads. It would seem that both smartphones and gaming machines are starting to become like each other in their own ways, but where is this heading?
The media would like us to think that smartphones will be the ones emerging victorious, and they’ll grow wings and fly out of our assholes and soar through the skies, as dedicated gaming companies plunge into the depths of hell.
“Throw in the towel, Sony and Nintendo; it’s game over. “
Does this guy have a point; is he a visionary? He may well be, but before making any more dramatic statements, let’s all just take a deep breath and think about this for a second.
Game system have yet to become phones, and phones have yet to become gaming systems. Which one is easier to emulate? For phones, to “become” a gaming system they will need support from high profile developers. These developers will have to drop Nintendo and Sony to come and work for a platform that will sell their games for $2 to an audience conditioned for cheap flash ripoff games with funny noises and fart apps. If you think this is an attractive proposition for a dedicated game developer, you’re more mistaken than Steve Jobs was when he adopted a Vegan diet to cure his cancer.
The counter argument here is that smartphones already have a gaming market. Who needs Mario 3D Land when we have THIS? Who needs long games like Zelda and GTA? Nobody even finishes those! Apparently people would be content to only play short games made in 3 months, sold for 1.99. WHO exactly are we talking about here? From what I see, we have different groups when it comes to videogame purchases. The first group is happy to play Bejeweled all day and doesn’t care about traveling through forests in Xenoblade; Xenoblade is just some weird Japanese game with swords and kiddy stuff. They’ll play GTA at their friends house, run a few people over and make jokes. They don’t believe games can be stimulating, and get their sparks from other areas in life. Bejeweled and maybe a PS2 dancing game will be as far as their gaming dollar travels.
The other group are the existing gamers who love their DS and loved their Game Boys. Not every gamer plays on handhelds, but most do according to the 148 million DS owners. Games like Zelda, Pokemon, Dragon Quest, Mario Kart make up the majority of sales on DS, and the average gamer buys over 10 games a year. That’s $300 in software alone, compared to iPhone user Ethan and his solitary Chrismas Edition of the Angry Birds game he got last year. This group has the numbers, the money, the influence – this IS the gaming market and it has been for decades. Yay, we’re finally getting to the point of this article. My argument is that the BIGGER market should not be the ones who have to move. I might evacuate my house for a hurricane, but not for a cold draft. I don’t even need a fucking sweater.
Assuming Nintendo and Sony get GAME OVER, as CNET professionally put it, it’s going to leave a LOT of people in the dark. What does everyone expect to happen if we try and start up a new market on phones? Will Nintendo effortlessly make a brand new Zelda title that uses its innovative “multitouch” controls for revolutionary puzzles? Will Nintendo agree to sell it for five dollars and give Apple a cut? Will it be on Samsung phones? Will gamers buy a 500 dollar phone to do all these things at once and play butchered games? WHICH phone will you buy? Angry Birds will take the place of Pokemon and Super Mario Land as the platforms foundation, and flash clones will leave little breathing space for creative efforts.
Furthermore, we need the right hardware. Nintendo and Sony have been refining their button placements and input sensitivity for decades, and smartphones have a long way to go before they become something you can play a game on for more than an hour. Can we play a fighting game with the same buttons we text with? If we’re even going to get close to the quality of games on DS and PSP now, we need to build a phone designed for gaming comfort, and with buttons and options. How many versions and upgrades do we need to make this happen? Is this thing still a phone? No, it’s a fucking monstrosity with compromises leaking out of its asshole. However, if we DON’T go this route, then we’re not getting the same game experience we used to. 100 million gamers aren’t simultaneously going to stop liking games, in fact, demand for quality gaming experiences continues to grow. Playing an RPG on iPhone using the touch screen “button icons” to make selections is a tiring, miserable experience. A phone becoming a gaming system is a fucking disaster. It’s a pipedream that disappears when you even give it the slightest bit of thought.
Let’s turn this around now, and look at the other angle. The one nobody talks about. How does a gaming system become a phone? To me, this seems like a much EASIER transition. Insert a damn sim card and circuit board / antenna, and it’s DONE. Use your existing provider contract, get a new one, whatever. Game systems already have a microphone, speaker, even a bloody camera. It would add money to the purchase of the system, but surely it could be optional. Either get the phone version of 4DS, or the standalone if you already have a phone. Texting could be done with the touch screen. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a fucking disaster either and wouldn’t completely shit on one of the most creative inspirational industries in the world.
What would you prefer: a smart phone with dumb games, or smart games with a dumb phone? Or should they just stay separate?