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Portable gaming: Is mobile the future?

09 февраля 2012

The gaming market has gone through a rapid transformation in the past three years. With the smartphone penetration rate climbing, users are increasingly turning to mobile apps to get their gaming fix instead of portable gaming titles for the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP.

Mobile analytics firm Flurry issued a report last fall, illustrating the changes in portable gaming software. In 2009, Nintendo DS titles claimed 70 percent of that market with Sony PSP titles claiming another 11 percent. Mobile games for iOS and Android combined only totaled 19 percent. By 2010, Nintendo's share had fallen to 57 percent, and Sony's share had fallen to an even smaller 9 percent. At the time, Flurry estimated that at the end of 2011 Android and iOS would have taken control of 58 percent of the entire portable gaming software market, leaving Nintendo with a 36 percent share and Sony with only 6 percent.

While Sony's handheld gaming console, the PlayStation portable, is newer to the market, Nintendo DS' predecessor, the Gameboy, premiered in 1989. Nintendo's history and large collection of titles and characters unique to its franchise have made it the best selling handheld game console to date and the second most popular video game console overall, trailing only the PlayStation 2, as of December 2011.

The Nintendo and Sony franchises are clearly popular in their own right, but their overall market share in the portable gaming market is shrinking. Both companies design consoles as well as games, and have thus far avoided moving into the mobile space. After all, designing games for the Android Market or Apple App Store would disincent users from purchasing their console devices.

But will they be able to ignore the mobile market forever?

Differences in hardware

First, it is important to note that the types of games playable on a portable gaming device versus a mobile handset vary. While some titles are available for both types of systems, the majority of games fit one system type better than the other. Mobile titles for smartphones, for instance, can incorporate geolocation data, use 3G or 4G services and use the phone's camera, depending on the device's API.

And most handheld consoles currently do not come with wireless plans, though some of them are able to use Wi-Fi to access online content. Nintendo's DSi and DSi XL have cameras, but the DS and DS Lite do not, nor does the PSP. 

But the lines bisecting the portable gaming market and the mobile gaming market are blurring. Consider the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play phone, which sports standard PlayStation controls and plays PlayStation Suite titles. On the other side, there's the PSP's successor, the PlayStation Vita, which comes to market in the United States Feb. 22. The gadget has two cameras, supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can come with or without support for 3G. 

With the PlayStation Vita emulating characteristics of mobile phones and the Xperia Play adopting characteristics of traditional portable consoles, it seems that gaming vendors are aware that they will both need to adapt to succeed in the market.

"Some of the market is moving to a smartphone ecosystem and that's taking a lot of adults and kids out of the market for Nintendo's handhelds," said Rob Enderle, principal of the Enderle Group, in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "The time for a standalone system is clearly on a waning path."

However, NPD analyst David Riley does not think that traditional gaming companies should worry. "It is not as if gamers are gravitating away from the Nintendo DS and PSP. That's not the case. They're sort of complimenting each other in away," he said in an interview with FierceMobileContent. Riley said he expects the two markets--portable gaming and smartphone and tablet gaming--to continue in parallel. 

Gaming audiences vary

Nintendo has repeatedly said it doesn't intend to bring its vast gaming portfolio to the mobile gaming space, and that it instead plans to keep its games--from Super Mario Bros. to Zelda--on its own hardware. Last year, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told Japanese news-outlet Nikkei "If we did this [bring our games to mobile], Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It's the duty of management to make use of those strengths. It's probably the correct decision in the sense that the moment we started to release games on smartphones we'd make profits. However, I believe my responsibility is not to short term profits, but to Nintendo's mid and long term competitive strength."

Nintendo declined to comment or answer questions for this article.

But it's likely that both Nintendo and Sony are losing market share and revenues to the mobile gaming space. Combined revenue for Nintendo and Sony was $2.2 billion in 2009, $1.6 billion in 2010 and $1.4 billion in 2011.

What the portable gaming market needs is a cheaper gaming option that can go head-to-head with mobile gaming. Currently, the most successful games in mobile follow the freemium model, that is, they're free to download and have premium incentives that users can purchase as the game progresses. Most users will never pay for such ad-ons, but the percentage who do can spend enough for the game developers to make a profit. And paid mobile games are rarely more expensive than a few dollars.

Portable console devices, on the other hand, attract hardcore gamers who already know the types of titles they are interested in playing. The companies making games for these devices--games typically cost as much as $40--are established and have portfolios of trademarked characters that users expect a certain level of quality from. An unknown developer in the mobile market does not have the same kind of credibility--meaning he or she cannot charge the same amount outright for gaming content.

Jan Vocke, a partner at Cartagena Capital, does not see the market for portable consoles disappearing anytime soon.

"My gut feeling would be hardcore gamers will always spend money on boxes," he said, referring to the various box-shaped consoles from Sony and Nintendo.

Multi-platform gaming 

Game publishers know this and accordingly design titles for both markets. All of the big players who design games for portable consoles--Atarti, Sega, Rockstar Games, Activision, etc--also design titles for mobile. Electronic Arts, for instance, created a version of The Sims for both portable and mobile platforms. The Sims 3 for Nintendo DS averages $30, while The Sims FreePlay for Apple iOS devices is free (though in-game ad-ons cost money). 

The Sims, however, is a simple game that does not require advanced graphics or need to use any advanced capabilities on either device. Traditionally, the games that fare well on mobile are simple games that can be played for short bursts of time, such as on a subway or in a waiting room.

Vocke said that "Physics puzzle games are very successful on mobile." He added that simple yet addictive titles like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds would not be as fun to play on a portable console.

Typically, portable console games revolve around a longer, more complex story and usually these devices have a longer battery life. After all, games for most portable gaming devices like the Sony PSP cost upwards of $40.

Interestingly, some high-end, expensive games are making their way to the mobile realm. Consider Namco Bandai Games, formerly only a developer of games for consoles, which recently introduced SoulCalibur to iOS. The SoulCalibur franchise of games was previously only available for consoles, including the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft's XBox 360. On mobile, the title is currently $11.99, discounted from $14.99. It's pricey for a mobile title, where most games cost 99 cents, but the game promises HD graphics and rich gameplay.

If SoulCalibur ends up lucrative despite its hefty price tag, there could be a future for Sony and Nintendo in mobile, as well.

Источник: FierceMobileContent

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