The NPD group recently released data that shows 63% of gaming done by children ages 2-17 is on mobile platforms. Consoles clocked in at around 60%, while PCs – which used to be the leading platform in 2013 – are around 47%. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter recently told gamesindustry that the console market has hit its peak in popularity, citing the overall lower sales figures for all three current consoles. He predicts smartphones, as well as set-top boxes, will become the new dominant platforms. Nintendo’s new console currently in development, codenamed NX, is rumored to be an amalgamation of a home console and a mobile platform. It seems that mobile is the future of video games, with the next generation of gamers raised on it, analysts predicting it, and current console manufacturers preparing for it. However, is this actually the case?
We should probably first look at the glaring contradiction to these predictions. The current generation of consoles are selling more quickly than the previous generation. The PlayStation 4 has sold 25.3 million units in a span of only one year, seven months, and two weeks. The PlayStation 2, which is currently the biggest selling console in history, barely reached 20 million units at two years and seven months. Meanwhile, Xbox One, which is currently “losing” the console race against the PlayStation 4, has sold 13 million units in the same amount of time. Its predecessor, the Xbox 360, didn’t sell 10 million units until two and a half years after its release. Both consoles are enjoying bigger sales than any previous generation. While it’s true that sales numbers will eventually deteriorate as everyone who wants a console eventually buys one, these number clearly show interest in these platforms. So how can mobile be the future with this evidence?
This is where I think the whole story isn’t being taken into consideration. The mobile market is currently filling a demand that had been left vacant for around 10 years. Back when I was young, arcades were in high demand. They were these huge cabinets with CRT monitors and proprietary controls that anyone could play as long as they had one or two quarters. One of the reasons why arcades were so successful was because they were so cheap. So those who wanted to play games but didn’t have a lot of money, such as children, had a way to do so. That’s what mobile gaming does now. It’s a cheap entryway for children to get into gaming. Games on phones cost a dollar or five or are completely free with optional microtransactions should you want to make your experience quicker. Arcades are actually partially guilty of this too. More quarters would give you more continues should you die.
Eventually though, arcades died as technology advanced and home consoles became more powerful. My generation moved on to focus on consoles like the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, which were offering new, longer, and more complex experiences. This left a void for more simpler and cheaper gaming experiences that mobile now occupies. However, when the upcoming generation grows older, who’s to say that they won’t leave the simpler gaming experience found on the mobile market for the complex ones found on consoles? My generation, which comprised of console and arcade gamers (among others), moved on to the next generations of consoles, as we can see from the sales numbers of the PS4 and X1.
It’s true that as time goes on, smartphones and tablets will become more advanced and bigger experiences will become possible. However, one thing needs to be understood. Sure, smartphones could reach a point where they are just as powerful as a console and can deliver a complex experience that in conjunction with a set-top box and a separate wireless controller can be experienced on the couch as well as on the go. However, at the rate the industry is going right now, no one seems to be interested in doing that. The mobile market is littered with games that you are meant to play for minutes at a time and are only available to play longer if you pay more money. This is on purpose. Not many developers are even trying to create more complex experiences. And why would they? Phones and tablets are made for convenience and simplicity, not complexity and technical prowess. It’s like that by design and to try to fit what works on a console on a phone or tablet is not only missing the point of the format but is also ignoring a market that had just been recently rediscovered.
So is mobile the future of gaming? Well, I think it’ll be part of it. At least I hope so. I don’t know if I would be a gamer if I didn’t have access to arcades, as they allowed me to try different types of games at a cheap price. I’m sure there are a lot of kids today who wouldn’t be into gaming as much if they didn’t have something as accessible and varied as mobile gaming to play. And the same can be said of the children of the future. Maybe people think mobile is the future of gaming because video games are still seen as a children’s’ pastime. They see that 63%, see it applies to children, and assume that’s the only demographic that matters. Of course that is a foolish assumption to make. Just like how it’s foolish to see the console sales numbers and assume that the console market is the only one that matters. Each have their strengths and appeal to different tastes and expectations. This isn’t Highlander; they can coexists. Or maybe the 90s will come back and arcades and virtual reality will dominate both consoles and mobile! We do have a bunch of different VR headsets coming soon!
Esteban Cuevas is an Associate Editor for Middle of Nowhere Gaming and does enjoy playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the first game he ever played, on his Kindle Fire. You can read his insequential brain farts on Twitter, longer insequential brain farts on his WordPress blog, and the occasional stream on his personal Twitch channel.