If 2010’s gaming year could be summarised, it would definitely be labelled as the year of the motion controller. Nintendo might’ve sat on their thumbs for the entire duration of 2010, but Microsoft and Sony made the biggest push possible of their new motion tech.
This year though, Nintendo are leading the way when it comes to the next gaming revolution – the rebirth of handheld gaming.
Placing all its eggs in one basket, Nintendo aren’t just putting out a new handheld, they’re putting out a new glasses-free handheld that has caught the world’s attention and should ensure that, like its predecessors, the Nintendo 3DS sells to a wider audience than just sweaty unwashed gamers.
Likewise, Apple is building on its strengths as the dark horse of handheld gaming with more iPad and iPhone platforms enhancing their new massive hold on the industry.
Sony too aren’t being left out. With not one, but two potential new platforms arriving this year and next, the XPeria Play and the NGP should ensure that they can re-sell you a truckload of games all over again.
Last but not least, let’s not forget Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 and their recent golden handshake deal with Nokia, bringing two of the biggest companies on the planet together in an alliance that must have at least a few pert bottoms over at Apple and Google twitching uncomfortably.
Collecting the good, the bad and the downright ugly together, here are the ten reasons why a new portable gaming revolution are good for the games industry
1) New hardware, new sales, new game attach points. Every time a new console is announced, even if the console is sold at an initial loss the ground is healthily made up with the attachment of first-run games. After all, no one buys a new console without picking up a couple of titles for it – and even if hardware developers are generous enough to throw in something for free it’s usually something a wee bit naff (gone are the days when you’d get a Gameboy with the only killer app for it included in the box). This attach rate means that retail gets a boost, hardware and first party game companies get a boost and the consumer goes home with an empty wallet and a shiny new toy.
2) Selling the same thing all over again. Yes indeed, consumers moan and groan about a lack of innovation, or certain gaming IPs being flogged to death but each and every new handheld console will undoubtedly offer people the chance to re-purchase something they already own on another format. Like Tommy Lee Jones’ joke in “Men in Black” about having to buy the White Album all over again, it seems players are clamouring at the gates to pick up Zelda, Pilotwings, even Kid Icarus all over again for the 3DS.
Sony too are mining their back catalogue for release on the NGP and the Xperia smartphone, the latter playing host to a gigantic catalogue of old PS1 releases. Though it comes at the cost of innovation, recycling old titles is an extremely safe bet for any new hardware, particularly a portable console and particularly when sales are conducted entirely digitally.
3) Indies get a look in and indies innovate their socks off. Perhaps to a lesser extent with big budget consoles like the NGP and 3DS, but certainly with the rise and rise of smartphones as powerful gaming platforms, independent developers are often the darlings of the industry. More prone to take chances with something that would appear niche and of limited appeal, but often with a greater chance of making a relatively simple game idea a raging success. After all, who the hell could predict that a game that involved catapulting birds into pigs could end up being one of the biggest sellers of the past 10 years.
4) Pose value. Even hardened uber-cynical old farts like me can’t resist the lure of new kit for long. With each and every new gadget release there are those happy smiling souls who queue outside stores at midnight, hoping to be the first to carry home an expensive box full of gaming goodness. Press mania around any new hardware launch ensures that you cannot escape hearing about new kit, and feel that urgent twitch in your wallet to part with your hard earned in order to keep up with the cool kids. Even if your ego is the size of a gnat’s scrotum, you just know it’ll get a boost the first time you show off your new acquisition to your friends or family.
5) More power Igor! With newer smartphones and also Sony’s upcoming NGP, portable gaming is slowly shrugging off the notion that handheld consoles serve up a slimmed down diet gaming experience compared to under-the-telly consoles. Sony has stated that cross-conversion from PS3 to NGP is as easy as pie, and certainly with what’s being shown so far the NGP looks like it could give Apple’s iPhone more than a run for its money. Android games are also getting better, and even the 3DS seems to be dishing up some extremely nice looking games.
It does mean that handheld gaming will eventually evolve, and games will evolve into something other than the fairly lightweight experiences we’ve seen from the majority of games. Maybe the whole genre needs re-describing as “slouch-on-the-sofa-while-the-missus-watches-Eastenders” gaming.
6) Get yourself connected. More and more games are relying on a community base in order to succeed. Call of Duty would arguably be a lesser experience if it wasn’t for the game’s rock solid multiplayer modes. Recently, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit proved that a competitive community-led leaderboard and stats-tracking / challenge system could inject much-needed new life into a very tired old franchise. New smartphones and handheld gaming systems will undoubtedly mean that 3G or wi-fi gaming are included in more and more next-gen handheld titles. Good news for you social gadflys, excellent news for publishers and developers who will make a bundle out of all those lovely hidden extras they can flog you as DLC to enhance your multiplayer prowess.
7) Getting the controls right. The NGP has the finest set of handheld thumbsticks ever seen on a portable console, and also a couple of new tricks up its sleeve in the form of an innovative back-mounted touch surface and interactive multitouch screen.
The 3DS also heads down the analogue thumbstick route for the first time, complimenting the tried and tested stylus controls of the DS. Smartphones too are getting better, and Sony’s Xperia has proper tactile buttons to ensure that gamers don’t end up suffering at the hands of cludgy touch-screen control systems too often. Comfortable gaming means people will play for longer and be encouraged to play more. Good news if you’re in the business of selling games that are purpose built to provide a longer tail, particularly when it comes to extended lifecycles offered through DLC.
8) More platforms than you know what to do with. Publishers recognise the merits of producing big budget multiplatform games based on an already successful IP. Taking Assassin’s Creed as a recent example of a game that’s shifted over 6 million units worldwide since launch, Ubisoft has successfully ported the game in one form or another to as many current generation platforms as possible. For consumers of the next generation of handhelds, the attraction of being able to share content between, or enjoy similar gaming experiences between something you tuck in your pocket, and something you slob out in front of in the evening is too tempting to pass up. Even if a publisher or games giant has to farm out projects to a number of small teams, the potential return on that investment when you’re talking about a major IP has to be worth the risk surely?
9) Casual gamers. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, those lovely folk who call themselves ‘gamers’ because they’ve blatted their way through Angry Birds or Cut The Rope are more likely to be the biggest consumers of next generation handheld and smartphone games. Painting them with a broad brush, they may not be ready to spend crazy amounts on individual games but they are extremely likely to be the ones leading the charge when it comes to buying new hardware. They are also the ones that are more likely to be swayed by mainstream advertising than dyed-in-the-wool hardcore gamers who are more likely to rely on word of mouth or critical acclaim than a few mocked up bullshots shoved out in a prime time TV commercial. The big players in the industry know that casual gamers are like gold dust to a new platform’s success and though it may cause moans and groans of concern amongst those odd folk who call themselves ‘proper gamers’, casual investment in the industry and the ‘hobby’ has saved more studios than wankers who potentially only buy a couple of JRPGs a decade.
10) Hot off the press. New platforms often means that new dedicated websites and publications spring up around any news or reviews of new kit and games. If you’ve got the money and time to invest in sticking together a site based around a cheap server and CMS, you can potentially lead the charge when it comes to shoving out reviews and coverage of any new platforms. Be warned though, you have to be the early bird that gets the worm with this stuff because every Tom, Dick and Harriet who can shove together a blog will be in there doing exactly this. Be nice to developers and publishers, tap up PR companies and in general try and do something a little bit different and you might just accrue enough advertising revenue or referral sales to buy yourself a shiny new eggcup.