Welcome to the second post in my new series, “Point of Contention”, where no topic or issue is free from critique and examination. Today, let’s discuss the growing tension between the mobile platform and that of handheld gaming. I swear I am not the onsite vita/handheld guy, it just so happens that these topics and games have been on my mind recently.
First off, let me clarify that it would be incredibly narrow-sighted to claim that the market and industry are not changing. They most certainly are. Nintendo may wish to pretend it functions in a vacuum, but today handheld games exist in the same market sphere as iPhone and Android. The Vita is proof that at least Sony is entirely aware of the mindset changes in consumers, as it emulates the feel, design, and function of mobile. More people can say that video games, in a wide, engrossing sense of the term, are a part of their lives now than ever before. This sharp increase in players is perhaps larger than it was when the Wii exploded onto the wishlists of children everywhere.
However, and this is a BIG however, we must consider what this truly encompasses. Are the crowds of people casually playing quick throw away games for five minutes at a time while waiting in line truly equivalent “game enthusiasts” (a term I use in place of “gamers” which is a word I hate and never use) to the kids who sink 200+ hours into Pokemon? I really can’t recall ever pulling out my GameBoy or DS if I knew I only had five minutes to entertain myself, and I’ve had ever Nintendo handheld (sans the GameBoy Advance Micro and a few iterations of the DS). I would think that I’d be hard pressed to find many who ever did. It would seem, then, that the mobile platform has filled a space not really inhabited by anything prior, except perhaps the horde of flash minigames that entertained bored middle-schoolers. Truth be told, I almost never spend more than five minutes playing on my phone at a time. Neither does my fellow writer Inverseman. This is not time I would be otherwise using to play my 3DS or Vita. The games on those are longer, more compelling, and more worthy of my complete attention.
I should clarify, of course, that I do not mean to look down on mobile games. Not at all. I’ve found tremendous joy from the likes of Game Dev Story or Mr. Oops. What I mean to say is they exist on a different plane than do handheld games. The two do not truly compete in the way many seem to think. To make a better visualization of this, let’s make a comparison, shall we? To say that proprietary video games will die because of encroaching mobile gaming is like claiming that since YouTube was created, Hollywood must be losing money. It makes sense, considering that YouTube is free, available everywhere, and filled with often greater varieties of artistic expression. Yet Hollywood has made more money every year than the year before and the last ten years are no exception.
It’s hardly surprising, though. When do any of us make a decision between seeing a film in theaters and sitting at home watching online videos? The two serve drastically different purposes in our entertainment. Are mobile games truly that different? Did anyone ever really go a store and feel the need to decide between a 3DS and an iPhone? It’s incredibly doubtful.
The two can exist together without stepping on each others’ toes. I would argue that in some ways, the exchange has already proven positive. Consider how rife with shovelware the DS became over time. Look at the 3DS’s lineup. With a few exceptions, there seems to be a massive increase in overall quality of its titles. Perhaps this is because those smaller, simpler, shallower games have moved to mobile, charging two dollars instead of forty and fitting far more comfortably into the market.
With all this said, not enough time has passed for us to truly see what can happen when everyone has a game-ready device in their pocket. It’s possible I may be wrong. Maybe in five years the line between handheld and mobile will dissolve. But it is ultimately my guess that the longstanding tradition of handheld gaming will always exist in some form or another.