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Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming

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With Sony and Nintendo's big Tokyo Game Show news come and gone, the internet is again filling up with hand-wringing over whether smartphones are going to take a bite out of the handheld market. In fact, this time around some people are starting to wonder whether the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 are the ringing of the death knell for the handheld market as we know it - with one source...colourfully...predicting the end of the 3DS in 2012.

The iPhone, Industrygamers points out, will soon be at par with the processing power of this generation handheld games; in fact, it should shortly overshadow the 3DS' number crunching abilities. With future iPhone iterations growing more powerful, how long before handheld systems are left lagging behind smartphones in a way similar to the tradition of home consoles lagging behind gaming computers? One way or the other, the new iPhone should be able to push some mighty fancy graphics and gaming environments, and with its massive install base won't it grow increasingly attractive to developers? And, don't forget, other hardware developers are hot on the iPhone's heels with gaming-ready smartphones and tablets of their own.

Sony is saying its new Vita system is not in competition with either the 3DS or smartphones. The 3DS, it argues, is priced to a different range of gamers and smartphones are gadgets first and consoles second - the inverse of the Vita. This should be read as typical corporate spin. Of course the 3DS and the Vita will be in competition; the former's dual-stick add-on, the latter's touch pad, and jockeying for games like Monster Hunter 4 all belie the idea that they're not in the same market. They may be targeting different demographics, or targeting the same audiences differently, but they will compete. Whether or not Sony really believes it is competing with iOS or Android is another question entirely, although Nintendo certainly believes it is going to be fighting a ground war against Apple.

However, as the folks at PC World point out, it strains credulity to think that Sony execs don't have smartphones on their radar. While the Vita (and, by extension, the 3DS) are both promoted as gaming machines - specialized devices for the gamers of the world - smartphones are wooing the casual and part-time gamer crowd. And isn't that the crowd that rained money on Nintendo and bought system after system by snapping up Wii fit and Brain Age, and then did it again for Microsoft with Kinect and games like Kinect Sports? There is certainly a core market of gamers out there, no doubt about that. But will that be enough to keep developers coming back to Sony and Nintendo when they can go to the machines that can do gaming and whatever else the consumers of the world are looking for? It's an easy question to ask, but to argue the point for a moment, when did the PC gaming market, with all those fabulous multi-function machines and their enormous user base, kill off the home console market?

At this point the dire prediction and nervous questions are just conjecture. The 3DS has struggled, which many have pointed to as an ominous portent for the future of handheld gaming consoles, but how much of that is attributable to smartphones, and how much of that is due to over-pricing and not enough quality titles? The 3DS' sales did jump after its price cut; however, analysts expect that, without a significant injection of AAA titles, the 3DS will sell only about 14.5 million units this fiscal year - shy of Nintendo's 16 million target. Not what Nintendo wanted, but hardly a repeat of the Virtual Boy fiasco. While all this has transpired, the buzz over the Vita has only intensified and developers are hopping right on Sony's handheld bandwagon. None of these things is evocative of an industry in imminent danger of collapse. Not all great news, but hardly the Atari apocalypse of the mid 1980s.

So these question marks will continue to circle around the handheld industry until enough dust has settled to see the terrain for what it is, to see if and how much smartphones and tablets are competing with handheld devices. In the interim, it seems that the attention paid to this arena is intensifying, as are the predictions of dire futures for the Vita and 3DS.

What do you think of the speculation going on in the press right now? This isn't the first time we've covered this issue, and our readers have left insightful comments about the issue before. Please do let us know what you think below.

6 Comments

For the past few years, many of my favorite games have been on handhelds. I know I'll never let them go. The DS and 3DS are two of my favorite things. Aside from my dog, those are what I'd grab if my house were burning down.

Personal loves aside, the 3DS advantage right now is that it can do something affordabley (moreso now than when I bought it) that nothing else can. It has true, effective 3D technology. You could just remake Ocarina if time for the Wii, but on the 3DS, it's more unique than it could ever be. The barrier of entry for development is lower (since the specs are lighter than something like the PS3), and you don't need to buy a new TV. So, all things considered, that will be it's biggest advantage.

The Vita, I fear, will be just another PSP. Nothing really going for it other than the Sony name.

ironmouse said:

One thing that worries me about Vita over 3DS, is that Vita will be region free. I do hope Nintendo can write region locking out of the firmware! Region locking has no place in today's market.
Other than that, I really like the 3DS and have no interest in the Vita (well only 1 game, persona 4).
I think the 3DS will do fine, especially towards the end of the year with Super Mario Land and Mario Kart coming out.
If they remove region locking altogether then it will make the system that much better!
(I'd be able to import games that haven't been released in my region or have no intention of being released in my region - Australia, like Devil Survivor Overclocked).

Dami said:

I want to keep my gaming consoles and phones separate, thanks. Just like my phone and mp3 player.
I mean what if the thing runs out of battery while you're playing? No-one can reach you. And with the rate these new smartphones seem to be breaking, you'll be screwed in no time.
It just... feels different to play something on a phone than to pick up your specifically-for-games bought system and enjoy yourself.
Dunno, I think there is a limit to how much games these "casual gamers" are going to want to play. They could, oh noes, ruin their image and appear nerdy! ...can't really see inside the heads of other people though so I wouldn't know. I for one feel ashamed if someone even thinks I play "casual" stuff, like Singstars or something. It's not bad to like them, I'm just sensitive about how I appear to other people...
Yeah I didn't have anything interesting to add. Just. My opinions.

See, I feel it's time for Nintendo's reign over the handheld market to be over and done with. They just recycle ideas/games and bring NOTHING new to the table. Glasses-free remakes in 3D? Yeah, no thanks. That's for A.D.D. adults/children. How about some new I.P.'s instead?

And the add-on analog stick? Very, very poor design flaw that should have been included to begin with...

I won't lie. I am excited about the PS Vita. From what I have seen already, it IS the future of handhelds and not just some quick remake money-making gimmick. It's new ideas with new technology. And that excites me...

ironmouse said:

@Kid Amnesiac - Gee thanks for calling me an A.D.D adult! LOL
The Zelda 3DS remake was actually very well made (I have played the original N64 version, but never finished it), and enjoyed it all the way through and finished it.
The other "non remake" I've played is Samurai Warriors which was a lot of fun to play (and I'm sure there will be some Samurai Warrior games on the Vita).
With regards to the addon analog - yea I'm not sure about it either, as I'm not really interested in Monster Hunter, nor the games that seem to support it (like MGS).
But I am looking forward to Mario Land and Mario Kart as they usually are fun.

In all the years that I've had a PSP, I've only enjoyed about 6 games (I think I got it in 2008, that's when the Slim came out). Otherwise its gathered dust. I haven't found any compelling or interesting games on the PSP otherwise. Same goes for Vita (except for Persona 4 - which is SHOCK HORROR a remake in a sense).

Riven said:

Admittedly the "one source" article doesn't really argue the points it should be, but it's right and the reaction from people to the guy himself are appaulling. The one's calling apple fan sheep seem to be far bigger sheep buying into anything they're told, completely incapable of seeing the flaws.
Handheld gaming has been the death of handheld gaming though, between the ds and psp there's been few games Ive genuinely enjoyed particularly on the PSP most of which would have made for far better experiences on a console. Your usually tied to a power point with it anyway for these story heavy titles and aren't handheld games but just games crammed into a handheld.
And really let's not get into saying how bad the Iphone batteries life is when your listening to music while playing a game and chatting to your mate, especially compared to the NDS and from everything Ive heard of 3ds's battery life being much worse.
Or how "unique" a split image 3d port of a game released over decade ago is, especially when a large number of old nintendo fans cannot use the feature without getting severe migranes in seconds, myself included, that is when you eventually get your head arms and hands in the right position to see it (such a portable feature it is).
Oh and yearly model updates? No nintendo have nothing remotely simalar do they, they'd never release a handheld then announce a redesign, successor, new color, new features model.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Riven on Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming: Admittedly the "one source" article doesn't really argue the points it should be, but it's right and the reaction from...

ironmouse on Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming: @Kid Amnesiac - Gee thanks for calling me an A.D.D adult! LOL The Zelda 3DS remake was actually very well...

Kid Amnesiac 1979 on Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming: See, I feel it's time for Nintendo's reign over the handheld market to be over and done with. They just...

Dami on Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming: I want to keep my gaming consoles and phones separate, thanks. Just like my phone and mp3 player. I mean...

ironmouse on Following TGS 2011, More Debate About The Future Of Handheld Gaming: One thing that worries me about Vita over 3DS, is that Vita will be region free. I do hope Nintendo...

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