The entire mobile gaming industry is something that big-box developers and hardcore gamers would probably rather just ignore. When games like Angry Birds hit the market, they seem innocuous and cute at first, but when they turn around and sell half a billion copies, the gaming industry finally listens. Unfortunately for hardware developers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, the mobile gaming industry is just starting to hit its stride, which means that there's very little chance of it fizzling any time soon. In fact, many industry analysts are predicting a gigantic boom in the very near future, which should make any company that targets casual gamers, a la Nintendo's, extremely nervous.
But for some reason, Nintendo in particular has chosen to disregard the industry entirely, even though it's heavily encroaching on their portable console market. The President of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, is famous for contemptuously brushing off the notion that his company would ever go into the mobile gaming market even in the face of plummeting profits and investor frustration. "This is absolutely not under consideration," he said during a recent press conference. "If we did this, 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."
In the recent past, Iwata would have probably been right. But at some point, he's going to have to stop worrying about whether or not Nintendo is being Nintendo and start giving consumers what they're looking for. Otherwise the future is going to be very unkind to Nintendo; as if the past hasn't been unkind enough.
When you look at the statistics, mobile gaming is not something that should be ignored. In 2010, the industry raked in over $8 billion dollars, and that number is expected to increase to $11.4 billion by 2014. By contrast, sales of Nintendo's 3DS console have been so lackluster that the developer had to drastically slash its price over the summer; and sales of Sony's PlayStation Portable dropped by nearly 50% in 2010.
All the while, the mobile gaming market is expanding. For instance, women make up only 1/3rd of the console and PC gaming market, but they make up a whooping 47% of the mobile gaming market. For developers, this means that the overall customer base is distinctly larger and continuing to grow. So when companies like Nintendo effectively ignore the mobile gaming market, they are also ostracizing millions of potential customers.
All of this is compounded when you consider that mobile games dominate the app store purchases made by smartphone users. Roughly 64% of smartphone users have downloaded a game within the last 30 days, if they've downloaded anything at all. By now, this will probably be unsurprising, but I'll say it anyway; games make up the largest percentage of software sales in the mobile phone market.
And, actually, when you think about it, the psychology of this trend should be pretty obvious to anyone who's ever stood in a supermarket checkout lane. Sure, you could spend a buck on a king-sized snickers bar, or a couple bucks on this week's edition of Oprah's magazine, but neither of those is going to be even slightly entertaining in an hour. However, if you spend that same dollar on whichever iPhone game is currently popular, you will probably play it religiously for several months. Steve Jobs has revolutionized the impulse buy, and the gaming industry is paying the price.
This is why I get so confused when hardcore gamers dismiss tablets and phones as formidable gaming devices. They're obviously chock-full of games, and the current generation of mobile hardware has far more processing power than the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. Plus, they're just as powerful as the 3DS or the PSP, but no one would argue the gaming potential of those devices, right?
Either way, some members of the gaming industry are starting to fully embrace the mobile gaming phenomenon. Big-name developers like id and Ubisoft have started to port some of their flagship titles over to the mobile platform, and the results have been pretty great. id's John Carmack has been particularly complimentary about the tablet platform: "You should be able to do something that's better on an iPad than anything that's done on the Wii," he told Kotaku. "We're nowhere close to maxing out what could be done on an iPad."
GameStop is even working on a gaming tablet. It seems like a risky maneuver at the moment, but I'm excited to give it a shot.
But even the most staunch defender of mobile gaming has to admit one thing: some genres are absolutely awful on the tablet/phone platform (we're looking at you, FPS titles). However, other genres seem like they might have been custom-made for touch-based gaming (we're looking at you, tower defense games). But it's also important to note that this style of gaming is in its infancy, and it'll either get better or we'll find another medium.
Either way, don't listen to the naysayers. Mobile gaming is the future of gaming. You're going to have to jump on the train someday, unless you're the type of gamer who's still touting the Dreamcast. And if that's the case, I think we're done talking.
By Josh Engen
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*