Could the rise of smartphones signal the end for game consoles?

In February, Sony announced plans to release the PlayStation 4 towards the end of 2013. This came as a surprise to some people as it is no secret that sales of game consoles have declined in recent years.

Sony sold over 102 million PSOne’s worldwide, a massive 155 million PS2’s but only 74 million PS3’s have been sold to date (28 April 2013).

The PlayStation 3 was a massive failure for Sony. The console was expensive to make and its release date was delayed a number of times. When it was finally released in the UK in 2007, it would cost consumers £425. It was well publicised that Sony were making a loss of up to £200 on each machine. It seems crazy, therefore, for Sony to release a brand new PlayStation.

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony have led the way in the gaming industry for years but demand for the consoles is dropping significantly. Generally speaking it seems people have moved on from spending in excess of £40 for games. Instead, the preferred route for finding one’s daily fix of gaming has become the smartphone.

The exponential growth of smartphones is just one factor in the declining popularity of consoles. Apple’s App Store alone has over 100,000 games available. Some of these are free of charge whilst others usually cost 69p. Marmalade Game Studio is one of the leaders in game development for smartphones and Creative Director, Mike Barwise, believes that, “price and the rise of free-to-play games means that people are still spending as much time gaming as before”.

He added, “they are now doing it on these new devices in a way that lets them try multiple games without spending any money”.

In addition to the cheap prices, it is more than likely that the first gaming experience for most kids nowadays will be on their parents’ iPads or smartphones, rather than on an XBOX 360 or a PlayStation 3 for instance. This means that children are being trained into a different way of gaming that previously didn’t exist. The portability of smartphones gives people access to games whenever they want. This is something that will never be matched by consoles.

However, PlayStation’s PS Vita, Sony’s most recent attempt at a portable game console, was regarded as a huge flop. People are unwilling to pay large sums for games on small devices like the PS Vita and smartphones. The reason being that they cannot match the gaming experience of the traditional console. So, on this basis, surely game consoles do have a future?

Barwise explains that, “touch control systems on smartphones do not provide sufficient fidelity to be able to create titles that feature ‘twitch’ gameplay (quick movements, simultaneous inputs under pressure) and therefore I don’t see them replacing game consoles.

“There will always be an audience-sure, it may be smaller in the future than before-for deep experience to be played on a large TV and sound system in comfort at home.

“Until smartphones can offer a simple method of connecting to TV and sound systems and a hugely widespread and standardised form of control pad-like input, they won’t replace game consoles.”

But how big an obstacle is that for a dedicated technology company to overcome? Constant software updates ensure that game consoles continue to evolve. Users no longer look to game consoles solely for the gaming. For instance, on the XBOX 360, it is possible to watch live Sky TV as well as an array of films, documentaries and TV programmes on demand via Netflix.

Research carried out by Microsoft revealed that the average XBOX owner spends on average 84 hours using XBOX Live per month. Whilst this seems a lot, Microsoft found that people were turning on the XBOX initially to play games but afterwards would keep it on to get other types of entertainment. This is great for Microsoft, but it doesn’t reflect well on the gaming industry.

It remains to be seen how the PlayStation will be received come Christmas time. There hasn’t been a new console hardware launched since Nintendo Wii in 2006 and the PS3 in 2007 so inevitably there will be the rush to get the new console.

But the long-term success of the console will be interesting to see.

by Alex Pindar

| @_alexpindar |

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