Why Portable Gaming is Still Relevant


If you check out IndustryGamers, there’s an article over there I read, and then commented on.  And the comment morphed into this huge wall’o’text so I thought that the blog might be a better medium for it than the comments on someone else’s blog.  Who knew taking credit for my own stuff was a good idea, eh?  Anyway, moving on …

To start, I think there’s waaaaay too much conjecture in this article.  True, Steve Peterson’s comparing a brand new product with a product that’s not released yet, but that begs the question – was this really the best time for this article?  I think the amount of conjecture and conjecture built on conjecture throughout the piece, suggests that this is probably pre-mature. 

As much as I dislike SCEA, the Vita has potential.  Right now, the social/mobile games market is horribly inflated with way way way more crap than anything good (a fact which people seem to be amazing at ignoring …), eventually the market will collapse into something more reasonable and sustainable.  trying to make long term conjecture about the well being of a device who’s life is probably upwards of 4-5 years in a market as dynamic and changing as gaming is a little bit foolhardy.  Then, going beyond that and comparing it to the drastically iterative tablet market, an emerging genre of mobile/social gaming with vast amounts of shovelware and poorly designed games designed for vastly different demographic is downright silly. 

This is a repeated problem – people continually make the comparison between mobile games found on tablets/cellphones with dedicated gaming devices.  But there really can’t be a true apples-to-apples comparison here for a few reasons.  A dedicated device will always be able to do things that a general device can’t — hence the fact it’s a dedicated device.  While not exclusively, within gaming circles this often takes the form of IP dedicated to specific platforms.  With this comes consumer expectation that a certain IP “feels” a certain way and changing platforms often monkeys with this “feeling.”  For example, moving a game like Uncharted from Playstation Vita to a cell phone would drastically change the “feel” and “play” of the game — and I would guess to the detriment. 

I think the other thing you have to consider is target demographic, and the kinds of games that you find in those demographics, and what kinds of games those demographics want.  For mobile games (those on cell phones/tablets), games are meant to fill small chunks of time, less than 15min.  With a game designed to only fill minute chunks of time before moving on to something else, it’s hard to get any real depth of game-play.  A mobile game player doesn’t have time to master complicated game play.  So all the game play is simple, infantile even.  Not to say this will always be the case, but it is right now. 

Portable games (like Vita, 3DS) fill a different market demographic.  While still not with the depth of experience as a full-fledged dedicated system or a PC, still provides more of deep gaming experience than mobile games.  These games are meant to played in longer stretches (I have over 100 hours logged in Pokemon White).  They are designed to be played for longer sessions that mobile games, which opens up for different game play experiences than what’s available on the mobile platform.  Gamers who pick up a portable gaming device do so because they want more depth of game than what the mobile platform offers — in short, the portable platform fills a need for gaming on the go, but with more depth than what the mobile platform currently offers. 

Now, there are a set of users for whom I can’t even guess a number that will not buy a portable gaming device because of the mobile gaming market.  But as I’ve tried to point out above, my thought is that number is going to be small–maybe not insignificant, but small nonetheless because the devices fill different needs within the gaming space.

This is, of course, not to say that this paradigm is set in stone – it’s still shifting.  As I mentioned in the beginning, mobile gaming is still a very inflated market, like the dotcom boom before it.  Hopefully soon the  market will collapse back to reasonable levels and more people will start doing better, more interesting things with the mobile space and be able to add that depth of gaming (which is challenging to define, I’m discovering).  One can only hope — until then, I think portable gaming still has a place in the gaming world, and one that is not going to be quickly subsumed by mobile gaming.