With the seemingly overnight invasion from the smartphones, dedicated handheld games consoles are seeing themselves pushed aside in favor of whatever is the latest fashionable item in the mobile market, everything from the iPhones and iPads to the Samsung phones and HTC’s are slowly but surely eating into the market share.
Over the last few years the iPad line of tablets from Apple has managed to shift over 100 million units, each and every one of them capable of playing games, movies and web browsing. Then take into account the million of iPhones in people’s pockets and it’s soon quite clear that dedicated handheld market is competing in a competition it has no chance in winning.
What’s even more worrying is that top of the line handhelds such as the Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS are struggling sell, even though they are considerably cheaper when compared to smartphones and tablets. A brand new iPad Mini will set you back around $329 or £269, whereas a Playstation Vita will cost you roughly around $250 or £200. Which ones are the kids asking for this Christmas? The iPad Mini. Why? It’s “cool” and popular. It’s a simple but sad fact, the handhelds which will still be supported and sold in the next five years are being outsold by devices that are updated and replaced every year, offer a lesser experience and cost a lot more.
Still, we can’t just put the blame on mobile devices, it’s the developers and publishers who are really doing the dedicated handheld market an injustice.
Take the Lego games for example. Back when the Playstation Portable (PSP) launched, one of the most popular games was Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. Why? Because it was basically the same game as what you got on your home consoles, but in your pocket. We loved it, we played it, then we played it again. Even the Nintendo DS, with its less powerful hardware managed to pull off an enjoyable game.
Fast forward to today and we have the likes of Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7, Lego Batman 2 and Lego Lord of The Rings. You’d think that the current generation of handhelds would be able to at least manage a half decent port of the console versions, but that’s not the case. Instead we have a lesser version produced to the maximum of the Nintendo 3DS’s limits, which is fine for the 3DS, nobody who buys one expects dazzling graphics and a console experience. Then we have the same game ported over to the PS Vita, a considerably more powerful machine more than capable of pulling off the console versions, but instead it’s just the same as the 3DS, albeit with slightly better graphics and some tacked on touch screen controls. Now, this isn’t hating on the 3DS, far from it, it’s a great gaming device, but the 3DS and the PS Vita are both very different in who they are catering for, and it’s not wrong to expect a lot more from the PS Vita.
It’s not just the Lego games either, many will be familiar with the abuse that was hurled at EA for the complete and utter disgrace that was Fifa 13 for the PS Vita. It wasn’t a bad game, far from it, pretty good as far as a handheld footy game goes, the problem is that it was exactly the same as the Fifa Football released a few months prior to the release of Fifa 13. Fans and critics alike were disgruntled and disappointed by the obvious lack of respect for the device and its users.
Then we had the abysmal Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, the game that was supposed to inject life into the PS Vita and get it into the hand of more people, boosting the install base and convincing other developers/publishers that the PS Vita was a worthwhile venture. Well, that was the hope among PS Vita owners. The reality is that the game was critically panned and was an obvious attempt to cash in on the name, giving little regard to user satisfaction and customer loyalty. Something becoming a bit too familiar in the games industry.
The problem is, developers and publishers are afraid to invest in the device because of the lack of users, and users are afraid to invest in the machine because of the lack of developers/publishers putting out high quality games. It’s a horrid circle that is doing nothing for the future of the console, because it’s a simple fact that without games, their wont be buyers, and without buyers there wont be games.
It’s hard to say it, but I think the 3DS and PS Vita just aren’t going to cut it and we won’t be seeing a follow-up to either. Smartphones are coming out every year, and each year they’re incorporating the latest technology and becoming more and more versatile. Within five years the PS Vita will be matched by whatever smartphones are available at the time and the 3DS will be outclassed by even the low-end smartphones. Pretty soon, smartphones are going to incorporate physical controls and play host to top quality title’s at the fraction of the cost.
I hate to say it, and I love my handhelds more than any other console, but I think their days are numbered and the smartphones are going to become the dominant force in the handheld gaming market.
In the mean time, just keep on playing and go with the flow. Or scream and cry in the comments section below.