Over the last few weeks, several casual game developers, who focus on games for mobile devices or social networks, have been talking about how these games are the future and how console gaming is dying. Aside from the fact that they’re wrong, it’s funny that these one-hit wonders are suddenly experts on the decades-old gaming industry. Console gaming has been around since the 80s, and the fact they’re still relevant today is testament to the fact that the platform is always evolving.
A jack-of-all-trades device is never going to replace a specialized one, so while tablets and mobile phones will constantly offer engaging gaming content, they’re never going offer what dedicated game consoles or high-end gaming PCs do. This argument is similar to the one about whether motion controls would replace the traditional controller. What the button controller or keyboard-mouse combination offers is unparalleled control and precision; the kind that motion control devices cannot match and devices with touch-interfaces can only dream of. Just try playing the iOS versions of Dead Space 2 or Fight Night Champion and you’ll see what I mean.
Is it the end?
The other major difference is in quality of content. One of the most vocal parties predicting the impending demise of consoles is Angry Birds developer Rovio. Now, Angry Birds has been a phenomenal success, but it is one game in a sea of mediocre shovelware - throwaway titles priced at $2 and $3 that you’ll end up never playing beyond the couple of hours after you’ve bought them. They’re cheap to develop, cheap to publish, and cheap for the consumer to buy, but most of the time, that doesn’t translate into a better game. Some of these games are great when you want to kill time on your commute to work, but most of them cannot match the production values, attention to detail and level of immersion that you get from a full-priced console game.
Let me come back to my earlier point - console gaming platforms are constantly evolving. From simple cartridge-based devices, they’re today high definition multimedia powerhouses that push the boundaries of gameplay through motion controls and 3D. So rather than being replaced by mobile devices like tablets, a more realistic possibility is that consoles will expand in scope to allow mobile-centric content to be played on them.
It’s far easier for mobile games to be ported to a more powerful specialized console than the other way around, and we’re already seeing that happen with Sony’s upcoming handheld console – the NGP. Sony has recognized the potential of mobile games by introducing the Playstation Suite, a selection of Playstation-approved games and compliant devices. For instance, Tegra 2-powered devices running Android will include the Playstation Suite, which means old PS One games will be made available to mobile users, and compliant mobile games will be made available to NGP owners.
Every time there’s new technology in the market that’s creating a lot of buzz, the natural tendency is for people to get overexcited and predict how it’s going to change everything. The Wii came and it was a phenomenal success, but people still went out and bought PS3s and Xbox 360s. Similarly, Android and iOS devices are all the rage right now, but they’re not going to kill traditional forms of gaming. There’s enough room for everyone.