The death of the console gamer

I think there's something magical about the convenience of pulling my phone out of my pocket at any moment in the day and indulging in a few minutes of game time. A recent survey (link goes to PDF) by PopCap Games indicates 59 percent of mobile users have used their phones or tablets for gaming this year. That's a 13 percent increase since last year. I think this marks the year when console gaming was finally diagnosed with a terminal illness, its days numbered.

I've owned every Nintendo, Sega, and Sony handheld (with the exception of the 3DS which I'll pick up after its next price drop). Despite this, handheld gaming has never really been a passion for me compared to console games. I've always enjoyed the more immersive experiences—visuals, sound, gameplay—that consoles provide. However, that has all changed within the past year. With advances in technology, handhelds today do offer console-like experiences. And if I were to tally the number of hours I play games per week on handhelds vs. consoles, the handheld would win hands (literally) down.

I think this is a significant trend for the future of gaming. I see a future that is similar to what Nintendo has presented with its Wii U GamePad, what Microsoft has envisioned with its SmartGlass application, what Sony has supported with its PSP/PS3 cross-platform compatibility, and what Apple is pursuing with its TV/Mac/Tablet/Phone AirPlay feature.

Gaming is no longer confined to a console or a handheld. The two are increasingly communicating with each other and furthermore transforming into a single device.

I can easily see a future where our handhelds replace game consoles entirely. Imagine on your bus ride home from a long day at work, you start playing the latest Legend of Zelda on your mobile phone. You pause the action for a moment as you depart the bus and walk to your apartment. Your smelly cat greets you at the door. You plop yourself on the couch, grab your ergonomic Nintendo controller, plug your phone into the top (like the Dreamcast VMU) and continue your game on your flat-screen television. All of the processing is done by your phone. The controller is simply an accessory that connects your TV and phone.

It's something we still have to imagine today. But if usage trends continue over the next few years, I predict we'll be reading the eulogy for our dear friend the console. May he rest in peace.

  1. Video games are a commitment. I'm almost hesitant to sit down with a console game these days because to make any real progress—to travel from one save point to another—might take longer than the fifteen or so minutes I have available. This is one of the reasons I've grown to appreciate my handhelds. For those not aware, most handhelds these days have a pause feature that essentially creates a temporary save that you can return to at anytime.
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  2. I was casually sitting on my couch the other day, watching a scary movie with the lights dimmed, and I heard this strange growling sound. It started out with a slobbering grunt but the intensity grew. I thought for sure there was a velociraptor behind me waiting to sink its barbed claws into my face. With my eyes widened, I turned my head to see that it was just my lazy kitty producing a snore tsunami.
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  3. Whoa. Did you know games today cost an average of $10-28 million to develop? Meanwhile something on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is estimated to cost over $100 million by the time it's finished. That's scary. It's no wonder so many developers like Nintendo choose to play it safe by creating sequels to successful games. When development budgets are this astronomical, one failure can mean the complete destruction and demise of a company.
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