Are Mobile Games Killing the Console?

angry bird in front of Nintendo building

Nintendo building, Kyoto Japan; photo courtesy of Nintendo News

Are Mobile Games Killing the Console?
| published July 30, 2014 |

By Isaac Fink
Thursday Review contributor

Tablets and smartphones are a part of our everyday lives. They serve a variety of purposes, whether it's sending email, browsing the web, or even playing games. Last year mobile game sales reached $13.2 billion, and according to industry experts, mobile games could see sales of more than $22 billion by the end of next year.

But what people don't realize about these games is how they affect the gaming industry as a whole.

Something that most people are not generally aware of is the fact that the gaming industry is in trouble. Earlier this year, for example, game-maker Nintendo—once an industry giant—forecast its biggest loss in more than a decade. Designers and developers of console games have also seen sales decline sharply in the last 18 months.

Why the gaming slump? People just aren't buying video game consoles like they used to anymore. As a result, every other day you hear about a game development studio closing down or going through some kind of financial trouble. But why have people stopped buying games? It's because of smart phones and tablets.

Now I'm sure that it doesn't occur to most people that they're killing the games industry when they play Angry Birds during their bathroom break at work, and I can't blame them—it’s not something that people know unless they educate themselves on the subject. These games are easy to make, they are very minimalistic and they reach a larger target audience since almost everyone has a tablet or smartphone. But as a result, this means developers are beginning to focus more on mobile gaming than Triple-A console and PC titles. That means less artistic and meaningful games like The Last of Us or Metal Gear Solid, and more simplistic titles like Angry Birds or Plants Vs. Zombies. Square Enix is one such company, once famous for creating Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, now reduced to making knock-off versions of their popular games for smartphones.

Dedicated handheld gaming devices have perhaps suffered the most from the increased focus on mobile gaming. The Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita are both remarkable devices, with a multitude of experiences they can bring you. The 3DS has everything from classic Nintendo games to Resident Evil, while the Vita has ports of excellent games like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Persona 4. Unfortunately, neither device is selling well, and as a result, more developers are ceasing support for them. The reason? You guessed it, mobile devices. While gaming PC's and consoles still serve as universal media players for many people's homes, the appeal of handheld gaming devices, “gaming on the go,” has been eclipsed by smartphones and tablets. The day of children's eyes lighting up when they unwrap their first Gameboy has been replaced with one where they open up their 4th Kindle, only to complain that it isn't an iPad. And just as with consoles and PC's, this is the message that developers receive as well.

Some industry analysts think that the future holds little possibility for dedicated gaming devices and consoles. The worst thing about it is that many people don't understand the severity of this decline. The general public still has a stigma against video games and doesn't see them as the art form that they are (see The True Art of Video Games; Isaac Fink; Thursday Review; July 12, 2014). They've never taken the time to play the deeply resonating and emotional games that are available to them. But for those who have, this increased focus on mobile gaming is frightening. It means the death of gaming as an art form. No more Uncharted or Metal Gear, no more The Last of Us, only Clash of Clans and Robot Unicorn Attack will remain. Games will be reduced to just that; games. They will no longer have meaningful narratives or artistic merit, they will instead be so called “free to play” games based around simplistic touch-based gameplay riddled with micro-transactions. My great hope is that people will think about that before they choose to buy an iPad over a Playstation Vita.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The True Art of Video Games; Isaac Fink; Thursday Review; July 12, 2014.

Going Mobile, and Stable; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; May 5, 2014.