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Are gaming handhelds really doomed? What keeps them alive?

Are gaming handhelds really doomed? What keeps them alive?

Earlier today someone on Facebook asked about the growing discussion that handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita are slowly fading away, getting lost in the incredibly successful market of smartphones and tablets like the iPhone and iPad. I replied with a very long comment for a Facebook post and I thought that I could re-purpose my text for a new post here.

The thing here is that there’s no doubt now that smartphones and tablets are affecting the sales of handheld consoles. They are still not killing the market, but the incredibly slow start the Nintendo 3DS had until known franchises came to it and the big struggle the PS Vita is currently having on the market are signs that things have changed.

Taking that into account, what is the current audience of handhelds? What are the reasons one might buy a dedicated gaming console instead of a smartphone or tablet?

Let’s begin with the one age group that smartphones and tablets are still a long way from breaking into, and that is the younger audience under 14 years old. You wouldn’t buy a 10 year old kid an iPhone, a highly expensive device that is easy to break and get stolen, but you might buy him a Nintendo DS with a Super Mario game or the latest movie tie-in like a Spiderman game or a Disney character in it.

In fact, when you look at the age demographics of the iPhone and iPod Touch you can see that the age group of users from 13 to 17 years old is tiny (6%) when compared to that same age group in the iPod Touch demographics (46%) (Source from 2009). You could consider the iPod Touch as a game handheld if you will. After all it has access to apps and games, which is the main reason these users choose the iPod Touch over the more traditional iPods which are almost exclusively used to play music. Same goes for the Nintendo DS/3DS and (in a smaller way since it goes for a more mature audience) the PS Vita. They offer cheaper, contract-free devices with gaming as their main purpose and, in the mindsets of buyers, a better value proposition for a kid than an iPhone. You could add Android phones here if you want, but currently there are no low-end Android devices that could cover this space, since the cheap devices that do exist are simply too low-powered for modern phone games.

But of course that’s not the only audience of handheld consoles. When you go to ages 14+ both the DS/3DS and PSP/Vita offer a nice choice of games aimed squarely at this audience. You have Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, God of War, Final Fantasy… However, and this is where the sales have been going down, those handhelds now have to compete with smartphones and, to a lesser extent (simply because not everyone sees value in having a device that some feel is a bigger smartphone), tablets.

But here is the thing, and it’s a point most media outlets seem to be missing. Let me explain a little bit first: smartphones have absolutely nothing blocking them from running blockbuster titles of the same quality as those mentioned above (touch controls aside). You just have to take a look at what French company Gameloft has been doing in the past few years, taking popular gaming franchises and creating equivalents of them for phones (N.O.V.A is a Halo clone, Modern Combat 3 is Modern Warfare 3, Hero of Sparta is God of War, StarFront is StarCraft…) or taking Ubisoft staples into bite-sized chunks (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Brothers in Arms).

BUT!

Those games coexist in a marketplace full of extremely cheap offers of $0.99, the new standard for game prices (something neither Nintendo or Microsoft are very keen on, claiming it devaluates videogames as a whole). This means that if a company wanted to make a full size game with the same length, depth and quality as a console or handheld game they would need to price it higher to cover the production costs. And that simply doesn’t sell very well in a flood of $0.99 titles. Gameloft and EA are able to pull that off thanks to their use of big franchise names, but even then the prices don’t usually go higher than $6.99, and they quickly drop after the hardcore fans of the series have already bought it so as to attract the rest of the market.


The top 10 paid games on the US AppStore as of May 2012

The other company that is managing to pull off higher prices for its games is Square-Enix. $15.99 for a port of a DS Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy III), which was already a remake of an old NES game. But Final Fantasy games have the advantage of being really deep and lengthy adventures (thus the price) that don’t require very precise control input: just tap and wait for the battle animation to finish.

That’s where handhelds come in for those who want a more serious gaming experience. You get the more precise controls for action games   and the higher production values, with almost console-quality graphics, story and gameplay depth in a smaller package that you can take anywhere you go.

For those who want an all-around device that does everything an iPhone will be the only device to carry around at all times. But those who want a deeper experience on the go (and I’m not talking about just something to play on the train, but also when visiting their parents for a week, going on a trip and so on) will also carry with them a handheld.

Plus, now these gaming handhelds get the added experience of buying smaller games at cheaper prices, smartphone style. The 3DS will allow you to buy old Gameboy and NES games as well as new, modern titles for under $5. The PS Vita lets you download casual games like Angry Birds or get an old PS One game like Crash Bandicoot at the same price level. And at the same time you get the full range of top-tier new releases (which tend to be more on the $40 range), some as physical copies, some as downloadable games too (specially now that Nintendo is going to make their 3DS and Wii U games available online as well).

And then finally you have the more mature audiences that as far as I know only Nintendo has been able to attract so well thanks to their Brain Training series. But that’s usually the group that buys only one game or two and leaves it there.

Anyway, those are my 2 cents on the topic. It’s mostly based on my own thoughts and experience, but I believe I’m not too far off the reality. Of course I’m basing myself on articles, opinions, comparisons and a few stats, but you could hardly call every single one of those hard facts, so all this could be wrong.

But the fact is that the landscape of gaming on the go has severely changed and both Nintendo and Sony will have to step their game up if they want to survive in a market full of $0.99 games that, in the mind of many casual consumers, offers as much value as any $40 game.

Can you guess which game these planets come from?

Can you guess which game these planets come from?

Many of you have probably seen before how deep into our culture some video game characters have become. Cultural icons like Super Mario or Sonic are recognizable by just looking at their colors, Portal’s Companion Cube is just a cube… yet gamers will instantly recognize it, and even the most blocky video game characters have been brought to life through cosplay at conventions all around the world.

But the point of the following video is not to show how easily recognizable game characters are, but instead it wants to showcase how deeply integrated into our culture some of the game worlds have become.

By just showing some extremely simplified environments in a globe, this animation will surely remind you of a few places you’ve visited in games.

The question is: can you recognize them all?

Leave your comment down below if you managed to do so!

As a note, you can check the video on Youtube, where the author has listed all the games these worlds come from.

BLANK – Our Nordic Game Jam 2012 game in progress

BLANK – Our Nordic Game Jam 2012 game in progress

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I’m not going to explain a lot in this post because right now we’re quite short on time, but I just wanted to update my blog by letting you all know a little bit about the game we are working.

As I’ve already written in the Global Game Jam website, [BLANK] is a videogame about uncertainty. You wake up in a strange environment, unable to see properly and with no recollection of how you got there. Players will have to explore this environment to slowly recollect the memories of the events that took him there in the first place.

But how does one explore things when he cannot see?

The game is (still!) being made by Team Flying Noses (a pun on the early beginnings of our group), which is formed by Daryl Hornsby (UK), Kayode Shonibare-Lewis (UK), Micael Svensson (Sweden), Nicolai Brobak (Denmark), Patrick Dekhla (Sweden) and me, Anchel Labena.

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From left to right: Patrick, Micael, Daryl, Anchel, Nicolai and Kayode

And finally, a teaser picture of our game!

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Again, don’t forget to follow the awesome #NGJ12 Twitter Team for live updates of everything going on. I assume that the Twitter stream will probably spring back to fast action as soon as the game presentations begin Winking smile.

Developer Diary #1 for betaDwarf!

Developer Diary #1 for betaDwarf!

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Hey everyone! I hadn’t really told many people about this (had been waiting until the first video was made before telling), but today was my first work for Danish videogame developer betaDwarf, a relatively new indie game company born here in Copenhagen out of several students and currently working on the videogame Faith of the Guardians, which will be released initially for Xbox 360 with other platforms coming afterwards.

Along with Johnny Myhre Mikkelsen and the help of the rest of the betaDwarf team I made a short episode for the beginning of a new developer diary in which you can see the progress of the game through the insights of each one of the team members.

So go ahead and give it a look! Also like the video on Youtube and check their previous videos on their channel! Also, check their Facebook page and company website! Enjoy!

Zelda en el juego Spore

Zelda en el juego Spore

Will Wright es, para quien no lo sepa, el creador de dos videojuegos muy influyentes: Simcity (el magnífico simulador de ciudades) y el juego de PC más vendido de todos los tiempos: Los Sims.

Pero se ve que crear casitas y ciudades se le ha quedado pequeño a este influyente diseñador de videojuegos. Su último juego (el cual saldrá en septiembre de este año) se llama Spore y nos permitirá ir de lo más básico (una molécula) a lo más grande (la conquista del espacio exterior por civilizaciones avanzadas). Un juego realmente ambicioso en el que nosotros tomaremos el control de la mismísima evolución de las especies para dar lugar a cualquier cosa que nosotros queramos, como si nos apetece crear una lucha por la supervivencia entre las distintas especies.

Pero  claro, para dar lugar a nuestras especies tendremos que crear nuestras razas de criaturas. Es aquí donde entra en juego el diseñador de criaturas, el cual está ya disponible para que vayamos trasteando con las infinitas posibilidades que nos ofrece el juego para personalizar nuestros “bichitos”.

Curiosamente un usuario ha querido demostrar esta versatilidad creando enemigos de los juegos The Legend of Zelda para Spore. Si es capaz de recrear con tanta fidelidad los diseños originales del Zelda, no nos podemos ni imaginar todo lo que se podrá hacer cuando el juego salga a la venta con todo al completo.

Ahí va un video que, a los que conozcáis los juegos del Zelda, seguro os sorprenderá: