The Future of Handheld Gaming

I don’t like talking about “the future of handheld gaming” because whenever you do, someone almost immediately mentions how the handheld console is dead, and long live iOS/ Android. It is a bit of a loaded idea for two reasons:

1) Phones cannot handle “serious” gaming and

2) It is typically said by someone quoting someone else.

“Non-gamer” websites frequently refer to this statement, citing sales numbers and so on, like the insane success of something like AngryBirds. These are the same fools who will then go on, saying how the mega-success of Facebook games like FarmVille are proof of the decline of the game industry itself. It’s typically said by someone who doesn’t know anything, kind of like people who claim to be “social media experts” or “gurus” because they’ve figured out how to use HootSuite. It’s a meaningless sentiment that doesn’t look at much beyond itself.

The core problem is of course the capabilities of phones themselves: as great as some phones are, they do lack the power required for serious gaming (as serious as handheld gaming can be). Add in the fact that your phone likely lacks many controls (save for a touch screen) and that your phone is also used for a million other things and it’s clear that while phones are great for games like AngryBirds, no one is expecting Nintendo to launch a phone or for Halo 5 to hit a Windows Phone Near You. I think that while the mobile market could stand to hurt the handheld game industry, I really can’t help but think of it as more of a paper tiger than anything else.

All that said, I’m at a loss trying to figure out what Nintendo and Sony are doing. To be more specific, I’m at a loss trying to figure out why Nintendo and Sony are doing nothing. With no massive games on the horizon (and with Sony still not allowing Vita owners to play PSone classics!), I’m stunned. Aside from a few titles for both consoles, the launches have been very anemic; sure you have a Metal Gear here and a Rayman there and a Mario over in the corner and a Street Fighter on the side, but for the most part we’re talking about remakes and additional franchise games — while those aren’t necessarily bad, it’s disappointing to see the lack of innovation.

Handheld games don’t need to be graphical masterpieces with impressive scores to be good, but that seems to be the thought process that’s dominating the market. Too few RPGs have been launched, for example, which is a little painful: while the Vita can handle shooters with ease, playing Metal Gear Solid 3 on the bus is actually kind of tough, which is why turn-based RPGs especially are so good. It’s perplexing, really. The game media is talking about the “death of the handheld” all the time and it’s clearly on Nintendo’s and Sony’s minds… yet they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Easier said than done, I guess. It just seems like a lot of potential is being wasted for no good reason.


3 Comments on “The Future of Handheld Gaming”

  1. Anth says:

    I’ve never been a handheld gamer. I do get annoyed whenever I come across a tech article about the latest iPhone or Android news saying the latest or next phone will be more breathtaking gaming graphics. This is a well-worded essay and I agree with all the major points.

    • James says:

      The problem, I think, is in the approach: developers make “console games” and they make “handheld games”. If they just made both of the same way, handheld games would be fine.

  2. […] I talked about “The Future of Handheld Gaming” wherein I said quite definitively that phone-gaming is a bit of a fad and true handheld gaming can […]

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