Can Smartphone Gaming Overtake Traditional Handheld Gaming?
It’s hard to think of a time when gaming was more popular, more visible in the mainstream and yet, more divisive. The video game industry has given us some of the most remarkable pieces of entertainment in recent memory, and its growth shows no real signs of slowing.
That said, it’s also an industry that is in constant flux. It used to be that gaming was relegated to stationary consoles in peoples’ living rooms. Those days are now far behind us. The arrival of the handheld changed gaming forever, letting people bring nearly console-quality games with them wherever they went.
With the growing popularity of smartphones, things are now heading toward another potential paradigm shift. Touch screens have added a new dynamic to familiar types of games, and offer even greater portability than previous generations of handheld gaming devices such as Nintendo’s GameBoy line and Sony’s PlayStation Portables.
The question is this: why are people flocking to smartphone gaming when industry leaders have already given us high quality handhelds dedicated to gaming?
It could be a simple matter of convenience. Most of us already carry our smartphones with us, and some of us don’t have a pocket to spare for a second device that’s dedicated only to gaming. Gaming time is arguably limited when we’re on the go, so why carry two devices?
Smartphone gaming is also more immediate. It’s easy to pick up and play, and for the most part smartphone games have a pretty gentle learning curv e compared to “traditional” handheld games. The word that comes to mind is accessibility. Smartphone games appeal to a somewhat broader audience than traditional handheld games do.
Still, in some respects gaming handhelds have a number of significant advantages. To begin with, they still offer physical buttons, which for some is the only way to game. Physical buttons give a tactile experience, and allow for a greater degree of control and finesse. Touchscreens are terrific for certain types of games, such as slow-paced strategy games, but not so good for others. Games that require twitch-based responses or movement in three dimensions have done pretty well on gaming handhelds, but so far have no terribly compelling analogues on touchscreen devices. If you’ve ever attempted to play a first-person action game on a touchscreen, you’re probably familiar with this problem.
Traditional handhelds also have a home field advantage. Established and well-loved franchises are common on gaming handhelds, and the developers of these games have so far proven reluctant to release their intellectual properties on devices that they have no real stake in. In other words, you’re not going to be playing the next portable Mario game on an Apple smartphone any time soon.
Let’s take a look at the bigger picture for a minute. In a lot of ways, arguing for or against smartphone gaming overtaking handheld gaming is a bit of a straw man argument. The better question is whether or not it’s causing the video game industry to splinter into different sectors, each catering to a different type of gamer.
The so-called “hardcore” gamers that thrive on the latest open-world RPGs or visceral fist-person shooters are much less likely to be swayed by smartphone gaming. Instead, an entirely new subculture of gamers is emerging: the casual gamer. There’s no denying that people of all ages have embraced casual smartphone gaming. Everybody has to wait in a waiting room or an airport terminal from time to time. People who have never picked up a gaming handheld may well be tempted to try their hand at the latest casual smartphone game. For some of those people, it may even be their first real exposure to video games.
While the sales figures might suggest that smartphone gaming is more popular than traditional handheld gaming, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. The two aren’t mutually exclusive for most people.
That said, there will always be a market for both. Some people may prefer one or the other, but for others the choice doesn’t need to be made at all. As the popular saying goes, “It takes all kinds.” That includes video games.