Modern digital gaming has evolved relatively quickly. From the clunky Commodore 64 to the Game Boy to the up-and-coming Xbox One X, gaming platforms have become increasingly powerful. But when we think of “gaming”, consoles represent only a small part of the overall gaming market, with mobile gaming capturing six times the revenue of consoles. To tap into this lucrative market, consoles continue to offer improved graphics and other iterative updates, but manufacturers are also enhancing their systems to take advantage of some of the benefits mobile gaming provides.
The Benefit of the Smartphone in Gaming
Smartphones evolve quickly enough that consoles will never be able to fully keep up with the breadth and volume of gaming options available. Further, the sheer mass of people using smartphones creates a larger user base, revenue stream, and upgrade path through those devices than console manufacturers can ever hope to match. Still, consoles carry their own advantage: namely, the ability to create a fuller graphic experience and in-game immersion while users are tethered to the system.
The key for console manufacturers and console-based game designers is to find ways to replicate the inherent advantages of mobile while maintaining the experience that people appreciate in more traditional gaming consoles. Portability and connectivity will be critical for console manufacturers and game designers to compete for their piece of the pie.
Smartphones Dominate the Gaming Market
Smartphones are everywhere – according to TraQline, 94% of all new mobile phone purchases are smartphones. With this kind of penetration, it is no wonder that mobile devices dominate the overall gaming market. Burgeoning technological capabilities have led to an overall interactive gaming market of $91 billion in revenue for 2016. According to Digital Trends, over half of this revenue comes from mobile devices:
- $40.6 billion in revenue comes from mobile gaming;
- $35.8 billion in revenue comes from PCs; and
- $6.6 billion in revenue comes from console gaming.
The relatively small share that console gaming commands means that maintaining or expanding capabilities will be critical for that sector moving forward.
Why Mobile Is Winning–and How Consoles Are Responding
Mobile gaming has several key advantages over console-based gaming. First, mobile games offer relatively low barriers to entry. Marketing spend, development, and licensing all hold far lower financial requirements to get a game up and running. They can thus rely on marketing, in-game purchases, and other post-purchase revenue streams to become and remain profitable.
Second, people always have their mobile devices. According to DeviceAtlas, 87% of smartphone owners keep their devices by their side day and night. While people leave their consoles and televisions behind for work and other time away from home, their smartphones are never far from their reach. There is literally no time a person cannot access a mobile device in today’s world.
Additionally, the “always on” aspect of the smartphone allows developers to create and deliver updates any time, anywhere their user has a connection. This ensures that user feedback is considered (via the vast “reviews” section on Apple store and Google Play Store), bugs are fixed, and expansions are delivered. Developers can literally work around the clock to deliver a gaming experience that adapts to the market demands.
With a relatively small portion of gaming revenue coming from console gaming, the leading console creators have been developing new options in recent years. Rather than solely focusing on fine-tuning the latest graphics such as 4k, these systems are focusing on enhancing console gameplay and capturing some of the interactive experience that more typically comes through smartphones and other mobile devices.
Portable Gaming Comes of Age
An early hit in the portable gaming world was the Nintendo Gameboy. Bought by parents everywhere to help mitigate the question “Are we there yet?”, this device served just one purpose – to play games. The Gameboy not only spawned the Tetris craze, but also was instrumental in putting games right into people’s pockets – thus giving console manufacturers a glimpse into what the future of gaming might look like. Recent years have taken into account portability and connectivity to deliver new options for the consumer.
The PS Vita, for example, which launched in December 2011, allows a remote connection to a PS4 console. Users may then use it as a as a control screen, or even as a controller for games that run through the PS4. The advantage here comes for those gamers who feel limited by the lack of depth of smartphone games. They receive a deeper gaming experience while retaining the ability to use the PS Vita as a handheld, without the television.
Similarly, the Nintendo Switch, which launched in March 2017, is emerging as an option that combines both a “traditional” console and portable gaming. It connects through a dock to a television like a typical console, but it also can be disconnected and used more like a tablet with attachable controls, functioning more like a traditional handheld device like the Nintendo 3DS or earlier GameBoy. The attachable controls also allow for multiplayer gaming even when the Switch is not connected to a television.
Bridging the gap
In an effort to bring console and computer gaming to mobile phones, several game developers have created add-on apps which allow gamers to stay involved in the game from their phone. While these options aren’t the full featured game, they often allow you to check and adjust characters, game features, and chart your progress. This creates a constant connectivity that mirrors what the mobile experience provides. At the same time, these apps bring the gamers’ focus back to the console game, allowing them to interact with their favorite games whether they are in front of their console or not.
In addition to gaming apps, Microsoft XBox, Playstation, and Nintendo have developed their own apps, allowing gamers to connect to communities of gamers and friends, and in some cases launch into cross-device multiplayer games. Like game developers’ apps, these mobile apps help to engage consumers and build loyalty when they are away from their favorite “tethered” game. This helps build out an additional social aspect to gaming beyond what has traditionally existed within console systems.
Future Integration Between Consoles and Mobile
Although the console market continues to make inroads toward more connectivity and reach beyond the confines of the console, it holds little hope of overtaking mobile devices for greater market share. Smartphones are more likely to be the big moneymakers for game developers due to:
- Low barriers to entry
- The sheer ubiquity of smartphones
- Their constant updates
- The ability to update games
- The ability to collect revenue during play
Among portable systems, each system will continue to jockey for position and attempt to create innovative ways to connect to the consumer, but the smartphone mobile gaming experience will emerge and continue to lead the way in the coming years.
Still, the exponential growth in processing speed and technological capability that Moore’s Law describes creates more opportunity for console manufacturers to push into the space that mobile currently holds. As consoles increase their connectivity and their reach outside of the physical console “gaming area”, the technologies in play will blur the line between console and mobile gaming experiences. The future of console gaming does not lie solely in emphasizing distinctions from mobile competition and in capitalizing on higher processing power. The future of consoles also relies on its ability to become more mobile to meet the demands of gamers who expect that level of connectivity.