The Fight In Mobile Gaming
Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all showed off their newest updated gaming systems in large, multimedia presentations, extravagant enough to almost make a Las Vegas show seem dull. But could all of the hype just be the grand finale for historically dominating gaming devices, signaling the end to dedicated mobile gaming units ruling the industry?
Many who love video games consider the expo heaven but for the rest of the population it could be described in one word: overwhelming. Hundreds of massive, towering screens, 3-D projections, surround sound demonstrations and people dressed as game characters greeted visitors at every turn.
Upward of 47,000 attendees were expected to shuffle through the packed halls this week, swag in hand, but millions more around the globe will play an even greater role in the mobile gaming arena through the purchases they make for the gaming platforms they play most.
E3 attendee Layne Moseley, 25, is just one of the millions of consumers companies are vying to lock in.
"It's just a great place for all the companies to show off their awesome games," said Moseley, who flew in from Idaho to attend the expo for the first time.
"I think that handheld videogame systems are going to have a really tough time in the future," Moseley said, "because smartphones are really accessible for games, so why would you want to carry another gaming device around?"
Moseley's thinking isn't isolated. According to a recent survey by the Entertainment Software Association, 33 percent of on-the-go gamers play games on their smartphones, and only 25 percent playing games on dedicated mobile gaming devices, such as the new PlayStation Vita.
"For me, personally, I would never buy a PlayStation Vita because with my smartphone, I just don't need it,” he said.
While none of the big three gaming companies allow you to play full-fledged console games on your phone - yet - Microsoft is making the biggest splash into the smartphone market with its Windows-based smartphones and newly announced SmartGlass initiative, bringing some key integration between the smartphone and home gaming console.
"We think it's important to move into the smartphone arena because all of us are carrying different devices, and we're comfortable with the devices we're using," said Jose Pinero, senior director of public relations for Xbox.
"You'll be able to watch a TV show and get more information delivered to it automatically," Pinero said. "The dream you have for your devices to all talk to each other is going to happen.”
Smartphones are already making strong gains in navigation, web browser and mobile video use, as well as dominating in digital photography. But for die-hard gamers like XE Games production assistant Brittany Avery, who grew up playing video games as a kid, nothing beats a dedicated gaming device.
"I actually don't play smartphone games at all," Avery said. "I'm getting used to the touchscreen [on smartphones] but I'm much more partial to having actual buttons, like on a PSP."
But Tokyo-based mobile gaming company GREE is betting Avery is part of a growing minority.
"I think you're seeing a massive shift in the way people are consuming content in general," said Eros Resmini, GREE’s senior vice president of marketing and developer relations. "They have these incredibly high-powered devices in their pockets and players are gravitating toward these devices to play more games.”
GREE's library of software titles target users of iOS and Android smartphone and tablet devices, reaching 230 million players worldwide. Last month the company paid $210 million to enter the U.S. market, buying mobile game developer Funzio in San Francisco.
"I think the most important thing that we're doing over the traditional console guys is we're focused on working to build a social network and a social experience that connects our mobile games," Resmini said. "I think that's something that's unique to the [smartphone] platform."
Also helping to lure away customers from the traditional mobile gaming systems is the price; it's hard to compete with free, ad-sponsored gameplay and instantaneous downloads of the latest games into the palm of your hand.
Smartphone gaming sensation Angry Birds is a good example. It hit its one-billionth download last month, which is no small feat considering the combined sales of all Nintendo branded 'Mario-something' games from the past 20 years have totaled roughly 160 million.
"The more generations of smartphones and tablets that come out, the less limitations there are in terms of what we can do," said Jason Pecho, software designer for Disney Interactive, which make games exclusively for the iOS and Android smartphone platforms.
"We really think that a lot of the games in the industry are headed to the mobile smartphone platform," Pecho said.
Jared Day, 24, majoring in computer science at the University of California, Irvine, agreed that smartphones are the gaming devices of the future.
"It's basically like having a small computer in your pocket at all times," Day said. "You can just download a game, play it for a few hours and then download a different one. It's always in your pocket, whereas with a [dedicated] mobile console, you have to plan out when you want to use it."
Reach Contributor Sean Patrick Lewis here.