Traditional Console Developer Handhelds vs. the Future

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So, now we’ve got a “complete” set of the next-gen portable game consoles from the folks that brought us the last generation of portable game consoles. That’d be Sony & Nintendo. And just to preface this, when this battle happened last time, I was totally wrong about how it turned out. The original iteration of the DS was an ungainly, poorly-designed piece of hardware, the graphics pretty well sucked, and it was just … uninspiring, as a whole. The PSP had a gorgeous-for-the-time screen, felt great in the hand (except for the stupid analog nub), and its main downside were awful load times & shorter battery life.

In the end, the DS was a huge, rousing success with some genuinely excellent games (Layton FTW), while the PSP sort of languished in this halfway limbo where you didn’t get a lot of the “benefits” of a portable device (battery life, instant access, etc.) but you didn’t get the flexibility of a console.

And then there was Apple. That’s obviously the big change between the last gen and now. And we’ve probably got Nintendo’s success with gaming on the DS at least in part for the success of games on the iPhone.

I don’t own a 3DS. I’ve played with one, but didn’t decide to buy one. In part, there was little software for it I was interested in, but more, 3D isn’t a feature  I’m interested in. I’m interested to hear if anyone’s got long-term experience with it, but Nintendo’s complete lack of foresight (or even just sight) into online is a real disappointment to me.

The PS Vita on the other hand, does a good job, at least so far, of making digital distribution & online connectivity a part of its core experience. For a regular purchaser of apps on iOS, this is dangerous, because each “app” ends up being $40. And the nice part of it is that at least so far, the games have been worth $40. Lumines is exquisite, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an experience that you really can’t replicate without buttons.

For a long while, I didn’t really see the future for game-centric handhelds. I’m not sure I really do, yet, but at least the Vita makes me feel like Sony’s understood some of the basic concepts at a core level. The Vita needs dramatically more memory for much less – if it was a 128GB/$100 deal, I’d be a LOT more inclined to feel better about its future. At 32GB/$100, there’s so much overhead in the cost of memory that people will be resistant to buying games once they hit their memory wall, which is going to more likely than not happen at 4 or 8GB.

What I like about the iPhone is that I can have not just one or two games on my device at one time, but a VAST library of relatively cheap games so that almost whatever mood I’m in, I have an option. While I tend toward playing one or two games at a time (currently, the extraordinary Hero Academy), having the option to jump into something longer-form, or funny, or whatever, has huge value to me.

In any case, I was totally wrong about how the portable console space was gonna play out in the last generation. This time, my money’s still on iOS – the fact that I always have a phone on me is a huge factor that no portable console will match, with the Vita pulling up 2nd (after about a year or two, which it’ll need for the tide to turn from Nintendo), and the 3DS will ultimately stall in the next year or so and end up with a relatively disappointing run.

Chances are, I’ll be totally wrong about that, too. But I feel like Sony’s bite out of the digital connectivity pie is a big step in the right direction that Nintendo’s completely missed in favor of technology that will ultimately be meaningless.


8 thoughts on “Traditional Console Developer Handhelds vs. the Future

  1. Interesting, but right now Nintendo is doing the downloadable games to the 3DS e-shop the way they should have done them on the Wii.
    To have indie developers creating things for the dual screen; with much wider acceptance of titles and an easier process to get them on to the shop, might make the 3DS a worthy opponent. Despite the obvious “really? 3D?” mess up, that is.

    • Honestly, I can’t say whether the e-Shop is as big a step in the right direction as they need, but the simple difference that there are basically “physical” games and “digital” games leaves a divide that, in this day & age, really has no reason to exist. I’d love to see indie developers creating stuff for the 3DS – World of Goo is one of my favorite games (maybe my actual favorite) on the Wii, and I wish there were more like it.

  2. The only things stopping iOS/android from completely displacing dedicated gaming portables are 1) buttons and 2) high-quality software. I think the wall will begin to fall when a handful of multiplatform premium titles release on phones and portables *at the same price*. (Breaking the mentality that only casual titles can succeed, and that they must be $1 or “free”.

    • Yeah, it’s sort of mindboggling that a game like Final Fantasy Tactics can come out, uprezzed on the iPad, and $18 is WAY TOO MUCH for most peoples’ tastes. For a game that’s got something on the order of 100+ hours of gameplay, $18 is a *steal*. :D

  3. I suspect the iOS is the going to be the gaming platform of choice for quite some time to come. It is the perfect game platform for this, what I call “the indie age” and it’s in lots of gamers’ pockets already. Sometime in the last few years my DS started gathering dust and my iPhone started getting easily 80% of my game playing attention. Being an iOS developer may make me a bit biased in that regard and for me personally, the iPhone surprisingly hit a grand-slam in my pocket because it alone displaced my Treo/ DS/ Edge magazine combo which displaced my GBA/ cell-phone / PDA combo/ Edge mag combo, which displaced my Franklin, Newspaper, Edge mag, moleskin, pager, pockets full of quarters combo, GB-Color combo. Wow, I used to carry a lot of stuff!

    On a side note, Isn’t it interesting that Apple seemingly effortlessly has crushed Nokia by doing such a better job of creating a game phone than the N-Gauge (taco-phone)?

  4. I never use any of my mobile/handheld devices to play a game while I’m at home, because if I’m going to do any amount of serious gaming, then I’m going to do it in front of my PC or console where I’ve got multiple games waiting to be played. (Curse you, Steam sales!) I don’t do enough passive travelling either, so unless there are multiple blow-you-away unique experiences on a device, I just can’t justify a dedicated handheld device.

    For the times where I do travel and have time for a game, then I don’t mind dropping a few dollars on my iPad or phone to keep myself occupied for an hour or two. Final Fantasy Tactics at $18 is right around double what I would be willing to pay. It’s in my “Top 10 of All Time” mind you, but it’s a 15 year old game that I’ve played at least half of a dozen times.

  5. Speaking of Steam… I’m really psyched for the potential of a “Steam Box” – having the flexibility in pricing of Steam with the closed-box “just work” nature of a console would be a massive, massive win, and would get me right back into “PC” gaming immediately.

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