Recently there's been a lot of analysts buzzing about the future of video gaming not lying with home consoles, but with mobile formats. The rise of the tablet and the ever innovating smart phone have provided a great medium for new companies and independent developers to push quick, and often addicting games designed for short burst gratification. But do the successes of Angry Birds or the social media empire Zynga mean anything long term for video gaming as a whole?
The answer, as one could wager, is complicated. The industry as a whole is not immune to the success of browser based games like FarmVille, or the quick rise of titles available on the AppStore. However, the big publishers are split as to what this success means and how it translates to their own futures. In 2009 Electronic Arts made their move and purchased Playfish, which is currently estimated to have 35 million active users on Facebook. Activison Blizzard on the other hand has yet to throw their hat in the ring, with Sith Lord Bobby Kotick stating that the marketplace is overcrowded and that the consumer experience is different than what they're looking for with traditional games. Hardware makers have jumped into the game as well, with Sony recently unveiling a new series of tablets. While the big dogs have been trying to put their collective heads around this new market, Zynga has been busy poaching their top tier talent. The most recent acquisition was EA's COO, John Schappert . But are these high profile figures simply going to where the money is? Or are they following buzz and inflated potential?
Personally, while I view the market for mobile gaming as promising, I don't see how it translates to current publishers and developers as anything but a new avenue to pursue. The closest thing I could liken it to would be the current models in place for traditional hand held gaming in relation to their console counter parts. The Nintendo DS was long the most successful gaming device on the market, with sales far outstretching any home console. This success didn't always translate to immediate software successes, however. While there is a huge variety of games available for the unit, only last year's Pokemon titles appeared in the Top Ten Sales 2010. Home console software dominates in pure sales dollars.
The biggest difference between previous generations of hand held software and this new mobile marketplace is in cost. Many games residing on the various app stores are available for a fraction of what you'd pay for a traditional hand held game. The biggest of these titles is Angry Birds, which has reportedly been downloaded over 100 million times. Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka has been very outspoken on where he see's the market trending, but I don't think I agree with him. I'm seeing things closer to how Bobby Kotick views this playing field, as much as that makes me cringe. I feel like the two markets have different consumer types, each expecting a different experience. While there is certainly crossover, as nearly everyone breathing in the first world owns a mobile phone... gamers just don't expect our cell phones to provide us with the same kind of entertainment consoles and computers currently provide. I feel that economic analysts are over simplifying and making broad based assumptions simply because there's a promising new market to speculate about, much like they did at the advent of motion gaming spurred on at the success of the Wii. How's that Kinect of yours doing? Or have you already traded it in? But who knows what the future will bring? I can't picture myself playing an RPG on a tablet for an extended period of time, but ten years ago I couldn't picture myself playing a Street Fighter match in 3D against a friend across state while waiting for my morning coffee. I did that this morning. Predicting the future is tough business.