Ever since Nintendo launched the Game Boy in 1989, the extremely popular follow-up to the Game and Watch in 1980, portable gaming has been an attractive and accessible branch for players who enjoy fun experiences on the go.
Nintendo DS, released in 2004, remains the best-selling handheld gaming console ever with over 150 million sales. The Game Boy and 3DS take the second and third place, making Nintendo the undisputed champion of handheld gaming. Sony’s PSP has sold an impressive amount too with its 82 million units.
The mobile takeover
Handheld gaming consoles appealed to a different audience that PC’s and consoles could not reach, but in recent years, mobile phones have become progressively better suited to fill this space. A mobile phone today does everything you can imagine and gaming is no exception. For many, portable gaming consoles no longer seemed to have a function when they could experience games through their phones instead to great result.
At the time of launch, the Playstation Vita tried to act more like a phone than any handheld console before it, while offering powerful hardware that could render games with better graphics than any phone could muster. However, this was a very short-lived advantage, as smartphones quickly became equally capable. Killzone: Mercenary and Uncharted: Golden Abyss were impressive titles from a technical standpoint, but phones would soon have other games surpassing them.
While hardcore gamers, at least historically, tend to disregard mobile gaming because of finicky controls and small screens, its popularity is undeniable. Mobile games generated almost 60 billion dollars last year in comparison to PC games at 33 billion and console games at 8,3 billion. By hooking up your phone to a TV and by purchasing controllers that connect to it, some argue that you can get a similar experience to that of a console title. The phone can do almost anything today – all the while offering stunning gaming experiences like Shadowgun Legends, Modern Combat 5 and Dawn of Titans.
The graphical advancements on the mobile gaming front are both fast and many, closing the gap between portable and stationary gaming consoles. Further, even trends like VR has carried across to smartphones and even though PC players get an experience that is on a whole other level, mobile VR serves as a cheap entry for curious consumers.
Many thought that portable gaming consoles were dead as a result of mobile phones dominating the market space. In came Nintendo with the fittingly named Switch that could act as both a stationary and a portable console, which made the whole world interested. This proved that the Japanese giant still is unrivalled when it comes to innovation and risk-taking. While this is a success, Nintendo’s rivals are not keen to jump on the trend of handheld gaming again; Sony has declared that there are no plans to battle the Switch, because of the low potential of success in the age of smartphones.
This points to a future where consoles like the Switch will be a rare occurrence after all. Sure, such a device is terrific for certain gaming experiences, but it has limited online functionality and no applications like Netflix, which is enough to scare some people off and have them go for a smartphone instead.
Higher expectations and tougher competition has led to a new type of console. The upcoming PGS (Portable Gaming System) markets itself as the first hybrid of a console for PC games and a smartphone, incorporating what the developers believe to be the best functions from both worlds into one device. The project was funded through Kickstarter about a year ago and is set to release during the summer of 2018 for around 300 dollars. It has gained a lot of attention for its powerful performance and how it runs Windows 10 without limitations, making it a pocket-sized computer for gaming and many other needs.
How this console will be received by consumers remains to be seen, but it is certainly created as a reaction to the popularity that Nintendo Switch was – and still is – given. It is an interesting time for handheld gaming consoles, but in the end, smart phones will continue dominating the industry with rapid advancements and unrivaled versatility. While handheld gaming consoles may be back in fashion again, it will never be like before the smartphones…