Could the rise of mobile games wipe out traditional consoles that have dominated the industry for decades? It’s a question as old as time – or at least, about ten years.
In 2002, I gathered a year’s worth of pocket money in a sweaty hand and walked into my nearest video gaming store. My elder brother and I had always shared our household game console. Until he got a PS2 that I was not allowed to play. I was left to half-heartedly tinker with our out-of-date and increasingly creaky Dreamcast. Struggling to see the point of getting two of the same device, I settled on a brand new console from a company that I recognized as the makers of Windows ‘98 on our school’s computer: Microsoft’s Xbox.
I got home that day and eagerly tore open the box of the first console that was “mine”. It was the smell of it, strangely, that struck me. It smelled amazing. I don’t know what plastic they use to make game games consoles, but whichever one it is smells great. I’m assuming this is true of Sony and Nintendo’s offerings as well, though having never smelt them (as that would be weird), I can’t say for sure.
I put the Halo disc into my machine – co-op mode, those who have elder brothers understand the simple persuasiveness of the words “Or else” – and I was hooked. We completed it in about a week. I’ve owned a version of Xbox, navigating its increasingly confusing naming strategy, ever since.
Predictions of the future?
A couple of years ago, Ubisoft’s CEO, Yves Guillemot, said “There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us”. My first thought was: “Nonsense. Games consoles are and always will be superior”. Gamers, at least those of us who reside on the “traditional” platforms, have always perhaps looked at mobile gaming with an ever so slightly curled lip. We were here first. Our machines are more powerful. Our games better. I imagine that this is how PC gamers look upon console gamers. But as time has passed, I’ve slowly come to the realization that perhaps, in the same way that Google wiped out paper maps, mobile gaming may well result in the extinction of games consoles.
Console vs Mobile
Mobile gaming is booming. It doesn’t matter who you ask, anyone who follows the industry in even the smallest way can point to figures that tell you this. Even the pandemic has seemingly provided a boost to the industry, which we covered in our weekly news roundup a couple weeks back. But will this growth continue?
It’s all very well having a massive spurt of growth, but what if issues like the China ban and a post pandemic return to lower gaming time claw back that growth? Apple are also changing the way advertising works on their platform, something which could have severe implications on the amount of ad generated revenue that mobile game developers can expect to enjoy. Some of this “pandemic growth” is surely here to stay, as corona has dragged new players into the market.
But it’s not ridiculous to think that as lockdown ends and everyone returns to work and nights out that mobile games could be dropped as quickly as they were picked up. Whilst things look pretty great at the moment, it may not always stay that way, and it’s on the developer to mitigate this and protect their revenue. I’ll talk about how they can do this later (or, jump ahead).
So, whilst mobile gaming is indeed booming at the moment, we haven’t yet reached the stage that Guillemot was talking about where streaming and mobile gaming effectively replace consoles. The question then, is will we?
Console sales are falling
Back in 2000, Sony released a gaming device that went on to become the most popular games console ever sold. The PS2 sold an estimated 155 million units throughout its lifetime, which is kind of astounding when you think about it. Take a look at this list of top-selling games consoles of all time though. The only console made in the last ten years years that reaches the top 10 is the PS4. Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PS Vita. All are out of the top ten, and in some cases (looking at the PS Vita here), by quite some margin.
Obviously, the newest games consoles have only been released recently, so they haven’t had time to generate sales yet (that and the lack of stock everywhere). But the fact remains that all but one of the entries into that top ten list came from 2006 or earlier. Or in other words, before smartphones and mobile gaming became as ubiquitous as they are now.
Console market share is falling
This isn’t news to many people within the gaming industry, but console market share is falling. It has been for some time. Global Web Index’s World of Gaming report has only 27% of all gamers using a console. That’s compared to a staggering 71% for mobile devices. It’s completely reasonable to argue that these are totally different markets. One caters for casual gamers who play on the train, and the other caters for more hardcore players who actively identify as gamers (according to the Web Index report, the second group are more likely to be men). It’s also reasonable to argue that there’s plenty of room in the market for both types of gamers.
Whilst that’s true, if we go back to our top ten list above, we see that four of them are portable consoles. 11th and 12th place on the list are Nintendo’s 3DS and Switch. Fundamentally, once you start putting advanced graphics chips into a mobile phone or increase streaming speeds, what is the difference between a game on a mobile phone or a game on whatever Nintendo produce as the Switch successor?
The accessibility of consoles is an issue
The problem with consoles is that they require you to go out and buy something that you don’t necessarily need anymore for anything other than games. Smart TV’s mean that you can watch Netflix, Prime, or your streamer of choice without a middle-man, and who buys DVD’s anymore? People no longer need a device that accepts discs.
Traditional games consoles are increasingly a niche market aimed at those of us who consider ourselves gamers. That’s all fine and good, but if mobile technology and streaming advance over the next few years, the convenience of mobile games and streaming could severely test the loyalty of the “gamer market”. Imagine if you could sit on the train playing the latest Halo or God of War game on a mobile integrated into a small controller. You get home, turn on your TV, and sync to the game servers to pick up where you left off using the same controller. Where, exactly, does a physical console fit into that?
Phones are more practical
The advantage that mobile phones have is that everyone needs one for everything else that they do. Games trojan horse their way into people’s lives by piggybacking along with all of the “practical” features that mobiles offer, like phoning people, sending emails, and checking your maps. Mobile phones have managed to fit a map, a torch, all the information and misinformation in the world, a compass, a calculator and all the emails you’ve ever sent into a device no bigger than your hand. Consoles can do some of these things, but often its clunky and their size means their practicality is limited. Phones are always with us, so we’re always just one click away from playing a game.
The future of gaming…is not Virtual?
The current obsession with VR has always seemed a bit strange to me. Whilst it definitely has its uses and could revolutionize certain sectors, I’ve never really thought that this could apply to the casual gaming market.
In some ways, a future where we are all plugging in à la Ready Player One seems awesome. The slight issue though is that people play games to relax and lie on the sofa. Just because I love playing Call of Duty doesn’t mean that I want to be running around on a treadmill pretending I’m in a warzone. If I wanted to do that, I would join the real-life army and get paid for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this would appeal to many people. But it just seems like the actual practicalities of VR replacing console games could more complex than you would initially think. There’s undoubtedly a market for a VR game where you jump and your character shoots to the top of a building like superman. But it’s also practically difficult unless you can devote an entire space in your house to act as a padded room in which you can jump around.
Part of the joy of mobile and console gaming is its “lazy escapism”. You can travel to another world while sitting on the sofa, moving only your thumbs. It’s the same as when you watch a film or read a book. Plus, there’s the whole issue of staring into a screen that’s only an inch away from your face. Call me old fashioned, but sometimes it is nice to look at your surroundings.
None of this really prohibits mobile gaming, or VR in particular, from ultimately wiping out consoles. But it is interesting to consider the ways in which it may not. Just because we have the technology to do something, doesn’t mean that people will actually want to do it for prolonged periods of time. Just look at what happened to Google Glass and Segways.
Why mobile game developers need to build now
What all of this means is that mobile game developers need to act fast. If the recently released generation of consoles does indeed turn out to be the last as Guillemot predicted, then there’s about six or seven years left before streaming (and by extension mobile gaming) is in a position to take over the market.
It goes without saying that companies of whatever type are always trying to expand. However, now seems like a particularly important time to expand for mobile game developers. Imagine that you are setting up a social media platform. Would you rather be doing that five years after Facebook and Twitter and all the rest became household names, or five years before? Easy right? Five years before!
As it stands, mobile gaming developers are not in competition with console game developers in many ways. They’re competing for different customers, have different revenue streams and fulfil a different function in consumer’s lives. Should streaming take off as predicted though, these two sides of the market could be brought together. It’s obviously not going to spell the end for smaller game developers if this happens, but it is going to make their lives more difficult. Game developers need to expand as much as they can now so they don’t end up bringing a knife to a gun-fight.
Imagine if streaming enabled a full-fat Halo to be played reliably on mobiles. Now imagine that 343 decide to drop the price to a couple of pounds or dollars and switch to an ad-based revenue model. That’s potentially a real problem for smaller existing mobile game devs. Of course, the latter part of that is a massive hypothetical that probably wouldn’t happen, but it does illustrate one way in which a merging of the market could affect mobile developers.
How Pointvoucher helps mobile game developers achieve growth
One of my favorite quotes is from the film Zoolander. An unlikely place to find pearls of wisdom, but there we go. Maury Ballstein (played by Ben Stiller’s dad Jerry), says “What do we do when we fall off the horse Derek? We get back on again!”.
Game developers have been promised the earth by gaming monetization firms in the past, who then don’t deliver. But just because you’ve been failed three times, or five times, or even fifty times, it doesn’t mean you should give up on something. Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Very true, but in this case it’s about noting the variable in the equation: the SDK and monetization platform you use.
Pointvoucher is flexible, free, requires very little effort to install, and if you think “man, these guys are rubbish” (we don’t think you will), you can get rid of us just like that. There’s no obligation, no long contracts, and essentially nothing to lose. It doesn’t interfere with any existing revenue streams you’ve got going on, and we even offer game developers a 50% net revenue share from the users LTV on our platform.
How Pointvoucher works
Pointvoucher works by offering real-life rewards from big brands to players. Because of this, we increase user engagement and retention rates for developers and give them a larger pool of potential users. We like to think of it as a win-win-win. Players get vouchers and offers from big brands for doing something they enjoy. Big brands get more take-up on their vouchers and offers resulting in more customers. Game developers get more users, who are more likely to watch ads and play games for longer.
Maybe Guillemot is wrong, and maybe predictions of streaming replacing consoles won’t come to pass. But it seems likely that at some point in the future, as technology advances, the different subsets of the gaming industry will merge onto the same platform somehow, to a greater extent than they already are. It just makes sense. If you’re a mobile game developer, at some point, console game developers will be coming for your players. What are you going to do about it?
Conclusion: Could consoles be assigned to the dustbin of history?
Ten years ago, mobile games couldn’t compete with consoles in terms of power, choice, big name developers, usability, and a myriad of other different factors. Now, it’s pretty much just sheer power that marks the difference.
Maybe I’m completely wrong and in twenty years I’ll be heading to my local video gaming store with a (hopefully) less sweaty hand, preparing to buy the 6th generation Xbox that has been inexplicably named Xbox Two. But honestly, as time goes by and tech advances at an inexorable rate, that seems less and less likely.
For now, consoles are still around and still popular, and I’ll be grabbing Microsoft’s latest offering as soon as they actually make enough to fulfill demand. But a future where I say the words “In my day, we used to have games consoles” isn’t as ridiculous as it may have seemed even a few years ago. The frontier of technology is, as ever, always moving forward, ultimately to best serve the interests of the consumer. It’s up to game developers to keep up and for the rest of us to enjoy the ride.
What do you think? Are mobile gaming and streaming the future? Or do consoles have some life in them yet? Let us know in the comments below.