It's an accepted fact these days that smartphones are rampaging through the handheld industry, wiping out single-use products one after another, including portable media players, GPS, and satellite radio. Are handheld games next?
Handheld gaming has had problems over the last few years because high startup costs keep competition at a minimum. Microsoft, Nokia, and a score of small companies have tried, but only Sony has managed to compete against Nintendo.
This lack of competition could be a reason why this industry was so prime to be taken over by smartphones. The most popular Nintendo games can sell between 15 million and 25 million units; Angry Birds has had 200 million downloads. Here's a list of the best smartphone games of 2011, the operating systems behind them, and prices (in British pounds sterling), according to the UK's Guardian newspaper:
- Chillingo, iOS, £1.19
- Namco Bandai, iOS, 59p
- Simogo, iOS, £1.79
- Ragtime Games, iOS, 59p
- SilverTree Media, Android, free (with in-game payments)
- EA, iOS, £3.99
- IdeaWorks, Game Studio, WP7
- Nyarlu Labs, iOS, £1.19
- Spilt Milk Studios, iOS, £1.19
- Kairosoft, iOS or Android, £2.39
- SouthEnd Interactive, WP7
- Gamevil, iOS or Android, 59p
- YoYo Games, iOS or Android, 59p
Though this list is based on nothing more than the preferences of the Guardian's readers, it is a good indication of the differences between the types of games available on phones and those available on handhelds, especially the price difference. The average price for a handheld game is between $10 and $40, with newer games closer to $40, a significant difference from the listed smartphone games. For handheld games, Japanese game magazines publisher Famitsu lists the best-selling handheld games — and the corresponding platforms — for the first half of 2011 as follows:
- Monster Hunter Freedom 3 (Capcom), PSP
- Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 — Professional (Square Enix), NDS
- Dissidia: 012 (Duodecim) Final Fantasy (Square Enix), PSP
- Dai-2-Ji Super Robot Wars Z: Hakai-hen (Bandai Namco), PSP
- Phantasy Star Portable 2: Infinity (Sega), PSP
- SD Gundam G Generation: World (Bandai Namco), PSP
- Pokemon Black / White, (Pokemon Co.), NDS
- Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, (Level 5), 3DS
- Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology 3 (Bandai Namco), PSP
- Nintendogs + Cats: French Bulldog/Shiba /Toy Poodle & New Friends, 3DS
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo), 3DS
- Ni no Kuni: The Ebony Wizard (Level 5), NDS
- Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth 2 (Capcom), NDS
There are two types of gamers out there: casual and hardcore. Casual gamers represent a huge market, and with the Wii, Nintendo specifically targeted this demographic. But for handhelds, smartphones did a great job of grabbing this market with easy-to-play games that used the phone’s touch screen to innovate game play. Casual gamers have made the smartphone the No. 1 handheld gaming device, bumping the Nintendo line down to No. 2.
According to the head of a casual gaming household: “My 7-year-old has wanted a DS for the past few years and may just get one for Christmas this year. However, we've been thinking that an iPod touch might make more sense; not a lot more money and the apps are so inexpensive (free to $5) compared to the DS games ($15 to $35). By the time we purchase a few games for him we'd be at the price of an iPod Touch. And the DS still uses a stylus?! A stylus and game cartridges are just more things to lose. Plus we already know he loves Angry Birds.”
Her viewpoint ends by referencing a game that really draws her kids to the smartphone platform. So is there a game on the Nintendo side kids are anxious to play? Not at the moment, though in the past there have been Nintendogs, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Mario, Zelda, etc.
In the concluding part of this series, we will focus on how the slump in handheld gaming is affecting the sales of hardware at the leading vendors, including Nintendo.