Ask a Dork: Portable Gaming Sales Slump
Ah, I do miss the days of being asked one question instead of four. If anyone has been following the article trends on gameindustry.biz, they would notice that portable game consoles have been having a hard time infiltrating gamer’s wallets. Unlike the last generation of handhelds, Nintendo has had a difficult time trying to print money with the 3DS. It wasn’t until last fall’s significant price slashing that consoles actually started to fly off the shelves. To the same extent Sony’s PS Vita, which had fairly strong starting lineup, has been having difficulty competing in the marketplace and (for the most part) now collects dust in GameStops everywhere. I’m sure a number of industry analysts would like to ascribe these failings to a single condition not being met, but it is my belief that a number of factors are playing into poor system sales. The first is the advent of smartphone gaming.
Up until a few years ago, portable gaming had been dominated primarily by console makers. Because gamers already owned the company’s home video game console, they were likely inclined to purchase their portable console as well. As you can imagine, portable gaming during this period was in niche market mode. Smartphones changed this by enabling everyone and anyone who owned a smartphone to socially game on the go. In this new marketplace, portable gamers would face the one time investment of a smartphone or iPod touch and then only have to pay minor sums of money (usually between $0.99 and $5.99) to buy new games. This is a stark contrast from the previous period where gamers would pay big bucks for a portable console and anywhere between $30 and $50 per game. This change in the market made portable gaming more accessible, focused on being easier to pick up and play, and significantly reduced the costs associated to being a ‘gamer’. To be frank, this is why Apple is giving Sony and Nintendo a quite literal run for their money.
Another factor that has had an impact on portable sales is the perception of the manufacturers that their portable consoles are worth more than they are. By investing in a multitude of features instead of spending time lining up a decent software library, console makers have been shooting themselves in the foot. PS Vita is case in point; Sony developed a system that does everything short of giving you a back massage, but the only decent playable title on the console at the moment is Uncharted (and it’s been that way for months). Despite this Sony still has the fledgling console priced at $250 due to its many HARDWARE features. This is a fallacy of the manufacturer as hardware doesn’t sell consoles; software does. Nintendo also learned this the hard way and had to make an aggressive price cut to attract notoriety in the marketplace. Because of this smart business decision, Nintendo’s quarterly revenues (though not great) are looking much better than they did the same time last year.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that (traditional) portable gaming has become unappealing. While smartphone gaming may have some edges over the PS Vita and 3DS, they both still offer unique and fun gameplay experiences that other mediums simply can’t replicate. Sony and Nintendo just need to keep in mind that GAMES are what sell consoles. Some of the most impressive consoles have failed because they didn’t have a strong enough library to propel the platform.