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8th October 2012

Smartphones: The Future of Gaming?

Alasdair Preston looks at the rise of smartphone gaming

These days, it seems like everybody and their mum are playing games on their smartphones or tablets. Odds are, everyone reading this has got at least one game on their smartphone they regularly play and, unless their mum is like mine and genuinely afraid of the 21st century, she has too. Many hardcore gamers may resent these newcomers, but like it or not they are here to stay.

One of the main complaints raised is that touchscreen controls just aren’t practical for a lot of games. Especially on smart phones, you lose a significant chunk of the screen to your own thumbs as you fumble about trying to press buttons that aren’t all that easy to spot and generally just making a mess of your precious screen. A number of companies have been trying to get round this by releasing dedicated controllers for these devices. However, only recently have Apple authorised the production of such a peripheral for their systems. While it is only allowed to support games by one developer, this is a large step towards making the iPad (where the highest budget games from either iOS or Android stores are aimed) a viable gaming console.

For the past few years, the gaming industry has been rapidly evolving. Mobile and smartphone gaming is undoubtedly a threat to the “big three” of Nintendo, Sony & Microsoft. The swift expansion of the iOS and Android platforms has inflicted massive damage on the sales of Nintendo & Sony’s handheld consoles. For example, Sony’s PlayStation Vita has been suffering from a dismal launch in sales. In it’s first three quarters, only 2.2 million units have been sold worldwide. That may sound impressive, but compare that with the 2.97 million units their previous effort, the PSP, shipped in just two.

After a similarly shaky start, Nintendo have turned it around with their 3DS handheld, outselling its predecessor during their first year on the market with17.13 million units sold. So, while the market for dedicated handheld systems has decreased significantly, there is still demand for some.

In contrast, Apple sold over 147 million iOS devices worldwide in 2011 alone. Sales of Android capable devices top that. Together, this is a massive market of people to sell games to. And considering that most of these games are either free or a miserly 69p, it doesn’t take much for a developer to get their software into the hands of millions of people.

An exceptional case of smartphone game success is undoubtedly that of Angry Birds. In 2011, it exceeded 500 million downloads worldwide across all platforms, and has spawned sequels, spin-offs and merchandise. It is even becoming available as boxed software for the 3DS. Addictive gameplay, frequent updates and a tiny price point have made Angry Birds the smartphone game to have.

Needless to say, this kind of potential draws in many developers, from the big boys at Capcom to the smallest of indie devs and some of the games they are producing are fantastic. There is no shortage of quality (and shovelware) on offer, and the savvy buyer can wind up with a massive collection of excellent games on their smartphone for half the cost of one AAA title on their 360 or PS3.
It’s easy to forget that these little devices can be technologically formidable too. The iPhone 5, for example, comes packing the A6 Processor by Apple. This is an evolution of the processor that powers the latest iPad, a device likely more powerful than many people’s laptops and home computers. Not only that, but the iPhone 5 features LTE wireless technology, which will allow for high-speed multiplayer gaming

The advent of smartphone gaming has meant that, once again, the industry has had to adapt to survive. However, rather than changing direction towards this new style, the “big three” have tried to distinguish themselves, and prove why their hardware is still worth buying today. Thanks to a hasty price drop and a strong games line-up, Nintendo avoided the problems that Sony currently has with the PlayStation Vita. The Vita’s price puts it in a similar band to high-end smartphones, and most people who already own a phone or other handheld console can’t justify the expenditure on a handheld that doesn’t offer much more than they already have.

Even if you’re the oldest of the old school, and wouldn’t touch a game of Doodle Jump if your life depended on it, the popularity of smartphone gaming is good news. In the near future, we will see the influences it has had on our home consoles with the launch of Xbox SmartGlass services, and Nintendo’s new Wii U. If they’re successful, who knows where it will go beyond there? I’m not saying Minority Report computer for games but, yeah. Minority Report computer for games.

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