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How Smartphones Disrupted the Handheld Market

Posted by Alex Bailey On May - 31 - 2013

The definition of a gamer is difficult to put into words. Years ago, the word might have elicited a list of knee-jerk, stereotypical sentiments, causing one to fashion an image of a lazy teenager glued to a living room couch. In 2013, individuals of all ages and walks of life can unite under the flag of “gamerdom” in one way or another. With vast advances in technology over the past few decades, videogames have ascended into mainstream consciousness, delivered on a silver platter. However, more traditional tools of the trade — in-home consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and handheld platforms like the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita — are facing a challenge to their videogame supremacy due to the emergence of smartphone and tablet gaming.

The overwhelming accessibility of smartphones paired with an ever-expanding array of technological functionality has driven appeal on a massive scale. The mainstream allure associated with video games has now transcended to the mobile platform. And now, mobile gaming welcomes gaming aficionados of all ages, genders, and social positions — not just an exclusive band of hardcore gamers.

Long-time core game developer and company behind the celebrated Final Fantasy series, Square Enix, recognizes the promise of appealing to a wider, more casual demographic. Square Enix is just one mainstream corporation to produce numerous smartphones games in recent years while manufacturing far fewer titles for handheld platforms.  Tech journalist Chris Buffa states, “It’s getting to a point where Square Enix’s iOS and to a lesser extent, Android libraries look better than what’s available and upcoming on 3DS and Vita.”

Recognizing the growing appeal of mobile gaming, casual games leader Big Fish has planned to release over 100 new mobile games for Android and mobile by the end of 2013. Observing Square Enix’s push towards smartphone gaming, Conor Murphy, Marketing Manager of Big Fish noted, “When it comes to smartphone gaming, many hardcore players complain about the imprecise nature of touchscreen controls and lack of quality game titles. However, wired and wireless game-pads can solve touchscreen issues and as the worldwide smartphone userbase grows, more studios will follow the Square Enix example.”

Android and iOS have become the handheld industry’s greatest competitor due to convenience, price, and an ease of use. Since most consumers already own a smartphone, providing an avenue for owners to both work and play, the increasing popularity of mobile gaming is a natural progression. There is no additional investment (besides the cost of the games themselves) required to get your game on in the world of tablets and smartphones. With a 3DS XL going for $199.99, that is a very compelling notion. By simply visiting the App Store, players can download a multitude of games in an instant. Not to mention, the use of touchscreen controls allows anyone from an inexperienced to seasoned gamer play with ease.

Despite console-based gaming’s absolute domination of the industry for decades, the admittance of a more approachable mobile gaming medium signals a trend for potential troubles for handheld consoles in the years to come. A mobile app research group, Flurry Analytics found that in 2009, iOS and Android sales comprised of only 19% of the entire revenue generated by portable game software in the United States. Only two years later, smartphone game profits boasted 58% of the market while the previous frontrunner, the Nintendo DS, decreased by 34% on a national scale.

How many adults are willing to lug around a 3DS or PS Vita compared to the number of people who already carry a smartphone or tablet? The reality is, Sony and Nintendo are faced with a competitor that is arguably more influential within the general populace. They might win the core gamer vote, but sheer numbers demonstrate that casual gaming is now a main driver behind videogame sales and market demand, and those people overwhelmingly support the smartphone medium.

Bio: Taylor Stein is an avid gamer, sushi lover, and overall nerd. After founding a gaming-related site of her own,, she went on to intern at G4TV, and is now a freelance videogame writer whose work can be found on Destructoid, G4, 1UP, Bitmob and more.

Handheld gaming

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