We are now almost a month into the PS Vita’s life here in America and comparisons to the “other handheld” out there are inevitable. If you were to listen to the enthusiasts on either side, the two systems are waging the eternal war between good and evil, where only one can be left standing; or at least something along those lines. Their older siblings are dueling, along with the 360, for the public’s mindshare, and it seems that they are following in similar footsteps. Yet, much as my inner fanboy wants them to join in that eternal conflict, I don’t think that should be their fight. For just as Sauron rose from Mordor, a greater evil rises to to fight these new handheld gaming devices…
With the advent of the iPhone and other smart phones, the concept of a dedicated portable gaming device is on the brink of becoming a thing of the past. The 3DS and Vita don’t have to compete with each other; they have to fight the question, “Why should I carry one more thing around in my pocket?” As each new iteration of the iPhone and Android devices are released, they become more and more versatile devices; and the more they are capable of, the less we are inclined to carry along with us.
Mobile gaming is now one of the most lucrative divisions of the gaming industry. The most well known, Angry Birds, has become an international phenomenon. Industry Games wrote:
It was revealed this week that Rovio’s hit mobile title Angry Birds cost only $140k to create and has already generated an estimated $70 million. That’s 500 times more than what it cost to make.
Albeit, that is not the norm for the mobile game development, but the fact still stands that companies are looking at Rovio and thinking that they too want a piece of that pie. The idea that you could make a small, but addictive, game and make back all of your investment many times over seems like a great idea. This seems especially appealing because you could make a handful of these small games for the budget you would need for a singular game on one of the handheld platforms.
The other issue is that some of these portable games are giving players just as enriching experiences as the games put out on Nintendo’s and Sony’s devices. Infinity Blade and its sequel are both touted as being the beginning of something huge in the portable market; running on Unreal engine and giving players a much meatier story than they are used to in an iPhone game. There is also the recent release of beloved classic GTA III on all iDevices. The game runs perfectly, and unlike your old PS2, you can now take it anywhere.
Nonetheless, the Vita and 3DS can still survive if they can refocus their efforts. It can no longer be solely about the games. Games can be found anywhere now, and for much cheaper. This generation of handhelds has to show players that they can give experiences that they can get nowhere else. The 3DS has its 3D going for it, but even some phones are now adding that it. The Vita has a touchscreen and touchpad, but we’ve been tickling our phones for years now and that’s not nearly impressive as it once would have been. Both systems have to prove why they are worth your time and money, or they will eventually be overtaken by the phone in your pocket.
For now, games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Super Mario 3D Land offer experiences unparalleled in the mobile market, but with each passing mobile generation, that gap seems to be getting smaller and smaller. The future for handheld gaming looks fantastic, there is no doubt about that. The question lies in whether or not we will be playing them on a Sony or Nintendo device or just using our phones.