No gamer, pundit or casual observer can deny that mobile platforms have become serious contenders in the realm of interactive entertainment. My own children have driven that point home for me, with my three-year-old able to deftly manipulate touchscreen devices as if he were born with one in hand. This is a stark contrast to my own childhood, when only a single weekly encounter with my assigned Apple IIe in the computer lab, glowing a dim monochrome green, meant I would have the chance to chase down Carmen Sandiego one more time.
Today, I’m typing on an Apple iMac and, when I’m not working, I’m using it to play games both natively and via Bootcamp. In my house, as in so many others, PC gaming is alive and well. Once pronounced on its deathbed, the platform continues to play host to innovative titles that simply can’t be found elsewhere. No, consoles were not the death of PC gaming, though it can be argued that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are responsible for throttling it back due to aging hardware specs. In much the same way, I find myself incredulous that the advent of mobile technology will sound the death knell for dedicated gaming hardware.
There has been much made of the sudden decline in Xbox 360 sales. Reading too much into this seems folly. The console is at the end of its life cycle, which means that more people are holding off on purchasing until more details are available on the next generation of hardware. Additionally, Microsoft posted huge numbers during the holiday season thanks to smart marketing and bundling. It’s unreasonable to expect those numbers to stay where they were.
Certainly, it’s logical to attribute some of the downshift in sales to the introduction of the new iPad, which stands out as a leader in the mobile gaming sphere. The iOS platform is home to clever indie titles, gorgeous original creations from major developers and, now in increasing numbers, high profile classic games retooled for touch screens. One need only look at the release of inXile’s The Bard’s Tale (now complete with the original Bard’s Tale trilogy), Sega’s new Total War Battles: Shogun RTS and the upcoming Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition to confirm the versatility of the platform.
Ah, but this is a piece about how mobile isn’t going to kill consoles.
The knee jerk reaction from anyone offended by the concept of mobile gaming is the “giant TV” defense. By this I mean, the adamant desire to keep gaming on a gorgeous 55 inch OLED, active 3D system hooked up to an ear-thumping surround sound or that top-of-the-line gaming headset you just dropped over $200 on. I get it. Heck, I understand it. No… I embrace it.
Unfortunately, I’m not always in front of that kind of screen. Sometimes, I want to sit on the couch while my wife watches her home improvement shows or lay in bed with my iPad in hand. There is room in my life for both kinds of experiences. My biggest problem is that, right now, they don’t intersect at all. Furthermore, I can’t even get games to sync progress across Apple devices on the same account (with the exception of server-based competitive games like Hero Academy). The move toward cloud-based profile management (and regardless of what you think of the new Xbox 360 Dashboard, the seamless profile transfer from system to system without a USB drive is significant) is going to be the savior for consoles and a strategic advancement for mobile.
If Sony can manage to make it work between the PlayStation 3 and Vita with their latest MLB The Show title and, if it comes to fruition, Warrior’s Lair neé Ruin, why can’t the experience be broadened? Microsoft and Sony already allow publishers to layer their own interfaces on top of games from inside the title. EA requires an Origin account for many of their games, and Ubisoft encourages players to create a Uplay account. EA has even managed to incorporate iOS experiences into Mass Effect 3. All we need now is for relevant data to be uploaded to a cloud for continuation on a mobile device.
It seems that the prevailing perception is that we’re entering a period that will see a marketing war between mobile and home consoles. Rather, with effective collaboration and planning, both segments can experience greater growth than either could hope to accomplish alone. Incorporation of enjoyable and significant mobile elements, even if not the full game experience, will drive those resistant to playing on touch screens to consider purchase of a relevant device. In-game unlockables for connecting devices could drive sales of both versions. Additionally, publishers that embrace mobile options will have an advantage in a number of ways.
The additional marketing presence in the App Stores, will alert mobile users of a broader opportunity awaiting on a home console. In a competitive software marketplace, if left with the choice between two similar titles, gamers will likely opt for the one that they can get more play out of, especially if that means being able to continue their experience away from that gorgeous television set (or PC… or Mac…). Will this type of integration require additional investment from developers and publishers? Absolutely. However, the opportunity to convert customers from one platform to the other, capitalize on double purchases and incentivize with unlockable items will create a richer experience that gamers with busy lives will be eager to rally behind.
Video didn’t kill the radio star. PC gaming is alive, well and experiencing a resurgence. Your consoles aren’t going anywhere (especially as Microsoft and Sony convert them into broader entertainment machines). Sure, change is scary, but with some smart planning from console manufacturers and publishers as we enter the next generation, everyone can benefit. As long as we keep in mind that it’s the games, and not an individual’s preferred platform, that matters, we might just be ok.
Before the next platform war inevitably starts (this time with even more combatants), I beg of you, “Can’t we all just get along?”