Is the future of gaming really mobile? [Editorial]

The iMpulse physical game pad for iPhone and iPad is quite remarkable. Small enough to fit on a keychain, the iMpulse provides the iGamer with all his controlling needs. It’s wireless, so thanks to the joys of Bluetooth, there are no wires present that might hamper your gaming experience. More to the point, there’s no chance that you might yank your iPhone/iPad off the surface you’re gaming on and onto the floor below following a poor offside decision in FIFA 13.

If this controller performs well consistently, then I think that it could make iOS gaming much more popular. iOS gaming is brilliant, make no mistake, but there are some problems. I play FIFA 13 on my iPhone a lot, I mean a lot, and I’ve always found that the controller configuration just doesn’t cut it. I think that EA has found the best configuration it can, but even with this layout, I find that my thumbs cover almost half the screen area, leaving very little room to actually view the game. I still enjoy the game immensely, but this problem can occasionally detract from the user experience as a whole. I also find that gripping my iPhone in the manner required to reach all the desired controls can become pretty painful after a little while. I’m certain that a device like the iMpulse would solve both of those problems very effectively. Projects like the iMpulse game pad are a sure sign that the iOS gaming market is on the rise, and indeed, it’s pretty big already. With that in mind, how true would it be to say that the future of gaming lies in the mobile market? Will the current console market eventually be phased out by this new phenomenon?

In short, yes, and then no… But don’t worry, I’m going to expand on that a little.

As a serial gamer, I feel that I’m quite well qualified to discuss the ins and outs of this topic. I’ve logged a substantial amount of hours on all of the major consoles of the last 10 years, particularly the Xbox 360. I’ve also dabbled in a lot of iOS based games, including more intense instalments like Infinity Blade and the afore mentioned FIFA, and also some more arcade based games like Tiny Wings, Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. Now, I play PC, and gaming is the only reason I don’t own a Mac. My PC gaming mostly involves FPS and strategy games, particularly the Total War series. Now you’ve realised that I’m a massive nerd, let’s continue.

It might seem a little contradictory that I said the future of gaming lay in the mobile market, yet I dismissed the notion that the console market would shrink as a result. So what did I mean?

I think that it would be pretty naive of anyone to suggest that the mobile gaming market is headed anywhere but up. Recent data from Asymco has suggested that there are 130 million users of Apple’s Game Center, the free iOS service used to track gaming achievements. That puts the iOS gaming platform as a whole ahead of any current console, and would leave it pretty close behind the Nintendo DS and the Playstation 2, both giants which sold around 150 million units. That would make iOS the third most popular gaming platform of all time. What may be more astonishing, is that Apple has sold around 400 million iOS devices. That means that the population of Game Center users is actually relatively small compared to the overall number of iOS users. This leaves a huge potential for growth in the iOS gaming market, with another 270 million potential customers waiting in the wings. To put that in perspective, PCs still outsell iOS devices, however there are only 54 million or so PC gamers. Valve has recorded that 40 million PC users use its gaming service Steam (And remember, some of those are Macs too). Furthermore many games, such as Real Racing, Words with Friends, and my beloved FIFA don’t actually run alongside Game Center, many use Facebook, Origin, or their own servers. 130 million is therefore a minimum estimate, and it has been suggested that iOS may well have already surpassed the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo DS, making it undisputedly the most popular gaming platform ever. That’s pretty astonishing when you consider that iOS isn’t even a dedicated gaming platform in the way that Playstation or Xbox is.

Mobile gaming technology has grown exponentially over the last 3 years. And as processors get faster, graphics get richer and data gets faster, there is no reason why that should change. I think it’s safe so assume that the future is very bright for the future of mobile gaming.

So why won’t the console market disappear? You just told us that mobile gaming was huge, and anyway, console sales have done nothing but drop since 2009…

Not so fast. Yes, it is very true that console sales have fallen in the last 3 years, but there’s a very good reason for that. 2005/6 saw the release of the Wii, Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, that year, console sales went through the roof. But ever since then, they’ve slowly been in decline. Why? I think there are a couple of reasons. Number one, contrary to popular belief, the majority of consoles people buy are actually quite reliable, so once you’ve bought an Xbox or a Playstation, most people see no reason to buy another one. The influx of new customers would have been most prominently evident in sales figures at the beginning of the consoles life. More importantly however, we are nearing the end of the lifespan of the current generation of consoles. The Wii U is nearly upon us, and the Playstation 4 and an upgrade for the Xbox 360 are most certainly on the way. People are less likely to buy a console that may only be “the in thing” for another year or so, in the same way that iPhone 4S sales dropped significantly prior to the release of the iPhone 5. I don’t think that the trend in sales figures is a sign of a decline in the console gaming market. Sales on game titles have also dropped because of the shift to digital content, but again, I don’t think this will negatively impact the gaming market as a whole. On the contrary, forecasters predict that by 2015, the game industry will be worth $70 billion, and that by 2017, that will be $82 billion. We’re not exactly playing around with loose change are we?

Here to stay…

So why will the console remain? Simple. Because the console offers gaming to consumers on a completely different, and in my opinion far superior level. The capabilities of consoles, and indeed PCs are so great that a gamer can be immersed in a totally different world, both through incredible visuals, stunning audio, and dedicated controls. I don’t doubt the addictive nature of Tiny Wings and Angry Birds. But I know that, at least in the near future, I will not be able to experience games like Battlefield 3, Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden and Need For Speed in all their glory on an iPad.I do not mean to criticise or play up either console or mobile gaming. Because, as a connoisseur of both, I know that both are awesome. However the two are created to cater for different audiences, and different needs. One does not simply invite the lads round for a few beers, and spend the night playing Fruit Ninja. But at the same time, you can’t knock out a quick game of Call of Duty from your iPhone whilst you’re on the toilet. Console gaming is like going to the cinema and taking part in the movie. Whereas iOS gaming is more like a trip to the arcade. Yes, both are fun, and incredibly fulfilling in their own ways, but the two are very different experiences, and both deserve to flourish.


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